Why the Wardrobe as a device to create a story arc in the Pride & Prejudice Universe?
Through my years of reading Jane Austen’s fiction, I found myself gravitating toward the side characters—particularly those in the greatest novel…Mary the moralizing sister…Kitty who coughed and wilted in the glare of her younger sister’s boisterousness…Lydia who was, frankly, just this side of being a slut…Thomas who could have done so much more as a father.
JAFF writers have sought to carry on the ODC saga by offering the younger sisters their own storylines. Epilogues usually place Mr. Bennet in the bowels of the Pemberley Library. Mrs. Bennet is rarely mentioned—and is often dispatched with a bout of apoplexy.
I felt that there needed to be a different reality…one where each of these characters could enjoy fulfilling lives once they had overcome the inner conflicts holding them back. Could they have done that by staying on the Regency timeline? Perhaps.
However, something tickled my brain—perhaps it was my adolescent fascination with science fiction mixing with my adult appreciation of the Canon—that placed the Wardrobe in front of me. Now my protagonists could be immersed in different timeframes to learn that which they needed in order to realize their potentials.
I adhere to the idea posited by the great speculative fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein: that through the act of writing fiction, the reality in which that fiction exists is created. Thus, the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle created a universe in which Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and James Moriarty are as real as you are.
Within the framework of “the world as myth,” the Wardrobe now exists. The Bennets who have used it exist. So, the following FAQs are composed for an audience living in that universe where the Wardrobe is as real as the frosty Derbyshire wind.
What is the Wardrobe and how does it work?
The Bennet Wardrobe was created by the master cabinetmaker Grinling Gibbons in the early 1690s for the first Bennet to own Longbourn, Mr. Christopher Bennet. Bennet, who had earned his fortune in the India trade, sought to placate his wife with a one-of-a-kind gift handcrafted by one of the nation’s leading artisans. What he received was beyond imagination.
Gibbons, a friend of Isaac Newton’s and a follow student of the universe, had divined a way to create a mystical transport device/system (similar to C.S. Lewis’ Wardrobe, J.K. Rowling’s Flue Network or Dr. Who’s TARDIS). He incorporated those ideas into the Bennet Wardrobe.
The Wardrobe is capable of transporting the user to any time in the future where the Wardrobe itself is present. Then the user can return to the exact same moment in the present.
However, the portal in time is only open to those who are of the direct blood lineage of Christopher Bennet.
What controls the Wardrobe?
Gibbons discerned a series of “Rules of the Wardrobe” that appeared to be inviolable.
Chief amongst these, after the bloodline requirement, was that travel could only be accomplished to the future. No travel to the past prior to that instant was possible.
The second critical rule was that all trips needed to be round trips. Thus, while a user could travel to the future, the user’s next use of the Wardrobe would result in a return to the where/when from which the user departed.
If the user had spent one, two or even forty years in the future, they would have aged that much when they returned to their objective present.
As with any rules, important exceptions were discovered.
What does ‘where/when’ mean?
This small catch phrase is a re-imaging of the more familiar ‘here and now.’
Imagine this scenario: Before her elopement in 1811, Lydia Bennet could think ‘I want to see the exciting balls to which my darling Wickham will escort me.’ She would then plant both hands on the Wardrobe’s marquetry emblazoned doors. 1,000 bees would buzz and the pressure would build… But, she would run headlong into The Rules of The Wardrobe.
The Wardrobe may have decided that what she needed was a dose of the true life of a soldier’s wife while her man is away on campaign…the loneliness, fear, and worry. This consideration would govern the where/when of her journey.
Where…the user can only be sent to a future iteration of the Wardrobe. The cabinet was located in the Longbourn library for its first 125 years. After The Great Keeper, Mary Benton (nee Bennet), moved it first to Darcy House in London and then later to the Kympton Parsonage in 1815, the Wardrobe resided in numerous locations. Amongst those were Selkirk House in Matlock, Darcy House in London, and the House at Deauville in France. Currently the Wardrobe is secured in a penthouse apartment on Canary Wharf in London.
Lydia would not have found herself stepping into the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels the night before Waterloo begins. The Wardrobe was across the Channel in Darcy House! She would probably be dropped into the middle of another great conflict, to enjoy love and suffer dreadful loss, in order to learn what she needed.
When… Perhaps it would be while Wickham was with Wellington at Waterloo…perhaps it would be well over a century into the future, long after Wickham’s death. Remember, the Wardrobe acts like an air traffic controller, routing Bennets throughout the streams of time.
This may also explain Lydia’s cryptic comment, often repeated throughout her long life… “The Wardrobe has a unique sense of humor.”
Is there anything which can prevent a Bennet from using the Wardrobe?
The only way in which the Wardrobe will not send Bennets into the future is if they do not touch it in such a manner so as to activate the its “mechanism.”
Ignorance of the Wardrobe’s powers was utilized by the Keepers. Christopher Bennet’s grandson, Richard Bennet, decided not to give his daughter, Maude, “the talk” when she reached her majority. This came about because she had married William Collins…a man Richard Bennet found despicable. He feared what would happen if this Collins learned of the Wardrobe’s powers. In The Keeper, Maude’s grandson, the Reverend William Collins inadvertently discovered the powers of the Wardrobe, much to his distress.
One other method was isolation of the cabinet. The Canon reveals that Thomas Bennet generally barred his female children from his bookroom. What Austen did not discuss was that this tradition had been passed down from previous Keepers. The remarkable story of Bennet’s fourth child and her unintended use of the Wardrobe is Volume 2 of The Bennet Wardrobe Series, The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.
With thousands of Bennet descendants alive after the end of World War II, the Keeper, Lord Thomas Fitzwilliam, the 12th Earl of Matlock, decided to secret the Wardrobe from the probing eyes of the U.S.S.R. and the United States. He feared that the Wardrobe’s powers would be used to bring fearsome weapons from the future to play in the Cold War. The cabinet passed into the care of the Bennet Family Trust and its governmental counterparts: MI5 & 6. Modern day access to the Wardrobe is controlled through biometric scans.
Speculation has been rife as to whether a young Lizzy Bennet, a frequent habitué of her Papa’s bookroom, may have discovered the Wardrobe and discerned its capabilities prior to her father giving her “the talk.” More research will determine the veracity of this suggestion.
And now, please, enjoy this excerpt from “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque".
Kitty stepped into her niece’s sitting room. A cheerful coal fire cast the room in an orange hue. The girl noted that Madelyn eschewed the now-ubiquitous gas lamps for candles that gave everything a further tinting redolent of the richness favored by Messrs. Constable and Turner.
And no stink of rotten eggs, so often a feature of gas. Miss Bennet had lately begun to pick up on the subtleties of Victorian Britain in the four months since her arrival.
Madelyn Johnson stood staring into the fire with her back to the door. Having recently celebrated her 72nd birthday, Mrs. Johnson was a taller than average woman. Now two years a widow, her pile of steel grey hair was casually styled atop her head with two diamond-encrusted silver combs holding all in place. Her grey silk gown shimmered to the floor carrying her statement of modest mourning to its monochromatic, but supremely elegant, conclusion.
Hearing Kitty gently close the door behind her, Maddie turned, her rich chocolate brown eyes catching the fire’s light. The sight riveted Kitty to the floor. Here was what the union of the impertinent Lizzy and the imperious Mr. Darcy had wrought; the image of her elder sister—not as diminutive, perhaps, given the influence of the Darcy bloodline—had she lived past the age of 45.
“Ah, Catherine, you look exquisite tonight. I asked you to join me before the family went down to the ballroom. I wished to review some rules which the Earl, Countess, and I have decided upon,” The Dowager Mistress of Darcy House, her home for over 40 years, stated.
At Kitty’s sharp intake of breath, Madelyn stepped toward two chairs placed adjacent to a low table upon which rested a tray with a crystal decanter and two cordial glasses. Her outstretched hand indicated she wished Kitty to take the seat opposite her.
Noting the set of the girl’s jaw and her closed body language, Maddie decided to give a little before she asserted adult authority.
“Perhaps a glass of sherry would help, Kitty.”
At her Kitty’s grudging nod, Madelyn reached her gloved hand forward and poured both of them a full measure. After a well-observed demure sip by the matron, the youngster raised her glass to her lips and took her own. Her eyes widened as the fortified Spanish wine smoked down her throat.
“Oh my…” were her only words.
“Yes, Kitty, grown-up drinks as with many other things reserved for the more mature take some getting used to, I fear,” Madelyn softly advised.
When the girl relaxed, Mrs. Johnson fixed her with a firm but friendly gaze.
“I know that this is your first London society event. I also know from my mother that all of you were considered out by the time you were sixteen.
“However, that was 75 years ago…and even then, you were out only in country society.”
She halted when Kitty’s face darkened and her eyebrows drew together, but before the girl could object, Maddie froze her with a hardened stare.
“Now, if you had been, say, my Aunt Georgie, you would not have made your debut until after your eighteenth birthday. Using that measure, you have nearly a year until you can make your formal entrance into society.
“That is as it should be. You are not prepared emotionally for the complex dance between men and women. You could be hurt or, worse, disgraced, by someone taking advantage of your innocence.
“However you and Lady Eleanor are of an age. I imagine that you would enjoy making your formal bow with her by your side. But that will be next year after you have spent at least one year away at school, d’accord?
“As for tonight, the Countess and I have decided that you will be permitted to dance only with the Earl, Mr. Bingley, and Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam. If Lord John Cecil asks, you may accept. However, when you are not on the dance floor, you will be expected to attend the countess, Mrs. Brandon, or me.
“You and Lady Eleanor will then go upstairs after dinner.”
Kitty was torn by warring emotions. The further away she was from her old self and the young Lydia, the less likely she was to feel victimized by the adults in her life as they insisted she obey their fun-killing rules. But there were limits to her patience! She loved to dance and wanted to be part of every set! The redheaded stepchild of jealousy—rebellion—reared its head.
“Niece…Madelyn…oh, those names do not seem correct…what should I call you?”
“For the sake of simplicity, why not Aunt Maddie?”
“All right, Aunt Madelyn—that is familiar enough since my other Aunt Madelyn was my favorite relative. I am not so sure about you. Aunt Madelyn, I am near fully-grown. Your restrictions are most unfair.
“How am I supposed to avoid dying of boredom when I go off to Switzerland for the Fall term if I cannot enjoy myself tonight? The Swiss are so stuffy and officious. And they are nothing but Germans with a different pedigree.
“I remember when Herr Spetzlau visited Papa to discuss bringing some of his Brown Swiss milch cows[i] over to Longbourn. He was so disagreeable and serious. He always acted like he was ready to march Lydia and me out to the garden wall to face a firing squad! I hate the Swiss!”
Madelyn paused a full ten count before replying in a steel-edged tone to the outraged teenager.
“Have a care, Catherine, in how you speak in the next few moments. If you can regulate your emotions, you may be permitted to walk across the same parquet floor Her Majesty the Queen herself traversed over a quarter century ago when she honored her friend, yes, friend and your sister, Mary on the occasion of her 60th birthday. Will you do The Keeper’s memory honor or will you persist in being one of the silliest girls in all of England?
“While the Swiss are certainly a serious people, they are also fierce in the defense of their independence. There is a reason the Holy Father in Rome is defended by Swiss Guards.
“And, yes, it is true that the Swiss have German roots, but they are also made up of equal parts of two other great civilizations: France and Italy.
“Honestly, Kitty, I fear you have been misled by too many gothic novels. You are not being sent away to some convent in the mountains that can only be reached by baskets hanging from ropes between the peaks.
“L’Institut Villa Mont Choisi has seen dozens of our country’s women from the highest reaches of the aristocracy and business pass through its halls.[ii] They learn the social graces. They understand the importance of elegance in behavior with one’s betters, equals and lessers. They discover that money cannot purchase refinement.
“They cannot do that if they are cloistered away. No, Catherine…”
Kitty interrupted her, “Please, Aunt Madelyn, do not call me Catherine. Ever since that horrid Lady Catherine de Bourgh accosted Lizzy at Longbourn before she became engaged to Mr. Darcy, I have hated being addressed as ‘Catherine.’ Kitty will suit me, I believe.”
Maddie nodded her agreement. “Then Kitty it shall be. To conclude my thought…Kitty…students at L’Institut participate in the planning of all types of social entertainments…from intimate family dinners to large stately banquets suitable for the Prince of Wales and his siblings, from an afternoon musicale raising money for an orphanage to a ball like this evening’s fete in celebration of a momentous alliance.
“You will have many opportunities to dance and dine while meeting with other young men and women your age in a social setting. Your chaperones will ensure that you are not made uncomfortable by anyone. You will have the opportunity to learn to express yourself using your natural talents be they playing, singing, painting or writing.
“While L’Institut is a boarding school, it is completely different from the dreadful seminaries of my childhood. They are cosmopolitan. Young ladies from the world-over, unlike the inmates of those class-riddled schools that warped the sensibilities of many an impressionable girl, will surround you.
“Mr. Darwin could have avoided his journey on the Beagle if he had studied the social interactions of the daughters of the ton. Survival of the fittest, indeed!”
Madelyn had closely watched as Kitty had gradually relaxed throughout the dissertation. She, herself, leaned back in her chair and sipped at her drink, allowing the silence to gently disturb the girl and lead her to a response.
After a pause that had extended to a minute, Kitty huffed a deep breath and smiled at the other woman.
“When I came out of the Wardrobe, Lydia told me that I had so much to learn. What I have found since May is how much I do not know.
“One might argue that having much to learn and discovering how small your ken really is are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps they are, but I have become convinced that there is much more to education than the collection of information.
“Having awareness of what one does not know then allows the seeker to assemble that which is learned into a coherent whole with a singular meaning far beyond the separate bits of intelligence.”
As Kitty had been offering her thoughts, a smile began to broaden on Maddie’s face. How like Mama and Aunt Mary she is. She is clever and knows that she will survive on her wits! Oh, her looks will not let her down, either. Those china blue eyes beneath that golden mane will pierce a man’s heart. But unlike beautiful and caring dear Aunt Jane, this Miss Bennet has the tools to become a great force…and once she has found her confidence…she will streak across the sky like the Great Comet of 1881.[iii]
As the girl quieted, Madelyn gracefully set her glass back on the tray and rose. Kitty echoed her movements.
“Come, my dear, let us go downstairs and greet the guests. I would have you stand next to me.”
That declaration broke through Kitty’s defenses.
[i] Braunvieh or Brown Swiss cattle are the oldest of all dairy breeds. All of the cantons where the Schwyer are German speaking. http://www.thecattlesite.com/breeds/dairy/31/brown-swiss/ accessed 2/18/17.
[iii] http://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/46579g accessed 2/18/17.
About the Book
Beware of What You Wish For
The Bennet Wardrobe may grant it!
Longbourn, December 1811. The day after Jane and Lizzy marry dawns especially cold for young Kitty Bennet. Called to Papa’s bookroom, she is faced with a resolute Mr. Bennet who intends to punish her complicity in her sister’s elopement. She will be sent packing to a seminary in far-off Cornwall.
She reacts like any teenager chafing under the “burden” of parental rules—she throws a tantrum. In her fury, she slams her hands against the doors of The Bennet Wardrobe.
Her heart’s desire?
I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall! Anywhere but here!
As Lydia later said, “The Wardrobe has a unique sense of humor.”
London, May 1886. Seventeen-year-old Catherine Marie Bennet tumbles out of The Wardrobe at Matlock House to come face-to-face with the austere Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam, a scion of the Five Families and one of the wealthiest men in the world. However, while their paths may have crossed that May morning, Henry still fights his feelings for another woman, lost to him nearly thirty years in his future. And Miss Bennet must decide between exile to the remote wastelands of Cornwall or making a new life for herself in Victorian Britain and Belle Époque France.
ArkansasAustenFan reviews “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey”:
What an amazing historical novel that has a paranormal Wardrobe, which transports members of the Bennet-blood-family into the future and back… Don Jacobson is a master storyteller weaving English history into the lives of the P&P characters in a unique way. This book is not light, fluffy reading. It is an intriguing novel that would make a wonderful mini series on BBC much like Downton Abbey.
About the Author
Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years. His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He has previously published five books, all non-fiction. In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series—The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series. Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”
Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations. As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.
He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound. Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).
He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear. Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.
His other passion is cycling. Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills). He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days). Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).
A winner may win ONLY 1 (ONE) eBook of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque by Don Jacobson. Each winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and the giveaway is international.
Blog Tour Schedule:
06/15 From Pemberley to Milton; Guest Post, GA
06/16 My Jane Austen Book Club; Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
06/17 Just Jane 1813; Review, Excerpt, GA
06/18 Free Date
06/19 Diary of an Eccentric; Excerpt, GA
06/20 Savvy Verse and Wit; Guest Post, GA
06/21 Darcyholic Diversions; Author Interview, GA
06/22 My Vices and Weaknesses; Review, Excerpt, GA
06/23 Babblings of a Bookworm; Character Interview, GA
06/24 A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life; Guest Post
06/25 My Love for Jane Austen; Vignette, GA
06/26 Interests of a Jane Austen Girl; Review, Excerpt, GA
06/27 So little time…; Guest Post, GA
06/28 Laughing With Lizzie; Guest Post or Vignette, Excerpt, GA