Sunday, May 15, 2016

Writing JAFF as a feminist, and a Temporary Mistress excerpt

I've been wanting to expand on something I wrote about a bit in the author's notes of A Change of Legacies, around how Regency women became the property of their husbands, after marrying. This was a sinister theme, in Georgiana's dreams in Legacies, because once she spoke those words at Gretna Green, she became the property of George Wickham, something she was too young to really understand the consequences of until it was too late.

Really, all of the restrictions preventing hasty marriages in England (and therefore requiring couples who wished to elope to hie off to Scotland) were designed to protect men's property: their daughters, who came with dowries and were of best benefit to men if they could be married to make connections with other important families. Darcy is able to seek an annulment for Georgiana's marriage (albeit with complications) because he and Colonel Fitzwilliam had not given their consent to the marriage, and so Wickham has, in essence, stolen their property.

Let's just take a step back and think about that for a moment. Elizabeth is Mr. Darcy's property. Georgiana is Captain Stanton's property.

I hope it never feels that way in my stories, because I have very much endeavored for that to not be the tone of any of my married couples' relationships. But it was the reality, and part of the reason I wished to include Georgiana's dream storyline was to show that reality. When a woman accepted a marriage proposal, she was in essence giving herself over to a man for life, and if she chose badly, she would ruin her life.

As much as I love the Regency era, I am also a pretty staunch feminist, and it's sometimes difficult to square that with writing about women who are in this situation. All I can really do is write them in marriages where their husbands respect them, listen to their opinions, and do not treat them like property.

Elizabeth and Darcy are the best example of this -- they get up to arguments and misunderstandings with relative frequency, and Elizabeth is always allowed to spar her corner. Never, ever, will Darcy simply overrule her and determine she doesn't have a say, because he is the man. He fell in love with this woman's lively mind, and while she may occasionally frustrate him, he always respects that mind. Even that he puts up with her calling him "Darcy," after his initial protest in the Constant Love series, indicates a certain respect towards her: he allows her to call him what his male friends do, putting her on equal footing with them.

These themes have come through, I think, even more strongly in Temporary Mistress, my little (okay, possibly not so little anymore -- it's reached novel-length) side project. I shared the prologue of the working draft back when it first ate my brain, and thought I would share an excerpt very relevant to this particular topic. If it's been awhile since you read the prologue excerpt, recall that Elizabeth is now widowed and the heiress of Longbourn, following an unhappy marriage of necessity to Mr. Collins:

Although Mrs. Bingley had provided an excellent meal, Darcy could hardly eat, in his present state of excitement. Elizabeth – glorious Elizabeth! – was just up the table from where he sat, amongst the unmarried ladies and gentlemen. She was there and looked as lovely as ever, in the palest lavender dress, laughing and conversing with those beside her. He had wondered, upon learning she was once again a possibility due to Mr. Collins’s untimely demise, if he had spent the past few years making her more wonderful in his mind than she truly was, maintaining a love for an imagined Elizabeth rather than the real one. But she was every bit as he had remembered her, and he believed he loved the real Elizabeth even more, for there were details and nuances to her that he had forgotten.

Oh, those torturous early days, after reading of Mr. Collins’s decease. How he had longed to go to her, to declare himself. It had been Georgiana who had counseled patience, after he had opened up his heart to her. Georgiana, who had regained her confidence and her happiness, who was mature enough to be giving him advice, now. Nothing should be done while Mrs. Collins was in mourning, except to send a letter of condolence. He had hoped, perhaps, that his letter might become the beginning of a correspondence between them, but her response, while polite, had left him no opening; there was nothing within that could be responded to.

So he had waited, and tried to determine some natural way in which he could be returned to her acquaintance. In that, his encountering Charles at White’s, and making his apology and the first overtures of renewing their friendship, had been the deepest blessing. Their friendship was not what it once had been; it had been renewed with caution, and still felt a delicate, awkward thing. Yet it had been renewed, and Darcy was grateful for it, even beyond its providing the opportunity for him to be here. How impatient he had been in Gibraltar, upon receiving Charles’s invitation to the house party at Netherfield. Of all things, to be kept from his second chance by war!

But he was there, now, and he would seize his second chance, although he would keep Georgiana’s counsel and go about things patiently. In his last visit to Netherfield, he had not done anything to indicate his affections; he would do so now, gradually, and seek to understand her own. She was a widow, and he could not yet know what the state of her heart was; perhaps she had come to love Mr. Collins. Elizabeth glanced down the table at him, and he smiled. She returned the smile, and even this simple thing gave him hope.

Darcy made an attempt to apply himself to the food, so as not to be caught looking at her too often. When next he did look in her direction, he found her frowning, and wondered at what could have caused this. She did not look at him, this time, and eventually he returned his attention to his neighbors at the table, and to his food.

Too soon, the ladies made their exit for the drawing-room, although at least this gave him a better look at her figure as she left, and he found it every bit as pleasing as it ever was. He was not the only man there who found Mrs. Collins pleasing, however; he soon learned. Mr. Althorpe was most vocal in his praise of the young widow’s looks, but he received much agreement from the other single gentlemen, and for the first time Darcy realised that he might well have competition for her hand, a thought that filled him momentarily with paralysing fear.

“She ought to marry soon,” Mr. Althorpe was saying. “A woman, trying to manage that estate on her own – she’ll run it down in no time. It wants a man’s management.”

“She seems to have done well enough with it in the last year,” Darcy said, with his heart pounding, for he detested confrontation, particularly with new acquaintances.

“I am sure that is only because she kept with whatever procedures her husband implemented. It will be once she starts getting womanish ideas in her head, and acting upon them. That will be when she destroys her own income. Unless, of course, she marries me.”

This prompted laughter from all the men around him, save Darcy, and he wished Charles was seated closer to him, for certainly Bingley would have assisted in the defense of his sister, if he had overheard Althorpe.

“And where is your estate, Mr. Althorpe?” Darcy asked, knowing it was not likely Mr. Althorpe, the younger son of a viscount, would have one, and it was very possible he never would.

“Haven’t inherited it yet,” Mr. Althorpe said, pouring himself more brandy. “Fine little property, from my mother’s side of the family, but it would be preferable to have Longbourn while I wait, particularly when it comes with such a fine-looking wife to warm my bed.”

“Might it not be said, then, that Mrs. Collins has more experience in running an estate than you?”

The men laughed again at this, one of them saying that Darcy had Althorpe there, and thankfully the subject moved away from Mrs. Collins following this. From the occasional glares Darcy received from Mr. Althorpe, however, he felt quite certain he had just made himself an enemy. Yet he was glad he had done it, even if he had been discomfited by it; he did not like the thought of Elizabeth being spoken of in such a manner.

It was a relief, when the butler came to tell them that tea was ready in the drawing-room, but Mr. Althorpe, being nearer the door than Darcy, made his way thither more quickly, and Mrs. Collins was his object. Darcy watched, fuming, at the man’s making every effort to render himself agreeable to the woman he had demeaned earlier. To his surprise, however, Darcy was rewarded not five minutes later, when he watched Elizabeth disengage herself from the conversation, and make her way over to where he stood.

“If you are at leisure, Mr. Darcy, I wonder if I might hear from you about Gibraltar now,” she said, quietly.

“Of course,” he said, trying to quell his feelings of delight and triumph so that they would not reach his countenance. He led her over to an open sofa, and then proceeded to provide her with any details of the town he could remember, and stories of the voyages there and back. His delight continued as she showed herself fully engaged in all he spoke of, nodding at his descriptions and asking questions to glean further details.

“Oh, I have entirely monopolised your time!” she exclaimed, when it became clear that some of those who were not staying at the house were calling for their carriages.

You may monopolise my time forever, Elizabeth! he wanted to say, but did not.

“Not at all, Mrs. Collins. In fact, I thought to offer more of my time, if you wish it, to come and look at Longbourn’s books – to offer my advice on the estate.” He did not know if she would take this offer, or even if she thought of herself as needing advice, but he did wish to offer his assistance, and this was the thing he was best suited to assisting her in.

“Oh, yes, because a woman cannot run an estate! Surely I must require your advice,” she said, furiously.

A sharp, stabbing pain in his chest. Were his chances already ruined?

“Of course not. Someone so clever as you should have no difficulty in running an estate,” he said, softly. “I – I know what it is to be given such a responsibility at a young age, and at least in my own case, I did not have anyone to turn to, that I could ask for advice. I had always relied on my father for guidance, and when he was gone, I found I suddenly had his responsibilities, and no longer the benefit of his counsel. I only meant that if you desired my advice, or simply wished for someone to talk over matters with, I would be pleased to give any assistance that I may. I apologise – I never meant to demean you.”

“It is I who should apologise,” said she. “Your offer was very kindly meant, and I am sorry that I spoke so sharply to you. Mr. Althorpe said something to me during dinner, and I suppose I am still a little sensitive over it.”

He found himself relieved, both that they were returned to understanding each other, and that Mr. Althorpe had already revealed his true self to her.

“Pray do not worry yourself over it, Mrs. Collins. It cannot be easy, to be in your position.”

She nodded. “I would like your advice, Mr. Darcy, if you are still willing to give it.”

That’s Right, it’s a Post About Privies

Yep, I decided to go there. My latest for Austen Authors is a post about where people went when they, well, had to go , during the Regency...