|Giving you flowers or giving you the finger?|
As a reader (okay, addict) of Austen fanfiction for over a decade I have, like many of you, consumed a lot of JAFF over the years, and have seen all sorts of wild liberties taken with the characters and storylines we love so dearly.
One of my favorite tropes in fanfiction is raising antagonists to Supervillain Status, and it’s been done with a lot of characters from Pride & Prejudice – Lady Catherine, Caroline Bingley, and George Wickham (the usual suspects) are often upgraded to evil masterminds with nefarious schemes against our dear Lizzy and Darcy. Even characters like Mr. Collins, Lydia Bennet, and Mrs. Bennet, who are more chaotic-neutral (or idiotic neutral?) than true evil, have taken their turn as villains, as have revered supporting characters like Mr. Bennet, Georgiana Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. So why not the angelic Jane Bennet?
|You’re not fooling me, Janey, I know there’s a monster in there|
True, there have been a few bad Janes in Austen variations – suffering from minor jealousy or driven by desperation, but more often than not, we at least see Jane realize the error of her ways and attempt to reconcile with the inevitably righteous Elizabeth that inhabits the realm of fanfiction. And that is as it should be, right? Afterall, Jane Austen has given us every reason to believe that Jane Bennet is an absolute angel – certainly Lizzy and the other Bennets think so.
I began to wonder, as I started writing Happier, could such constant praise from her family really be a good thing for Jane? Is she truly so angelic as to be above letting it all go to her head? (Spoiler alert: no, she’s not.) In all likelihood, Mrs. Bennet would have given her eldest daughter a giant superiority complex, from constantly reminding her that she is more beautiful than her sisters, and that this physical beauty is a commodity of sorts, upon which Mrs. Bennet has hung the hopes of their family’s salvation from the hedgerows she frequently laments. Even Lizzy contributes to this poisonous pairing of praise and pressure – she reminds Jane that she is “five times as pretty” than any of the other girls in the neighborhood, and keeps her on a pedestal throughout the book, though at least she does her the small favor of acknowledging her sister’s inner beauty as well.
So how would this saintly creature reconcile these frequent reminders of her superiority against the fact that she is, at the age of twenty-two, still unmarried? My answer: rampant narcissism!
|Probably plotting something….|
One of the first ideas I had for this book was the idea of chain-actions causing problems for both Lizzy and Darcy. In Lizzy’s case, the chain reaction is that Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother conveniently dies, raising him to station of viscount, and drawing the scheming attentions of Caroline Bingley, who talks her brother out of renting Netherfield so that she can stay in London and chase down Darcy’s newly-titled cousin. With no Mr. Bingley at Netherfield when Mr. Collins comes to visit, there is no reason for their cousin to turn his eyes from Jane to Lizzy.
While canon Jane is never as disgusted as Lizzy with Mr. Collins in the first place, in Happier she is both as disdainful of him as her sister, and yet as practical about the situation as Charlotte Lucas. His proposal is the event that triggers Jane’s malicious downward spiral into the toxic behaviors of narcissism – envy, a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy or remorse, arrogance and bragging, flattery of those feed her ego, and abuse of those who do not. Throughout the book, these traits shape her relationships with Lizzy, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Mr. Bingley, and virtually everyone she encounters; her entire perception of reality begins to shift.
The except below is from the prologue of Happier in Her Friends Than Relations, and affords us the first glimpse of an imperfect, narcissistic Jane Bennet, just as her family finally drives her over the edge….
|Available on Kindle Unlimited and in paperback form, January 5th|
Elizabeth entered the room she shared with Jane and found her sister seated at the vanity, staring blankly at her own reflection; the sight of it tore at Elizabeth’s heart. She sat down on the bench next to her, covering Jane’s hand with her own. “Are you well, Jane?”
Jane nodded absently, offering a thin smile. “Indeed, Lizzy, I am quite content.”
“Jane, you cannot be serious. You cannot really tie yourself to that awful man!”
Jane’s expression was one of innocent shock. “I am serious. It has been announced all over the neighborhood. And, truly, he is not so very bad, though I know you dislike him. He has made me an honorable offer.”
Elizabeth let out a derisive snort. “Honorable indeed! As if he isn’t pompous enough already, he seeks to puff himself up even more by securing a wife who is far too good for him. And Mamma is so eager to see one of us settled that she does not care if it is to a foolish toad! No, Jane, you deserve better than that.”
Jane recoiled, visibly distraught. “Lizzy, that is unkind. It was very generous of Mr. Collins to select a wife from amongst us.”
Jane might have said more, but Elizabeth cut her off. “He likely knows that no other woman would have him! At least with us, in his mind, he has some chance of success, as he seems to think us so indebted to him. But you needn’t be, Jane, for you are five times too lovely to be wasted on such a man when you could do so much better!”
At this, Jane’s expression hardened, and she launched herself up from the bench beside Elizabeth to pace the room. “Could I? I am two and twenty years old, I have hardly any dowry to speak of, and no other prospects. That northern gentleman who was rumored to be leasing Netherfield never came, and who knows what other opportunities may ever come our way. I cannot take any more chances, Lizzy. The truth is none of us may ever receive a better offer.”
“You might! Tell Mr. Collins you need some time to think on it. You could go to London, stay with our aunt and uncle. Attend the theatre, the assemblies, and I am sure you should find some gentleman more worthy of you.”
“No, Lizzy! I have given my word, I shall not go back on it. Would you have me gamble the fate of our family? We are entirely at Mr. Collin’s mercy when Papa dies, for he shall have this house! Would you turn away a chance to ensure our security?”
Elizabeth shook her head emphatically. “No, Jane, I cannot believe this is the only way. And I would certainly never bind myself to such a man, no matter the cost! I should do anything else to avoid it—work as a governess, even—but never would I marry such a man.”
“Then you are selfish, Lizzy! Our mother has always said so, and I never wanted to believe it, but you are a selfish, stupid girl! You are no better than Lydia, with her head full of love and officers, romantic notions that will do this family no good whatsoever! One of us must be practical.”
Elizabeth stood and reached out pleadingly to Jane. “The rest of us, indeed, but not you—if anyone deserves to marry for love, it is you.”
Jane swatted her sister’s hand away, her expression one of sheer torment. “Stop this! You must let go of this delusion that some rich gentleman will come along and sweep me off my feet. That my good looks will somehow save us all. That is not the way the world works, in all the years I have been waiting for Mamma’s fantasies to come true. This—this is reality. Mr. Collins. This is my chance to really save our family, and you would have me throw it away for some dream? I will not!”
“So instead you will throw yourself away? You truly believe you have no other options, that there is no one out there that will see your worth? You are too good—”
Jane interrupted before her sister could finish. “Why? Because I smile and embroider pretty little nothings?” Her scowl grew deeper as her voice rose. “I am not special, Lizzy! I am simply the only one in this house with any sense of reality, with any sense of what is right! Perhaps I merely seem like such a good catch because of the company I keep! Our younger sisters run wild, unchecked—they are a scandal waiting to happen. Mary moralizes and lectures us more than our own parents, and is just as soon disregarded. You, Lizzy, are impertinent and headstrong. You somehow manage to have Papa wrapped around your little finger, for you are the only person in this house he treats with the slightest bit of respect. And Mamma! She has been chasing away suitors since I came out! Mr. Purvis, who wrote me all those poems when I was fifteen, might very well have done more, if not for her humiliating determination to catch him for me. And every year it gets worse; the older I get, the more desperate she grows, and it only damages my already slim chances. I have had enough!”
Silent tears streamed down Elizabeth’s face as she helplessly watched her beloved sister come unraveled. “I did not know you felt this way,” Elizabeth whispered weakly.
Jane took a deep breath before she responded, but though she had lowered her voice, the steel was not gone from it. “You only see what you care to see. But then, you are so very private yourself, I suppose it may never have occurred to you that some of us might actually wish to confide our feelings sometimes.”
Elizabeth stammered, unable to formulate a response before Jane pressed on, her voice filling with bile once again, until she was nearly shouting. “Perhaps you do not care what I think—I daresay no one in this family does. It is enough that I am placid and tractable, and willing to go along with whatever is decided for me, but this decision is my own, it is what is needed, and I expect all my sisters to be grateful. You in particular, Lizzy. You should be thanking your lucky stars that northern gentleman backed out of the lease of Netherfield, for Mamma meant for me to have him, and then it would be you wed to Mr. Collins, if he would have you.”
Elizabeth stared numbly, scarcely recognizing the raging harpy before her.
“I will do what I must to save our family and secure our future, and all of you owe me a debt of gratitude, do you understand? One day I shall become mistress of this house, and you ought to pray, Lizzy, that day does not come soon, for I daresay my husband and I shall not be so forbearing as Papa. I strongly advise you to be long gone by the time that day comes, or it shall not go well for you. Indeed, you had better hope some single gentleman finally does let Netherfield, for I daresay it is your only chance, if you can curb your offensive behavior and not snub your nose at any respectable offer that comes along! When I am wed and gone off to Kent, it will be you who Mamma shall thrust at any gentleman she can, and you shall have no sympathy from me!”
Disbelief washed over Elizabeth as she wept softly. As Jane continued to pace the room, Elizabeth sat still on the bench, hugging her knees to her chest.
Jane rounded on her again, her ire rising at Elizabeth’s stunned silence. “You sneer at my choice, when you have no prospects of your own! Perhaps you shall end a governess after all. It would serve you right, for you have done nothing to deserve any better. Papa indulges you, and you expect the rest of the world to do so as well, but I will not! And when he is gone…”
Elizabeth could listen no longer. It was one thing to bear the brunt of her sister’s unexpected vitriol, but she would not let Jane, or anyone else, speak against her beloved father. “That is enough,” Elizabeth shouted, standing up and stepping toward her sister. Though the shorter of the two, Elizabeth tipped her chin up and brought her face to within inches of Jane’s.
“I know not what has come over you, or if I have ever known you at all, but from this day you are a stranger to me, Jane. Say what you will of me, I care not, but I shall not hear another word against our father. Do not dare to judge that man, for soon it shall be you, just like him, shackled to a partner you cannot respect, and what escape shall you have? You shall be well and truly trapped, Jane, and I dare say you will deserve every bit of the misery you will have brought upon yourself. Perhaps being mistress of this house and lording over your sisters will bring you some comfort in your wretchedness, but I shall certainly not be here to see it, I promise you that.”
Elizabeth fixed one final glare on her sister, until Jane looked away, folding her arms in front of her chest. Without another word, she spun on her heel and stormed out of the room. The slam of the door was followed by a chilling silence.
Thanks for joining me on this first stop of my blog tour, and a special shout-out to those of you who have been following Happier since the days of posting on AHA and AO3! As a thank-you for all the wonderful support I’ve received, I have started a give-away[hyperlink to rafflecopter], and will be selecting after each post on the blog tour! See the full schedule for the blog tour below, and click here to follow me on Facebook for updates on the sequel, coming soon!