I’m very excited to share a little bit about my new book, Remember the Past. Way back in the Dark Ages, when I was in college, my studies centered around sociology, psychology and behavioral sciences. As a result, when I write, I like to explore how things might have been for our favorite Austen characters had their circumstances been a bit different—or a lot different. While I try to keep the core of the characters the same as Jane Austen wrote, changes in circumstances do change people. Some more than others. Some for the better, some, not so much. I love exploring those changes and possibilities.
One of the changes in this book was that Mr. Bennet was not the heir to Longbourn, but a second son who went into the navy. His naval experiences changed him from a lackadaisical man to a very active, powerful one, who would become Admiral Thomas Bennet, Rear Admiral of the White.
Why would a young Thomas Bennet have joined the navy rather than the army as Col. Fitzwilliam did? Unlike army officers, naval officers did not purchase their commissions, they earned them. Thus, the navy offered greater potential for social mobility than most institutions in Regency era society. Generally only the sons of gentlemen or perhaps wealthy middle-class parents could enter the path to becoming an officer, but the way was not entirely closed to others.
Promotion to lieutenant was perhaps the most difficult step for young men to make in their naval careers. In order to become a lieutenant, a midshipmen had to serve a minimum of six years at sea. On presenting himself as a candidate for commissioning, he would also be asked to show his personal log books for the ships in which he sailed. Then he would take an examination on the topics of writing, mathematics,astronomy, navigation, seamanship and gunnery. Not all midshipmen passed the test. In practice, some candidates were asked only token questions; others were grilled. It could depend on the mood of the Board and the severity of individual Commissioners.
Many men who passed the examination were never commissioned. Midshipmen passing the examination would then have to apply for commission as a lieutenant on a specific ship. Influence of a powerful friend or family member could open the way for commissioning. If he did not receive a post on the ship he applied for, he would remain a midshipman until he once again applied for a post and received it. Once a man made lieutenant, the prospect of further promotion, all the way up to Admiral was possible.
Naval service was dangerous, though, with nearly 100,000 casualties between 1793 and 1815. Battle at sea accounted for less than 10% of naval casualties. Accidents and disease accounted for 80%.
Naval wages, even for Captains were notoriously low. Prize money was the only way to wealth and came in various forms. If an enemy ship was sunk, 'Head and Gun' money (calculated by the numbers of men or guns on the enemy vessel) was awarded. Until1808, a 3/8 share went to the captain and the remainder was divided on a diminishing scale, according to rank, among the other officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, and the ordinary members of the crew. After 1808, a slight change was made to the allocation of these shares.
If they captured an enemy ship, the Admiralty was often prepared to buy it from them and resulted in higher rewards. The best payouts came if the captured ship was carrying a valuable cargo. This kind of prize money was divided up so officers received more than the ordinary crewmen. It was possible for officers to earn substantial wealth in prize money.
In this tale, that is exactly what happens for Thomas Bennet, enabling him to retire to rank, connections and wealth. When he retires, though, things do not go exactly according to plan. Their long-awaited first season in London proves a disaster, and the resulting scandal sends the Bennets fleeing to the wilds of Derbyshire.
Widower Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley, wants for nothing, most especially not a wife. From the moment the Bennets arrive in Derbyshire, Darcy’s neatly ordered life turns upside down. His sons beg to keep company with their new playmates, the young Bennet twins. His mother-in-law sets her cap for Admiral Bennet. Worst of all, Darcy cannot get his mind off a certain bewitching Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but she has sworn never to let another gentleman near her heart.
Darcy’s best efforts to befriend and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry, alienating first Miss Elizabeth, then her father, and finally endangering what both men hold most dear. Can the two men Elizabeth loves most set aside their pride to prevent catastrophe for their families and win the love they seek?
Here’s a brief excerpt of the book, it is one of my favorite scenes:
Several days later, Jane and Elizabeth met very early in the morning room to pour over their notes for the pending move. In the subsequent hours, the chamber filled with light and warmth and a plate of Mrs. Reynolds’ finest scones and coffee.“How many times have we done this?” Jane leaned her head on Elizabeth’s shoulder.“Too many.” Elizabeth laid her cheek on top of Jane’s hair. “It used to be better, though. Lady Ellen had a penchant for making things run smoothly.” She tapped her pencil on the nearest list.
Jane yawned indelicately. “I am ready to be done with all this, perhaps even more than Papa. You know I cannot sleep well in the days before we take possession of a new house. Lists and details—”“And imaginary disasters—”“Yes, those too, they flood my mind and Morpheus cannot reach me.”Heavy footsteps approached.
“Good day ladies.” Colonel Fitzwilliam strode in.
“Good morning, sir.” Jane radiated an angelic glow.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was lost, utterly, pleasingly lost. An honorable man, his attentions to Jane even seemed to meet Papa’s approval. At the very least, he and Papa shared a mutual respect. His fortune probably did not exceed his sell-out, but Jane had enough to support them comfortably, even to acquire a modest estate. She might safely ignore his lack of affluence in favor of something no one could purchase, character. At last she had a suitor who might do very well for her, indeed.
Elizabeth rose and gestured toward Jane. “My sister has worked far too hard this morning. Would you take her to the drawing room and watch over her while she rests? Without someone to ensure her compliance, I am certain she will not.”
Jane’s jaw dropped and her face flushed bright.“Happy to be of assistance, Miss Elizabeth.” Col. Fitzwilliam grinned, a delightful expression to be sure, but nothing compared to Mr. Darcy’s.Jane tried to look severe, but failed. No surprise, given the light in her eyes. Though she might not admit it now, she would thank Lizzy for her clever intervention later. An opportunity for time with the colonel should not be wasted. Jane slipped her arm in his and they left.Now, back to the tasks at hand. Elizabeth sat and pulled Jane’s lists closer. She ticked off several points. Those ought to wait until after they were settled. She circled two items to be attended to—
“Miss Elizabeth!” Miss Wexley rushed in, panting, apron smudged with dirt. “Philip, ma’am. I cannot find him. If it were Francis, I would not trouble you, but Philip—he is not apt to disappear. I searched all the rooms near the nursery, the attics, and the servant’s quarters.”“The only time he vanishes is when he is troubled. Do not worry. I will manage him.” Elizabeth rubbed her hands together as she left the morning room.
Where to start? Poor Philip, he hated upheaval and despised moving house. Best find him before Papa learned of his disappearance. Despite her best efforts, he still did not understand his quiet son’s reaction to disorder and turmoil.
What would soothe Philip’s troubled soul right now?
Quiet, the warmth of sunshine and a place the other children would not find him. That meant a room on the east face with windows and books or fine breakable objects. The gallery or the library, the boys were not allowed in the former and avoided the latter. Slow, quiet steps carried her to the gallery.
Were those voices? She closed her eyes and turned her ear toward the doorway. Yes, a deep rumbling whisper and a smoother higher pitched answer.She inched nearer the door.
Philip stood silhouetted in the window. Beside him, Mr. Darcy crouched on one knee, a hand on Philip’s shoulder.“I understand these times are difficult,” Mr. Darcy said sotto voce.“Yes, sir.” Philip clasped his hands behind his back, serious beyond his years. “I do not mean to sound ungrateful. Jane and Lizzy, especially, are wonderful—”“But they are not her.”“No sir, they are not.” Philip sniffled.Elizabeth pressed a hand to her heart. Poor dear, boy.Mr. Darcy reached into his pocket. “There are bound to be those times when a boy—or a man—will miss his mother more than he wishes to acknowledge to others.”“Yes, sir.”“You must always carry one of these.” Mr. Darcy pulled out a handkerchief and tucked it into Philip’s hand, “and know where to find a sunny window. I find dust in one’s eyes a very sympathetic reason to claim for retreat.”Philip looked at Mr. Darcy, eyes shining. He clutched the handkerchief to his chest. “Thank you, sir.”“Carry on then. You are welcome to stay here until the dust has left your eyes.” Mr. Darcy rose and patted Philip’s back.A kindred spirit for Philip! Elizabeth bit her lip and blinked hard. She dabbed her fichu across her eyes.“Miss Elizabeth!” Mr. Darcy whispered.She jumped. “I am sorry. I was looking for Philip.”A red stain rose on his cheeks. That tender moment had not been meant for an audience.“He is a good lad. I gave him leave to remain—”“Until the dust has left his eyes.” The corner of Elizabeth’s lips lifted.“Ah, yes.” Mr. Darcy tugged his collar.“My brother’s quiet nature has often been misunderstood. He—and I—will not forget your kindness to him. You may need to prepare yourself for a bit of hero worship, though. He may even wish to discuss books with you.”Mr. Darcy blinked and flashed that smile. No, she must not become lightheaded!“I shall look forward to it. His opinions may well be as fascinating as yours.” He offered her his arm and accompanied her downstairs.
Paperback will be available soon
About the author
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, sown six Regency era costumes, written seven Regency-era fiction projects, and designed eight websites. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
She can be contacted at:
Random Bits of Fascination (http://RandomBitsofFascination.com)
Austen Variations (http://AustenVariations.com)
English Historical Fiction Authors
White Soup Press (http://whitesouppress.com/)
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace