The Process Behind the Cover of “Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess”
By this point, Janet Taylor and I have firmly established the overall cover format for Bennet Wardrobe stories. There have been two in the “new style” –The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey and The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque. This latest novella will be the third utilizing the unifying “look.”
One might suggest that if you have the frame, it is a relatively simple process to drop a picture into the hole. However, there is a peculiar zen behind an art director’s craft. As opposed to being almost incidental, what truly drives the underlying creative impulse for the cover design is the core visual. Even if Janet is not creating a new image, she derives the primary background color for the title block and then the complementary colors for the type itself. Wrong choices can have awful consequences.
For Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess, the strong visual was already in hand—or so it seemed. I had originally been composing a story called The Darcys Meet Frankenstein. As such I had already begun focusing on the Villa Diodati where Byron, Godwin, and Shelley had gathered during the summer of 1816. Because Mary Shelley’s immortal Frankenstein began its life as a short story composed at Diodati, the novel has been illustrated countless times. Early on William Purser made an engraving for a fronts piece of an edition. Later Edward Francis Finden made a colorized version of the original print.
The dramatic nighttime vision fired our collective imagination. But, would it actually fit a novella whose focus, while still keeping elements of the mature Elizabeth’s encounters with Mary Godwin, had been shifted to explore the youthful Lizzy’s interaction with the Wardrobe?
We decided that, while one could read the novella as two separate stories, both tales were so interlocked that to consider the Lizzy portion without the Elizabeth segment and vice versa would strip the deeper meaning from both. The visions besetting the adult find their roots in the child—or so Dr. Freud would assert.
Thus, the Finden color image of Villa Diodati became our only choice. Janet then picked up the yellow block background color from the moon and the burgundy type for my name from the roof and as a complementary color.
When Reality Becomes Dreams
The universe shook again on Midsummer’s Day in 1801. The Bennet Wardrobe opened the door to the future in Longbourn’s bookroom. This time the most impertinent Bennet of them all, Elizabeth, tumbled through the gateway. Except she left not as a grown women, but rather a ten-year-old girl who had been playing a simple game of hide-and-seek.
What needs could a child have that could be answered only by the Wardrobe? Or was it another Bennet, one who had aged into a beautiful, confident leader of Edwardian Society, who acted as the prime mover behind Lizzy’s journey? Was the enigmatic Lady Kate the force that shaped Lizzy’s destiny and that of her younger sisters left back in Hertfordshire?
Perhaps the Wardrobe also understood that Lizzy’s time in the future was destined to become the stuff of adult dreams…those mirages that rise only when the doors to the mind are most open…at the edges of sleep.
After Lizzy is transported back to that innocent summer’s day in 1801, Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess will carry readers forward to what may be considered the greatest writers’ workshop in history. T’was at the legendary Villa Diodati that Lord Byron gathered Mary Godwin (Frankenstein) and Percy Bysshe Shelley for a vacation during the Year Without Summer. Oh, Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth, were there to act as catalysts to transform vague ideas into timeless fiction.
“The Wardrobe Series weaves Bennet Family history through a series of impossible “coincidences,” leaving the reader to gasp in appreciation at the mastery that links it all together. Each new offering sheds light on a kaleidoscopic tapestry of the major events spanning two centuries. In “Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess,” Jacobson tightens the details of his complex universe and draws his artistry nearer to its pinnacle.”
Nicole Clarkston, author of These Dreams
READ CHAPTER 10
Ten-year-old Lizzy Bennet, while looking for a place to hide during an after-dinner game at Longbourn in 1801, has placed her hands on the front of the remarkable Bennet Wardrobe. The Wardrobe sends Bennets to a time in the future where they can learn what they need to know…or to be of assistance.
By this point in the story, Lizzy has already arrived in the summer of 1907 at Matlock House where the Wardrobe rests, met Jacques and Maggie Robard (see THE EXILE), been introduced to many of the visions of the 20th Century, and has been transported across the English Channel in Lord Henry Fitzwilliam’s steam yacht ‘Persephone.’ Her final destination is The House at Deauville, the beachfront residence of the Five Families. Chapter X details Lizzy’s first encounter with the Earl and Countess of Matlock, Henry and Kitty Fitzwilliam.
This excerpt is © 2017 by Donald P. Jacobson. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced by any means electronic or mechanical without the expressed written consent of the holder of this copyright with the exception of brief excerpts for review purposes. Published in the United States of America.
Kitty was shaken to her core.
Here was her older sister, but wearing a child’s body and clothes rather than being that impertinent young lady who lived most clearly in the Fourth Daughter’s memory. She scanned deeper until she recollected a time when Lizzy looked as she did here in Deauville: a frolic in Hyde Park with Aunt Maddie and Uncle Edward. Kitty had been but six years old when all five girls from Lydia, barely out of leading strings, to Jane, who at age eleven was experiencing her first spurt of adolescent growth, had been packed off for an extended visit with the newly married couple. There had been ducks and bread and a multitude of flapping webbed feet demanding food from giggling little girls. Kitty wryly smiled at the sad/happy ancient reminiscence from her own childhood, some thirty-two years before.
Oh my! That was the summer of the Year 0. Papa had sent us to Town because Mama was so ill after her great loss. I was frightened of the ducks’ beaks until Lizzy took my hand and showed me how to feed those hungry birds. Everything sent me into terror at that time. If not for Lizzy…
She tightened her grip on Henry’s hand as the youngsters tumbled out of the carriage to be followed by Maggie in her best ‘ship of state’ manner. Maxie and Tommy were strangely restrained and held back from rushing to greet Henry and Kitty as they intuitively grasped the important nature of the meeting between Miss Bennet and the Countess.
Lizzy stepped forward, near black eyes peering up from beneath the merlot brim of her topper, the giant rose complementing her coloring like a raspberry gelée mates with dark chocolate. Tommy came up to her side and introduced her.
“Mama, Papa. Please permit me to introduce one of our cousins. This is Elizabeth Rose Bennet. Miss Bennet, please permit me to introduce my parents, the Earl and Countess of Matlock, Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam.”
Lizzy gazed at the couple and then made a deep curtsey.
Henry cleared his throat and opened seriously, “That was an excellent introduction, Thomas. I am pleased to see that you have not lost all of your manners while tramping around Brownsea with Lord Baden-Powell. You are also well-met, Maxim.”
Then his voice assumed a lighter, more playful tone, “And, Maggie; is that square husband of yours coming along with the luggage or did he leave it to the Wilsons so that he could greet all of his bocce opponents out behind patisserie Villet?
“He may be surprised to know that the commune has a new maire who has taken the pledge. Monsieur Villet has had to close down his still during the vacation months. Monsieur le Maire, or maybe it was Madame, decided that allowing a workingman a drink after a day’s labor would shock the sensibilities of the tourists.
“And, Lizzy, if I may be permitted such familiarity, you must now forget all of your manners. This is the Beach House. Shoes and stockings are discouraged. If your Uncle Eddie Darcy insists upon wearing a necktie, I will cut it off at the knot and nail the remains to the archway leading to the beach!”
Kitty shot a quick elbow into her husband’s ribcage. Then she took up the light-hearted litany as well.
“First off…my husband is correct. This is the Beach House, and we throw off the artificial in favor of the real when we are here. You must call me Aunt Kate. This specimen,” at this she reached out and with soft fingers gently stroked Lord Fitzwilliam’s right arm, “is nothing less than your Uncle Henry. You have met the rest of our clan with the exception of your cousins Eloise.
“But, I must correct my beloved. Lest you think all Darcys are stuffy prigs, Lizzy, my brother Edward has been living in a morning coat and top hat for months as he has represented Britain at The Hague Conference. Your Uncle Henry would have been by his side except that I insisted that he take at least one year to recuperate after Algeciras. [i]
“We expect Earl Darcy and Aunt Ellie to arrive in the next day or two. Little Georgiana is already here with Eloise. Her older brothers are visiting their Johnson cousins in Baltimore.
“So, we will be a small group, but with more than enough activities to keep us occupied. Oh, Maggie, Aline telephoned earlier. She and Pierre-Auguste have decided to send Jean ahead while they wrap up the studio. Tomkins will have to return to the gare to collect him. Young Claude is off with Aline’s family in the country.”
Lizzy had been studying Tommy’s mother as she gave the updates. The woman’s confidence, her powerful ability to engage everyone within reach, was immediately relaxing. Although a countess, Lady Fitzwilliam, Aunt Kate, did not wield her title like a truncheon. Rather, she quickly disposed of her figurative tiara in favor of an actual wide brimmed canvas hat that shaded her fair skin.
On top of that, she is wearing men’s pantaloons. And some sort of footwear that looks like the ancient Roman sandals Papa showed me when we visited his College in Cambridge!
Lizzy was immediately drawn to her in a manner unlike her attraction to Maggie. This was a deeper, more profound, feeling that vibrated through Elizabeth’s entire being. Lizzy thought to herself, I have met Aunt Kate before!
The boys began to impatiently shuffle their feet while Kitty was diving into another thought. They froze as Henry’s nose—his eyes hidden behind the smoky lenses—angled down toward them. Lady F was not oblivious, either.
“…but I am rattling on. So…”
She raised a left hand unadorned except for a glorious solitaire blue diamond engagement ring abutting a gold wedding band. Then she began to tick off items using her elegant fingers as counters.
“First: The tide is out and the surf is low. Maxie and Tommy: get on your swimming costumes and collect the younger girls. They have been waiting for you before going out onto the beach. If you think you are impatient, imagine two five-year-olds denied their fun.
“Second: You two are responsible for their safety. No rough play! Watch them carefully! Aunt Maggie will accompany you until Henry and I can join you.
“Third: I would ask you, Lizzy, to accompany Uncle Henry and me into the library. We would like to talk with you about your family at home. Once we have finished our conversation, I imagine you will want to join the others.
“Finally, Madame Brouillard has somehow obtained—I think it must be from Teddy and Ethel’s cook at Sagamore Hill[ii]—a menu for what the Americans refer to as ‘a cookout.’ We will be eating a number of dishes all prepared over open fires right on our beach! I expect hearty appetites!”
With a vigorous nod, she sent everybody scurrying away—everybody except Lizzy to whom she held out her hand. Thus linked, the two sisters climbed the stairs and slipped into the coolness of the House.
The difference in temperature from the front drive to the front hall of the House was as pronounced as was the contrast between brilliant sunshine and deep shadow. Lizzy was used to spending as much time as she could out of doors. But the ocean breeze had done little to relieve the oppressive heat radiating from the crushed limestone surface beneath her feet as she stood in the drive.
Moving indoors was a relief. How much of a relief, she was not sure, as she did not know quite what to expect from the two adults. Their initial greeting seemed pleasant enough, much akin to the open manner of Mr. Lucas when he welcomed everyone to his large home fronting on High Street—something suitable for Meryton’s mayor—situated across from his mercantile.
Lord Fitzwilliam surely seemed jovial enough. Lady Kate, on the other hand, was full of contradictions. One moment she was laughing with the boys; the next a cloud of sadness crossed her freckled face and dimmed those rich blue eyes.
Uncle Henry led the small group into a pleasant book-lined room. He immediately doffed his dark glasses, revealing his steel-grey eyes for the first time, and stopped by a cart filled with decanters. He turned to his wife while pointing at one bottle filled with an amber liquid.
She nodded. He poured two short drinks, and walked to the leather-upholstered sofa where she had settled first Lizzy and then herself. In the meantime, Kitty had poured a tumbler of lemonade from a pitcher beaded with cooling condensation. This she handed to Lizzy before accepting her own from her husband.
Then they gazed at one another.
Of Kitty’s impressions of the child Elizabeth, dear Reader, you have been apprised.
As for Henry: all that can be said is that he had not any specific impression but rather an underlying concern about the impact of Lizzy’s presence on his beloved. This was much in keeping with his manner of dealing with the world since those dark days of 1891-92.
On the other hand, young Miss Bennet was soaking up everything like a Greek sponge. And her observations were curious and oddly connected with her old life.
Although not in manner, but rather appearance, Aunt Kate reminds me of nothing more than Mama. She truly looks like Mama, although Mama’s eyes are emerald green not grey-blue. She is also very pretty like Mama, although I think she may be a little older. I have heard Uncle Edward speak of Mama’s great beauty as a young girl. I remember what Papa said to her when we had her birthday celebration last year.
In her mind’s voice, Lizzy assumed a gruff, Papa-like tone, Ah, Fanny; you have not aged a day since I met you back in the autumn of ’87. You were fighting off beaus in the Assembly Rooms. And then you looked my way. Pierced me to the soul, you did. Your pair of fine eyes still set my heart quivering.
Lizzy had discounted much of that speech because Mama had been so sad. She barely had made it downstairs to the dining room for her cake. But, she did seem to become more engaged after Papa’s toast. Her time on the main floor became longer and longer each day. And, she became much more involved in her daughters’ educations with a particular emphasis being placed on husband hunting.
At this point, only Janie, Lizzy herself, and Mary had been the focus of Mama’s ministrations. Kitty would soon enough be forced to join in the drills and the droning strictures of Mama’s accomplishments.
Yes, Lizzy understood how important it was for her to become skilled with a needle. No, she could never comprehend why stitches that would never see the light of day needed to be perfectly just so.
Of course, as a young girl in a gentleman’s household, Lizzy knew that young ladies, once they reached a certain age would be expected to demonstrate some genteel skills: sketching, music, or languages. However, Lizzy did not believe that, laudable as they were, these activities could do any more than beautify a life. They could not help run an estate or improve the family’s fortunes.
Likewise, she had no objection to learning how to carry herself like a lady. However, she was confused by Mama’s insistence that gentlemen needed to ‘appreciate a lady’s assets’ and that those features could be presented to their greatest advantage by clamping one’s arms across her middle while jutting her chest forward. Nothing happened when Lizzy tried those movements except that her gown bunched. Try as she might, Lizzy could not dispel the notion that she was in preparation to be paraded like a prize lamb in front of hungry foxes.
How would the Matlocks size her up?
As her musings became deeper and browner, Lizzy was roused by a firm knock on the library door. Henry crossed to the portal and opened it. He quickly conversed with, as it turned out, Liam and Sean Wilson. Stepping back, he allowed the two giants to wrestle the substantial packing case obscuring the Wardrobe into the room.
Henry ignored Kitty and Lizzy and set about helping the two men in a speedy unpacking of the crate. When all the panels had been removed, Henry stepped away from the cabinet and allowed the others to slide it back into a recessed slot in the wall—one clearly designed for the Wardrobe. They draped a pair of fireplace gloves over the door handles and then bowed to the library’s other occupants.
Henry walked back to the ladies, reached down to grasp his drink that he then proceeded to drain in one gulp.
Lizzy looked at the older couple. Then she glanced at the Wardrobe in a way that brooked no confusion about the point she was about to make. She took a considerable sip from her lemonade and in a sagely serious voice delivered from her slight figure in a firm tone asked, “And when would I have been told?”
[i] Along with the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the body of secular international law. The Second Conference was held in 1907. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hague_Conventions_of_1899_and_1907 accessed 8/17/17. Algeciras was conference held in Spain in 1906 to resolve the First Moroccan Crisis. https://www.britannica.com/event/Algeciras-Conference accessed 8/17/17.
[ii] President Theodore and Ethel Roosevelt’s family home on Long Island.