“Getting to know you is getting to love you –
What would Elizabeth and Mr Darcy have read as children?”
Thank you, Catherine, for welcoming me here today on the blog tour for my latest Pride and Prejudice variation.
Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is an early-marriage scenario where adverse circumstances compel Elizabeth to accept Mr Darcy’s hand long before she fell in love with him. A reckless choice to the modern woman – yet an eminently prudent one for a Georgian young lady with neither fortune nor connection. But I will not expand on Georgian mores, not here – you do it so much better than I ever will!
Instead, please let me share what I discovered while I was looking into the number of things those timeless characters might have discovered they had in common. It might well be a cliché that Elizabeth and Mr Darcy would talk of books. Setting aside the fact that she refused to discuss reading matter with him at the Netherfield ball, two people with such fondness for the printed word would eventually come to share the pleasure found in old favourites. To me, it was one of the steps towards learning more about each other, while a marriage of convenience and unequal affections grew into a union of all-abiding love.
What is more touching than childhood memories, and what greater proof of trust than the willingness to share them? In Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter Elizabeth and Mr Darcy share recollections of pilfering treats from the pantry and picnicking on the carpet – he with his closest cousin, she with her dearest sister – of romps and mischief, and also of quiet times with books. For Mr Bennet’s favourite daughter and a young boy brought up within reach of the extensive library at Pemberley, books would have doubtlessly held a significant place in their childhood. But what children’s books were available at the time?
Surprisingly many, I discovered as I delved – just online, sadly – into that treasure trove that is the British Library. A wealth of information is available in this article, where Professor M O Grenby “charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.”
I must admit that the attention given to the entertainment element was a great surprise to me. In many early 18th century sources I have found how children were expected to behave like mini-adults (indeed, boys were dressed as mini-adults from the day they were breeched), and while Rousseau and Locke inspired a more liberal attitude to child education for a while, the Victorians came to slow down the process, enforce ‘seen but not heard’ edicts and enshrine the moralising rhyme, the learning by rote and the ubiquitous cane as primary educational tools.
Of course, the cane was an inescapable part of a child’s education until astoundingly recent times, and the Georgians would not have had many scruples about wielding it either. Yet, to my surprise, I discovered that their children were not expected to amuse themselves with some condensed version of Gibbon’s History of the Roman Empire, nor solely with James Janeway’s ‘Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children’ .
(A Token for Children, 1709 edition; first published around 1672 – British Library)
Beautifully illustrated spelling books have survived from Queen Anne’s time, and if the modern eye is rather surprised to find that ‘Cherries are pleasant Fruit for Youth to eat’ in roughly the same place in the book as directions for spelling a-po-cry-pha, well, at least those youngsters must have had a rich vocabulary.
(A Little Book for Little Children, 1702 – British Library)
Rather than focusing on moral instruction, from the earliest years of the 18th century children’s books had begun to be attractive, colourful and fun.
What better fodder for a young Fitzwilliam Darcy’s imagination than a book he might have found in his father’s library, depicting hundreds of beasts, serpents and insects? He could have spent hours reading about panthers, tigers and scorpions, as well as mythical creatures such as the unicorn and the manticora.
(Description of Three Hundred Animals, 1730 – British Library)
How about Elizabeth? She might easily have read the tale of Miss Goody Two-Shoes (1765), where the orphaned heroine grows from rags to riches, becomes a schoolmistress and marries the local landowner – so far, so good. But the tale is not aiming for the happily ever after. Instead, Miss Margery inherits her husband’s wealth when he passes away and uses it to help the poor, as she herself was helped as a child.
(The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, 1765 – British Library)
Miss Goody’s tale might be a far cry from the fairytale message we are familiar with, but would you have guessed that, just like little girls nowadays, an eight- or nine-year-old Elizabeth Bennet could have easily read the story of ‘Cinderilla’ and Little Red Riding Hood – if she was not a fictional character herself, that is?
(Spelling Primer, 1799 – British Library)
There are other gems to be found:
Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book (1744) is the first known nursery rhyme collection, featuring early versions of ‘Bah, bah, a black sheep’, ‘Hickory dickory dock’, ‘London Bridge is falling down’ and ‘Sing a song of sixpence’. (It also includes a rhyme about bedwetting that somehow has not made it into the rich heritage passed down to modern children, and who can say if the said heritage is richer or poorer for that? For the inquisitive, you can find out more here.)
(Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, 1744 – British Library)
(The Right Pleasant and Diverting History of Fortunatus and His Two Sons, estimated 1740 – British Library)
(A Pretty Little Pocket Book, 1770 – British Library)
The Pretty Little Pocket Book was most innovatively sold with a ball for boys and a pincushion for girls, so that good and bad deeds could be recorded by sticking a pin on the red or the black side of the ball/pincushion. This was the first book published by John Newbery for the entertainment of children. He became known as the father of children’s literature because he was able to turn it into a commercial success. Miss Goody’s tale was his most famous work, and might be regarded as the first children’s novel. An astute businessman, he even started publishing a periodical for children, The Liliputian Magazine, that included stories, riddles and rhymes. His business flourished, was passed to his descendants and survived into the 19th century.
Unlike Mr Newbery’s, in Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter Mr Howe’s bookselling business is fictional, as is his shop and its Darcy patrons – more the pity! But if you would like to read more about Mr Darcy, his family’s purchases at Howe’s and his resulting penchant for currant oatcakes, please leave a comment to enter the international giveaway of a Kindle copy. Also, if you follow the blog tour you might learn more about the oatcakes in a few days’ time. Thank you for stopping by to read this post and many thanks again, Catherine, for the wonderful welcome!
When Colonel Fitzwilliam’s disclosures are interrupted by the bearer of distressing news from Longbourn, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is compelled to consider an offer she would have otherwise dismissed out of hand. An offer of marriage from the all-too-proud Mr Darcy.
Yet how is she to live with a husband she hardly knows and does not love? Would she be trapped in a marriage of convenience while events conspire to divide them? Or would love grow as, day by day and hour after hour, she learns to understand the man she married, before she loses his trust and his heart?
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Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family. A medical graduate, in more recent years she has developed an unrelated but enduring fascination with Georgian Britain in general and the works of Jane Austen in particular, as well as with the remarkable and flamboyant set of people who have given the Regency Period its charm and sparkle.
Joana Starnes is the author of:
* 'From This Day Forward ~ The Darcys of Pemberley', a 'Pride & Prejudice' sequel
* 'The Subsequent Proposal ~ A Tale of Pride, Prejudice & Persuasion'
* 'The Second Chance', a 'Pride & Prejudice' ~ 'Sense & Sensibility' variation
* 'The Falmouth Connection', a 'Pride & Prejudice' variation where Jane Austen's beloved characters are compelled to leave their tame and reasonably peaceful lives in the south of England and travel to the far reaches of Cornwall, into a world of deceit and peril, where few - if any! - are what they seem to be...
* 'The Unthinkable Triangle', a 'Pride & Prejudice' variation that dwells on the most uncomfortable love-triangle of them all. What if Mr. Darcy's rival for Miss Bennet's hand and heart is none other than his dearest, closest friend? And how can they all find their 'happily-ever-after'?
*'Miss Darcy's Companion' - a variation that explores what might have happened if the warm-hearted Miss Elizabeth Bennet were employed instead of the scheming Mrs Younge.
Written content of this post copyright © Joana Starnes, 2016.