Thursday, February 5, 2015

About the Bakers, and that male heir

So stop here if you haven't read the latest chapter of A Change of Legacies, but I've had quite a few comments on Elizabeth's character of late and as the responses aren't short on either topic, I thought I would write on them here.

The first topic is the Bakers, the new-money couple that lease Barrowmere Park, and generally run pell-mell over a post-hunt dinner party. Some readers were disappointed in the other ladies, particularly Elizabeth, who has never been extremely impressed by class, for not taking Mrs. Baker aside and giving her a little guidance. It's a reasonable point, but I think that the other ladies never would have thought to do such a thing, even kind Jane, who feels threatened by the Bakers because they undermine the notion that a man with money from trade can set up as a gentleman, and purchase a true estate, as Jane's husband has done.

In Elizabeth's case, I think there are a couple of things at play here. First and foremost, Elizabeth is acting as hostess for a large dinner party, a role that is demanding enough in itself, and for her in this scenario, Mrs. Baker is more a disruption to an event she is trying to bring off smoothly than anything else. It's easy to forget, but Elizabeth's role as mistress of Pemberley is a substantial one, and while Elizabeth Darcy might be at heart the same woman who was Lizzy Bennet, she has also been shaped by her new responsibilities and two years of married life.

As well, I think because Elizabeth herself is a keen observer, she might have been much more sympathetic to Mrs. Baker had that woman been intimidated by her company, and acted shy and uncertain during the course of the dinner party. Instead, Mrs. Baker acts brashly, without any attempt to observe and imitate, until Darcy and Georgiana do a bit of awkward acting to indicate to her how she should behave at dinner. Some of you might remember that at the beginning of A Constant Love, Elizabeth picks out Lady Ellen as a role model for observation.

And as much as Elizabeth does not bow to rank, she has always shown herself to care about manners (a quality many of Austen's heroines share). She is ashamed when her own family behaves poorly, and this, I think is what would make it difficult for her to ever connect with the likes of Mrs. Baker, for in some ways, Mrs. Baker is just a brasher version of Lydia. And if Lydia could never be steered by Elizabeth, she should have no expectation that a newcomer to her neighbourhood would be.

The other area in which Elizabeth has -- I would say grown, some of you might say distanced herself -- from her character in Pride and Prejudice is in her relief in having a male heir. I am sure that if Elizabeth had had a girl, she would have been every bit in love with the child as James, and she would not have been over-worried about having a male heir just yet.

Yet again, while Lizzy Bennet was relatively progressive for her time, I think she would have been tempered by being married to Mr. Darcy. Not that he would pressure her to be any less progressive or independent, but she has married a man who cares deeply about his estate and the dynasty he leaves behind, and as much as he will not say it, I think she knows how much it would please him to see that dynasty secure, and think of many more generations of Darcys living at Pemberley. She's had very nearly a year of fearing she was barren, as well, to influence her here.

Does being relieved by having two male heirs make her like Mrs. Bennet? I think it actually makes her rather the opposite. In having two male heirs immediately, she is setting herself up to not ever be Mrs. Bennet. Never will Elizabeth need to obsess over having a son, and then, when that fails, with marrying off too many daughters. And if that isn't something to be relieved over, I don't know what is.

It's interesting, because as I am writing, the characters are just doing things in my head. Until I received these comments, I hadn't really dug down into what was driving them to react the way they did to these events. Some of you may still disagree with these influences and motives having the outcomes they did, and that's totally understandable. They're all our beloved characters, but I think their personalities are just the slightest bit different in each of our heads!

Writing Elizabeth as a widow

There's one final Mistress blog post out today! I'm at Catherine Curzon's blog talking about writing Elizabeth as a widow.