Today we are at the Hunsford parsonage to discuss Pride and Prejudice with several characters from Love at First Slight. We are just waiting for Miss Collins and her houseguest to arrange refreshments and for three young ladies to arrive from Rosings Park.
Before everyone assembles here in the parlour, it behooves me to apologize in advance. These dramatis personae are, after all, characters; and I cannot vouch for their conduct. More than anyone, I know how unpredictable their behaviour can be; and althou –
From the vicinity of the kitchen, voices are heard loud and clear.
Miss Collins: “That cannot be an option. Even if such potation were befitting the occasion, my brother does not condone the imbibition of fortified wine by the fair sex, as he calls us. Good Christians should be filled with the Spirit, not spirits. We do not stock alcoholic beverages here.”
Mrs. Bennet: “Then you will appreciate my anticipation of such a deficiency. I brought my own bottle.”
Miss Collins: “I would, under any other circumstance, humbly bow to your superior proficiency as an accomplished mistress of an estate. However, I question the appropriateness of serving unbaptized sherry at a literary gathering such as this. Please keep in mind we will soon welcome into our midst the esteemed nieces of Sir Lewis de Bourgh. What if he were to hear of my disregard of his magnanimous recommendation of tea and seed cake for my guests?”
Mrs. Bennet: “A teapot and china cups, dearie. Sir Lewis and his servile spies need never know what libation lies therein.”
Miss Collins: “Such cunning, Cousin!”
Mrs. Bennet: “I prefer to think of it as ingenuity. Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Miss Collins: “Well, as the mother of our most excellent current curate, you can do no wrong. Will this teapot hold the entire bottle?”
I cringe and make a mental note to look up origin of the word ‘teetotaler‘.
Miss Collins and Mrs. Bennet enter the parlour followed by a housemaid bearing a tray of savouries and a ginormous china tea service. Their arrival coincides with a ring at the door. The servant scurries off and returns to announce Lady Cassandra Fitzwilliam, Mrs. Jane Devonport, and Miss Elizabeth Darcy. Introductions are made, and we settle onto our straight-backed chairs and exchange required small talk while Mrs. Bennet pours liquid refreshment and Miss Collins passes slices of caraway-flavoured cake.
Although quite familiar with these women, I am nervous (probably because I am well acquainted with them). “Thank you for attending our little discussion group, ladies. I trust everyone has read Pride and Prejudice by now and … Yes, Miss Collins?”
“My brother insisted upon his own perusal before permitting my access to the novel. I am sorry to say Mr. Collins found the material unsuitable.” She leans forward and speaks sotto voce. “One of the unmarried female characters runs off with a soldier!”
Me: “So, you have read the book?”
Olivia Collins bows her head. “I hid it behind Fordyce’s Sermons by day and read under the covers by candlelight at night. I do not know how to explain the singed sheets to my brother.”
Mrs. Bennet: “Oh, I do relish a ribald romance! Has anyone else read Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded? I am currently on my third rereading of The Monk but will set it aside if Pride and Prejudice is in the same vein.”
Elizabeth Darcy takes a sip, makes a face, and lowers her teacup. “Jane and I read The Monk – as well as Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling – during seminary days.” At our shocked expressions, she defends their choice of reading material. “To all one’s impressive scholastic and societal accomplishments, one must add something more substantial – the improvement of one’s mind by extensive, albeit forbidden, reading.”
Mrs. Bennet reaches over and pats her on the knee. “Quite right, Miss Darcy.” The two then engage in an exchange of views on lowbrow versus highbrow literature.
Me: “Could we please stay on topic here?” I hold up the book supposedly under discussion. “The novel’s first sentence is a perfect example of irony and is one of the most famous opening lines ever. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’”
Mrs. Bennet and Miss Darcy ignore me ... as does Miss Collins, undoubtedly busy inventing stories about scorched linens.
“Good gracious,” says Mrs. Devonport, “that opening sounds suspiciously like the start of our own story. It may not be universally acknowledged, but the unvarnished truth is that a young widow in possession of a good fortune is not necessarily in want of another husband. Handsomely provided for by an ample jointure, said widow need not relinquish control of her recently gained property, nor surrender her disenthrallment, unless, of course, she could find true love, or a close facsimile, a second time around.”
Me: “I hope Jane Austen would agree imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
“Who is Jane Austen?” asks Jane Devonport.
Me: “She wrote the book we’re discussing.”
“But my copy says it’s by the author of Sense and Sensibility,” says Lady Cassandra.
Me: “Miss Austen also wrote that novel.”
“But,” says Lady Cassandra, “Sense and Sensibility was written ‘by a Lady’.”
Me: “Jane Austen was that lady.”
Miss Collins chimes in, “I recently glanced through a book by ‘A Lady of Distinction’. Had our storyteller here ...” (She gives me the gimlet eye.) ‘… allowed me more time to study The Mirror of the Graces, I would not have made such a peabrain of myself in Love at First Slight.”
Me: “Olivia! You should be thankful to have had such a meaty role.”
Mrs. Bennet: “Oh, have we sausage rolls?” (Oh, good. Mrs. Bennet has obviously been paying attention after all.)
I wish the present company would assuage my desire for clever, well-informed conversation; so I make another attempt. “Let’s skip to the conclusion. What is your opinion of the ending of Pride and Prejudice? Anyone?”
“Lizzy and I took turns reading the novel aloud yesterday,” says Lady Cassandra. “While I was satisfied with the denouement, my cousin scoffed at the fairy-tale ending. She thought it preposterous the wealthy master of a grand estate – the grandson and nephew of an earl – would stoop to marry someone so beneath his station.”
Me: “Oh, really?” Knowing her fate, I smirk at Miss Darcy.
Distracted by strident footsteps stopping in the hallway, we look expectantly towards the door as it swings open. A handsome visage peeps into the room.
Mrs. Bennet flies from her seat and is warmly greeted by her favourite son – the Reverend Mr. William Bennet – as he enters the parlour.
We are momentarily spellbound by his towering, strong physique – clad in a long, formfitting, double-breasted black cassock. William addresses us in his rich, sonorous tone. “Good afternoon, ladies. What a pleasant surprise to find you here. Am I interrupting something?”
“Oh, not at all, Cousin William!” Miss Collins pats the chair beside her. “Please join us.”
William glances at Olivia, then Elizabeth, and then – more favourably – at Lady Cassandra and settles beside the latter. Mrs. Bennet hands him a slice of cake and a teacup. “Our book club is discussing a novel called Pride and Prejudice.”
His mouth and eyebrow quirk. “Arrogance and discrimination, eh?” He looks quickly at Elizabeth. “Is the author present, perchance?”
I inwardly groan but take perverse delight in knowing William Bennet will be made to suffer in LaFS.
Without looking, he takes a gulp from his cup and splutters, “What the dickens? Mother! Is this your doing?” He shakes his head but grins at her.
Upon witnessing the dimples bracketing William’s smile, Elizabeth sighs. I alone know she is fighting attraction to the handsome cleric and trying not to raise expectations on his part.
Slightly tipsy, I giggle into my second cup of sherry, snort fortified wine up my nose (never a pleasant experience), and immediately decide upon a future title for discussion by the LaFS Book Club. Please join us next time for Grape Expectations.
Or, you could start a discussion right now.
Have you ever read by flashlight under the covers or participated in a book club discussion? If so, was the book a ribald romance Mrs. Bennet would enjoy or one of a more serious stamp favoured by Miss Collins?
What is your opinion of these LaFS characters? Will you read their story?
J. Marie Croft
Meryton Press is offering two giveaways – one trade paperback for a randomly-drawn winner and an e-Book for another. To enter, take your chances in the rafflecopter forms below this post. Winners will receive their copies after Love at First Slight is released in November.
About the author
J. Marie Croft lives in Nova Scotia and divides her time among working at a music lesson centre, geocaching (a high-tech treasure hunt) with her husband, and writing. Her stories are lighthearted; and her tag line is Jane Austen’s quote, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” A member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (Canada), she admits to being excessively attentive to the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Adult twin daughters are the light of her life even though they don’t appreciate Mr. Darcy the way ‘Momzie” does.
In this humorous, topsy-turvy Pride & Prejudice variation, the gender roles are reversed. It is Mr. Bennet’s greatest wish to see his five sons advantageously married.
When the haughty Miss Elizabeth Darcy comes to Netherfield with the Widow Devonport (nee Bingley), speculation—and prejudice—runs rampant.
William Bennet, a reluctant and irreverent reverend, catches Miss Darcy’s eye, even though he is beneath her station. His opinion of her is fixed when she slights him at the Meryton Assembly.
As her ardour grows, so does his disdain; and when she fully expects to receive an offer of marriage, he gives her something else entirely ….