I suppose I ought to warn readers that there are spoilers in this guest post about one of the situations from my new Pride and Prejudice variation, A Covenant of Marriage, but I’ve probably already let the cat out of the bag by the title of this post. This particular variation on Jane Austen’s signature work revolves around the summer holiday planned by Elizabeth Bennet’s aunt and uncle, who invited her to accompany them. In P&P, the original plan was for an excursion to the Lake District for six weeks in June, but the tour had to be delayed and shortened to four weeks because of Mr. Gardiner’s business. So, instead of journeying to the Lakes, they decided on a shorter vacation to Derbyshire, with the result that Elizabeth coincidentally meets Darcy when her party is visiting his estate of Pemberley, which leads to events critical to the happy ending of the novel. My thought was to allow the original tour to take place as planned and see what develops.
First of all, the meeting between Elizabeth and Darcy would not take place, with the result that Elizabeth could not receive news of Lydia’s elopement with George Wickham from Brighton. With Darcy being completely unaware of this calamity, readers would not be surprised to learn that Lydia and Wickham would not ever be discovered once they disappeared in the warrens of London. From the novel, it’s clear that the combined efforts of Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner, and Colonel Forster were never going to find where Wickham had gone to ground, and Darcy would not be available to do what they could not, since he was not even aware of what had happed. Without Darcy being present to bribe and coerce Wickham into marrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s sister would not return to Longbourn and would be assumed by all the neighbors and friends of the Bennet family as having been abandoned by Wickham and likely would have fallen into prostitution or worse. Thus, Elizabeth’s family would be virtually ruined by Lydia’s transgressions. They would, in fact, be essentially be ostracized and shunned by their former friends and neighbors.
A consequent result would be that Elizabeth would not learn of Darcy’s change of attitude toward her, nor would he return to the neighborhood with Bingley. Thus, neither sister would be married to the man of their choice in 1812, if ever. From the title of my novel, it’s clear that my solution to Elizabeth’s predicament is an arranged marriage, though that solution would be years in the making. But if Bingley does not return to Hertfordshire, what would I do about Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley? Would they ever marry, and, if so, how?
While fiddling with my plotline and trying to resolve this problem (and others), I had several factors to put into the equation (I’m a left-brain engineer, remember, so I do equations a lot!). My first thought is not particularly complimentary to Darcy’s sister, but I simply don’t consider Georgiana as particularly bright or observant. She’s a nice girl, certainly, very polite and attractive, with the potential to be a charming ornament on some gentleman’s arm, as was the custom of that time, but I didn’t think she had a tenth of the cleverness that distinguished Elizabeth Bennet. For example, even at fifteen, Elizabeth never would have fallen for an attempt by Wickham to sweet-talk her into an elopement. She would have known instantly that he had no money to support a wife and family, and certainly her fortune was minimal (her mother’s fortune of £5,000 had to be divided five ways and would not even be available until both her parents died). So she would have known that he had some ulterior motive, and not even his amiability and manners could have convinced her other wise.
Second, I also didn’t think Georgiana had the strength of character to go through the stress of a London Season without a guide and protector (which would not be Elizabeth in this variation). The strain of being pursued by glib and smooth young gentlemen in pursuit of her family position and her fortune of £30,000 would be more than she could handle. Remember, she had already been enticed and nearly captured by Wickham, who was the epitome of a glib and smooth con man. So, what would be most soothing to such a young lady? The answer and the question came to me simultaneously—the amiable friend of her brother who admired her and had no need for pretense, since he already had a fortune of his own. She would receive his attentions with relief and pleasure, even though it was rather disheartening that Caroline Bingley would get her wish and become her sister (and Darcy’s!) when Georgiana and Bingley wed.
Having a nefarious turn of mind, I rubbed my hands together in glee at the opportunity to increase the angst among the Bennet sisters at Longbourn with this turn of events, which would, of course, be well documented in The Times, from Georgiana’s presentation to the Queen to the birth of her and Bingley’s son. Then there was the anticipation of Caroline Bingley being able to deftly work of her sister’s attitudes towards Darcy’s new wife, the unsophisticated, self-sufficient Eliza Bennet of the “fine eyes.”
The reader will likely get the entirely justified feeling that I was feeling quite pleased with myself at how I was twisting and turning the plotlines involving our favorite characters. Sometimes it’s quite a lot of fun to be an author!
C. P. ODOM
Read an excerptfrom Chapter 2
There are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage and hope. Not even tragic accident or disaster can destroy such treasures of the heart.
— Daisaku Ikeda (1928–) Japanese writer
Saturday, August 15, 1812
Mrs. Gardiner had grown desirous of returning to Gracechurch Street, so she and her children took the coach to London that morning. The same vehicle would then return Mr. Bennet to Longbourn.
As soon as her father arrived, Elizabeth could easily see how much he had been affected by almost two weeks of fruitless searching. When he greeted his family, he tried to give the appearance of his usual composure, but the dark circles under his eyes and his sallow complexion belied the attempt. Afterwards, he said as little as he usually did and especially avoided speaking of his vain endeavours in London. In fact, it was late in the afternoon before any of his daughters summoned the courage even to mention it.
When Elizabeth ventured to broach the subject, her father at first gave lip-service to being responsible for the present scandal by his neglect. However, he almost immediately made light of his confession, saying he was not afraid of being overpowered by guilt and expected the feeling to pass soon enough. Elizabeth looked helplessly at Jane and shook her head at the further evidence of their father’s adroit ability to avoid his parental duties.
Mr. Bennet thought it highly likely Lydia was still in the company of Wickham somewhere in London, and he firmly stated he expected her tenure there to be lengthy. This was quite unsettling to Elizabeth and Jane since it seemed he was little affected by a daughter living in sin with Wickham.
And even when her father complimented Elizabeth on her warning to him in May, saying she had been justified in her advice he should not allow Lydia to go to Brighton, she was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction at the half-apology, especially at the sardonic manner in which it was said. It seemed he was unable to make himself take the events and challenges of life seriously, and she doubted he would follow through when he stated categorically that Kitty was not going to be given the freedom to repeat the mistakes of her disgraced sister.
The days passed slowly, and a message was received from Mr. Gardiner in London every day or two, detailing the progress of his search. The reports, unfortunately, were uniformly bad—no news of Wickham, no news of Lydia—and after a week of fruitless searching, Mr. Gardiner had to return to his business affairs and was unable to continue. He hired agents to continue the search in his stead, but this effort, regrettably, had as little success as had all previous attempts.
Mr. Bennet soon resumed his normal life, little affected by the scandal now sinking its claws into the rest of his family. The neighbourhood had the news of the unrewarding searches for Miss Lydia Bennet though Elizabeth was unsure whether the source of this information came from Aunt Philips, Lady Lucas, or the gossip of servants at Longbourn.
Whatever the source, it was generally acknowledged that Lydia had taken up residence somewhere in the trackless warrens of London. Opinion split over what had become of her, the majority believing she was living with the wickedest man in the world. However, a substantial faction wondered whether Wickham had already abandoned her, and even those who thought she was living with him were of the opinion he would abandon her sooner or later. What her lot would be then could only be guessed, though the options for a penniless, unmarried girl in the dissolute sections of London were exceedingly slim and almost universally led to unsavoury occupations.
Mrs. Bennet remained in her room, comforted to the degree possible by visits from Mrs. Philips. Lady Lucas also called occasionally and offered her condolences, but Elizabeth noted she was the only one of her mother’s erstwhile friends to do so. The sisters also kept to the house—save only Elizabeth, who spent many hours in solitary walks about the neighbourhood. She grew quite tanned despite her umbrella and bonnet, but her mother was so sunk in lethargy she did not even bother to chide her least favourite daughter about it.
On the few occasions when the girls walked to Meryton to see their aunt, it was noticeable that, while their acquaintances would return their greetings with a nod, none of them tarried to talk more than a few moments. And, when visiting one or the other of the tradesmen, it was clear none of the other patrons in the establishments seemed to notice them.
Kitty was more affected than Mary was, for she depended more on conversation and society while Mary had her books to keep her occupied. Elizabeth and Jane bore it more stoutly since they had comprehended from the beginning this would be the result if Lydia was not found. Though not a true ostracism, they had been dropped from the list of eligible guests by every gentle family in the neighbourhood.
The sisters discussed the matter on numerous occasions, and Jane thought the scandal would eventually dwindle in importance and would be replaced by other news. Elizabeth did not dispute this opinion, but Jane seemed severely shaken when her sister responded by stating none of them could credibly hope to make a good marriage. A generous dowry for the girls might have made possible a marriage to a small landholder, but since no dowry was available beyond a fourth share of their mother’s fortune of five thousand pounds, they would be fortunate to marry a clerk, a tradesman, or the owner of a small farm. Anything beyond these meagre prospects, Elizabeth affirmed, had been rendered impossible, for their reputation as the sisters of the unfortunate Lydia Bennet could not be evaded.
Weeks passed, and nothing had been uncovered by Mr. Gardiner’s occasional and increasingly less frequent inquiries. Lady Lucas continued to visit and to recognize the Bennet family, and gradually the Bennet sisters began to resume their normal affairs. Mrs. Bennet began to come downstairs for meals and sat with her daughters in the parlour, waiting for visitors who would never arrive. Elizabeth and Jane found it painful to see the effect on her as no invitations ever came to dine with other families, and their mother was too fearful of being slighted to issue any invitations of her own.
During her long walks, Elizabeth had time to dwell on the expected results of a family so ill-directed by her parents. She struggled against the resentment she felt towards them, but she was only partially successful in quelling her anger. Her spirits were further cast down when news was received of Netherfield again being open for lease since Mr. Bingley had given it up. Jane gave little open sign of being distressed by the news, but Elizabeth was far too familiar with her sister to be deceived, and it had only added to her own disheartened mood.
A Covenant of Marriage—legally binding, even for an unwilling bride!
Defined as a formal, solemn, and binding agreement or compact, a covenant is commonly used with regard to relations among nations or as part of a contract. But it can also apply to a marriage as Elizabeth Bennet learns when her father binds her in marriage to a man she dislikes. Against her protests that she cannot be bound against her will, the lady is informed that she lives under her father’s roof and, consequently, is under his control; she is a mere pawn in the proceedings.
With such an inauspicious beginning, how can two people so joined ever make a life together?
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Meet C. P. Odom
By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics.
I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree.
I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife's beloved Jane Austen books after her passing. One thing led to another, and I now have four novels published: A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015), and Perilous Siege (2019). Two of my books are now audiobooks, Most Civil Proposal and Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets.
I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats. My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).
Meryton Press is giving away 8 eBooks of A Covenant of Marriage