It’s great to be back at My Jane Austen Book Club! Today I am here to share another excerpt of my new release, Handsome, Clever, & Rich, which is now available on Kindle Unlimited.
This Pride & Prejudice variation is a crossover with another of my favorites, Emma, and the titular heroine plays an important role in the story. While Emma’s love story is a gradual progression, Elizabeth’s path to romance is much rockier in this story. This retelling has styled her a Bennet by marriage rather than birth, and after a youthful elopement and brief marriage, the widow of four years has sworn never to wed again… until Elizabeth is convalescing at Netherfield and a moment of passion with Mr. Darcy leads to a compromise that jeopardizes the reputation of her Bennet relations.
The excerpt I am sharing today is a scene that took me by surprise as I was writing it. Though I enjoy Mrs. Bennet’s shrill and silly antics, her relationship as Elizabeth’s mother-in-law rather than her mother feels a little different in this book. Elizabeth has borne a son and Longbourn is safe, so Mrs. Bennet’s enthusiasm for her daughters is expressed with more tender affection that matrimonial fascination – after all, she doesn’t have to fear the hedge rows, and she can worry about their actual happiness.
This factor is coupled with Elizabeth’s troubled relationship with her blood relations, leading to a more appreciative feeling on both sides between Elizabeth and her mother-in-law. Mrs. Bennet believes Elizabeth’s family has wronged her poor girl, and that the Bennets have done a far superior job of cherishing Lizzy – which Elizabeth herself is inclined to agree with. As the widow of Mrs. Bennet’s late (and only) son, Elizabeth has enjoyed being a member of the family at Longbourn since she was fifteen, and fears her budding romance with Mr. Darcy will alienate her from her in-laws.
I could see Mrs. Bennet going wither way, though I ultimately chose not to write her as offended that Elizabeth might learn to love again. As this novel is very much a coming-of-age story for Elizabeth, this conversation with her mother-in-law sparks the beginning of some important growth for her that continues throughout the novel.
“Mr. Darcy has asked for a private audience with you, Lizzy. He does not need my permission, but I have given him my blessing.”
“Come, come, my dear girl,” Mrs. Bennet cried. “I am sure it cannot be such a surprise to you, after what we all saw in the library – now that was quite a surprise for all of us, but then you young people are often a mystery to me. I cannot be too astonished, I suppose, after observing how well you got on together at the assembly, when you were dancing together. It was gallant indeed for him to stand up with Jane, and she is so very beautiful – but with you he was so very animated – utterly besotted!”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks burning, and yet there was a flutter of excitement in her chest. She had enjoyed their dance together, as much as she had enjoyed some other moments between them, perhaps more than she ought to have.
“I did fear that he might prove to be a rake, that he had brought you to Netherfield not for the purpose of assisting you so heroically, but for seduction! But he has explained that his intentions are perfectly honorable, and I could not be happier! What a fine thing for you, Lizzy, and for all your sisters, too!”
For a moment she could only blink stupidly at her mother-in-law. “My sisters?”
“Their reputations might have all been ruined, along with your own, if Mr. Darcy had not chosen to behave with such decency, such generosity! Oh, how I feared for my poor girls! And Emma, too, I suppose – it seems you have agreed to some reconciliation, and it would have been such a pity to begin anew with her, and then drag her down into ruin and degradation. And to think of your real sisters, your Bennet sisters, tainted by scandal and forced to remain old maids, always at Longbourn – poor Tom! To grow up and inherit the burden of four spinster aunts always about him! But instead he shall have a father, and a very fine one – no substitute for poor Benjamin, but a very good man indeed. And so rich! And your marriage to such a man will of course throw your sisters into the path of other rich men.”
“My marriage?” Elizabeth was fairly reeling from the shock of it. She had indulged the whim of a moment in the library, and now it seemed she was to wed a man she had known less than a week – and he had actually agreed to such a thing! She could not believe her mother-in-law had the facts quite right.
“Mr. Darcy surely cannot mean to propose to me, Mamma. I think he must wish to apologize for quarreling with me yesterday, and for what transpired in the library. It is all a misunderstanding.”
Mrs. Bennet smiled tenderly at Elizabeth, patting her on the cheek with her usual maternal affection. “My dear Lizzy, I am not such an old widow that I do not know what I am about – and neither are you. There can be no misunderstanding of what I saw in the library, and I would thank you not to deny it, if you are going to blush like that whenever we speak of the man. It is all terribly romantic, him carrying you through the rain on horseback, saving your life! I shall never thank him enough for that, in all the rest of my days! You might, perhaps – and so you should!”
“You are really in favor of this?” Elizabeth could not credit that her mother-in-law should actually be encouraging her to marry another man, and one she scarcely knew – even if he was frightfully handsome, clever, and rich.
And yet, perhaps it was the right thing to do. She had never cared for her own reputation, or what remained of it after the circumstances of her first marriage, but Elizabeth was struck by the weight of the concerns Mrs. Bennet had expressed for everyone Elizabeth held dear. Medicated as she was, the clouds rolled back in her mind and she began to understand her situation with a sudden, frightening clarity.
“We ought to get you situated, my dear. After what happened in the library, perhaps you had better not receive him in such a… recumbent pose,” Mrs. Bennet said, gesturing to the tangled bedding around Elizabeth.
Elizabeth only gaped, wondering if she had slipped into some lurid nightmare. After what she had discovered about Benjamin’s secret dealings with Charlotte and the Bingleys, then injuring herself at the very place where Benjamin had died, and being rescued so dramatically, then kissing Mr. Darcy, and being unexpectedly reunited with Emma after five years of separation – Elizabeth glanced skeptically at the bottle of elixir on her nightstand, and knew not whether to down the whole bottle or cast it into the fire.
Mrs. Bennet remained cheerfully, perhaps even willfully indifferent to Elizabeth’s panic. “He is waiting, dearest. Come and sit in this chair. We must present you to best advantage.” She helped Elizabeth slide out of the bed; a few little hops on her good ankle brought her within reach of the armchair. Once seated, Elizabeth sat back as Mrs. Bennet fluttered around her, making little adjustments to her hair and smoothing out her gown.
“How lovely you look,” Mrs. Bennet said proudly, when she had finished fussing over Elizabeth. Her tone grew softer and more serious, and she stroked Elizabeth’s cheek again.
“Mr. Darcy has told me that when he first met you, he mistook you for a Miss Bennet, and that you were cross with him when you discovered his mistake. I hope you will forgive him, Lizzy, and see it as I do. There have been so many times when I have forgotten you are not one of my own. You have been with us so long, and have fit in so naturally among us all at Longbourn. I have watched you blossom and grow, and I could not love you more if I had birthed you myself. I know Benjamin would be proud of you, and he would want you to be happy, rather than devote yourself solely to his memory for the rest of your days. You deserve more than one year of marital bliss, and perpetual widowhood thereafter. A part of my heart shall always mourn him, but he brought us you, dearest Lizzy. You have been the greatest gift he could have given us, and dear little Tom, and that will not change simply because you wed again. The gift will only grow as you add to your family – our family. You are and always shall be a Bennet, and we will always be your family.”
Mrs. Bennet was by no means an unemotional woman, though she was not often prone to such eloquent sentimentality, and Elizabeth was overcome by such a speech as this. “You are my family,” she repeated, leaning her face into Mrs. Bennet. “Oh, Mamma! Thank you, thank you for being my mother. I have been so happy with you all at Longbourn. How can I change what has been so perfect?”
“You must go where love takes you, my dear. Mr. Darcy cares for you, I know he does. Let him love you, for I know he wishes to. His face, when he spoke to me of you – oh Lizzy, it was a thing of wonder to me! I could not have parted with you to anyone less worthy.”
Tears poured down Elizabeth’s face as a tremendous wave of emotion overtook her. She could still not quite believe that this was happening, but she was in no doubt of what she must do. She had told Mr. Darcy at the assembly that she would do anything for her family, though her heart whispered that there was more in it than that. For now, it was too much to think of so fully – and enough that it would please the ones she loved. “I will speak to him now, Mamma.” She rested her hand on Mrs. Bennet’s. “Thank you.”
Mrs. Bennet fluttered out of the room, and Elizabeth took another sip of her medicine.
I hope you enjoyed this softer side of Mrs. Bennet, without needing your smelling salts! Follow my blog tour for more glimpses into the twists and turns of Handsome, Clever, & Rich - and don’t miss your chance to win a free digital copy of the book!
ABOUT THE BOOK
What if Elizabeth is not a Bennet by birth, but by marriage?
When Netherfield Park is let at last, the village of Meryton is inveigled in romance, intrigue, and a few less-than-happy reunions. The Bingley siblings return to the home of their youth, an estate purchased just before the death of their father. The neighborhood, especially the Bennet family, is ready to welcome them back with open arms, but Mr. Bingley’s attempt to make a good impression on his community backfires so badly that it is his awkward friend Mr. Darcy who is obliged to salvage the situation in the aftermath of Mr. Bingley insulting Jane Bennet at the Assembly.
Young widow Elizabeth Bennet begins her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy on amiable terms, but the reckless folly of his friend and the regrets from her own past create a bumpy path to Happily Ever After for them.
Not long after an injury obliges Elizabeth to recover at Netherfield Park, her estranged sister finally discovers Elizabeth’s whereabouts, and journeys from Highbury to Meryton in all haste, suitors in tow.
When one unexpected betrothal arises out of necessity, Jane Austen’s most notorious matchmaker is inspired to work her magic at Longbourn, Netherfield, and Lucas Lodge – but she, too, will have met her match in matters of meddling & mischief….
Handsome, Clever and Rich - Kindle Edition
WOW!!! I love this moment between Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet. This is the best moment between the two that I have ever read! Thank you for sharing and eagerly looking forward to reading this book
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