Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Austenesque Short Stories

It's my pleasure to welcome Elizabeth Adams, with a look at her Meryton Vignettes, inspired by Jane Austen!

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I love short stories. They’re just the right length to read over breakfast or when you have a short break in a busy day. I love how they give you a whole story in a tiny, brilliant package, and can be just as enjoyable as a long novel without the lengthy wait for resolution. Angst in short stories is generally short-lived (unless it’s just a depressing story—I hate those), and knowing I’ll be out of the woods soon makes the hard stories easier for me to read. 
This collection is a mixture of light and dark. To make it simple for the reader to know what they’re getting into, I’ve divided the book into three sections, each with two short stories. 
Down the Road explores the future of certain P&P characters following the canon book. 
Alternate Paths twists canon just a little and shows what might have been, although I suppose both of those could fit into canon somewhere, if you really use your imagination. 
In the Dark is for stories with a murky edge. One is more humorous and a little twisted, the other could be downright disturbing depending on the reader’s perception. 
When writing, I usually get an idea or an image for a story and run with that. That was definitely the case with First Attachments; one of the scenes just popped into my head one day, in vivid technicolor with stereophonic sound, and I couldn’t ignore it. The rest of the story bloomed around that scene.
It was a similar experience with He Had It Coming. I got the idea for the basic plot several years ago and ran with it. As I wrote the scene with Mrs. Wickham sewing up her own face after being beaten by her husband, I shuddered and felt my own skin crawling, it was so real to me. I never thought Wickham would maintain the illusion of a good husband for long, and once I got the idea of him as an abuser, it wouldn’t let me go.
Part two of that story, which I happen to love immensely, came along a while later but with no less clarity. I saw Lydia surrounded by Darcy and Bingley children and how she would have changed through the years. I couldn’t wait to explore that scenario and see where she would take me.
Occasionally, I get ideas when I’m reviewing something else. 
The stories about Charlotte and Caroline are the result of too many late nights trying to divine character depth from the pages of P&P.  Last year, I was a member of a Jane Austen blog and did a series of character studies on my monthly posts. As I was studying Charlotte, I noted how she would likely make a great CEO in today’s world—her brute practicality, her ability to manage difficult people, her unending patience. And, of course, her ruthless willingness to seize an opportunity when it comes her way.
I was incredibly curious about what life would be like for her once she went home to Meryton as Mrs. Collins. Would the neighborhood accept her as the rightful mistress of Longbourn? Would they feel she had gained it unfairly? Would they put her through a bit of hazing first, but then eventually draw her into the fold?
For Caroline, I wondered what she would do with herself once her life’s ambition was no longer a possibility. Who would she talk to? How would she behave? What was running through that scheming head of hers? And, of course, I wanted to know what kind of man would want a woman like Caroline. I’ll admit that she was ridiculously fun to write. She may be vain and delusional, but she has a certain sass that could have made her an endearing character had she not used it for such vile purposes. 
Being able to play with so many characters is what I love about a short story. It is freeing and confining at the same time to only focus on a specific event or time period or character. That’s why I love short stories; I wouldn’t want to read an entire book about Caroline—she’s too abrasive for that—but I do enjoy a glimpse into her future and listening to her crazy thoughts for a minute.
I just hope readers enjoy it as much as I do!


An Extract from Mistress of Longbourn
Charlotte Returns


Charlotte ran her hand along the back of the sofa, her gloves skidding lightly along the upholstery. Her eyes scanned the room: the pair of chairs by the empty fireplace, the windows covered in lavender drapes, the aged mirror over the mantle.
Of all this, she was now mistress. 
She gazed at the portrait of Mr. Bennet, painted in his prime, and remembered the man who had been her neighbor for twenty-seven long years, and who was now, by his failure to produce an heir, the means of her husband having his own estate. In a way, he could be credited with her having a husband at all. If he had not agreed to host Mr. Collins all those years ago, and supported Elizabeth’s refusal of her cousin’s proposal, Charlotte would have never met and married Mr. Collins. 
And now, seventeen long years after her wedding, she was here. The mistress of Longbourn. Second only to Netherfield Park, it was one of the most respectable estates in the area, belonging to one of its oldest families. 
And now, it was hers. 
“Was your journey pleasant?”
Charlotte jumped and looked over her shoulder. “I didn’t hear you come in. Forgive me, Mary. How do you do?”
“As well as can be expected, Mrs. Collins,” replied Mary Bennet.
“Please, call me Charlotte. We are such old neighbors,” said Mrs. Collins kindly.
“I think not,” Mary said plainly. “Nearly everything is packed. We shall be gone tomorrow.” 
Mary turned and left the room, leaving a bewildered Charlotte behind her.
Charlotte shook off the feeling of guilt that had tried to settle on her shoulders and went upstairs to see to her children. She did not particularly enjoy her husband’s company, and she found the act of begetting children quite off-putting, but the results of her endurance were more than adequate recompense. 
“Mother, have you considered my request?” asked a voice to her left.
She turned and looked into the face of Charlotte Rose, her eldest daughter. She was quite a pretty thing if Charlotte could say such about her own daughter. She had the look of her Aunt Maria about her. 
“I have, Lottie, and since you have been so helpful throughout this move, I have decided to grant your request.”
“Oh!” the girl squealed, jumping on her toes and clasping her hands in front of her. “May I choose my chamber now?”
Before her mother could answer, the eldest of the Collins children ran off and began opening doors and comparing views. Charlotte shook her head at her enthusiasm. 
“Oh, to be fifteen again!” she mumbled to herself.
She went into the nursery to help settle in her younger daughters. 
Two years after her marriage, she had been delivered of a girl, Charlotte Rose, Lottie to her family. Only eighteen months later she had born a son, William John. He was followed in two-year increments by Catherine Ann and Mildred Grace. Believing she had done her duty, and not wishing to die in childbirth as her years increased alongside her womb’s fecundity, Charlotte told her husband she wished for no more children. Having birthed four babes, he couldn’t possibly expect more of her.
Mr. Collins acquiesced as she knew he would and no more was said about it.
Unfortunately, when young William was but five years old, he succumbed to a fever and was buried in the churchyard. Charlotte was devastated.
Within a year of his death, at thirty-seven years of age, Charlotte was with child. When she delivered a boy, she thanked God she would be spared further confinements. Lying in bed exhausted and spent, so happy and relieved was she that she didn’t hear her husband clearly at first when he suggested a name for the babe. She cuddled the white bundle closer to her and asked again what he had said.
“William, after his father. It’s fitting, don’t you think?” Mr. Collins said with an ingratiating smile. 
He clearly had no idea of his suggestion being denied. 
“We already had a son called William. Do you not remember, Mr. Collins?” she asked, her voice calm. 
She remembered perfectly. How his skin had felt so hot and yet so thin, his cheeks flushed and his forehead clammy. She remembered how he had struggled for breath as she held him, praying with every fiber of her being for God to spare her only son. How she had bargained with fate, promising to be the best mother, the best wife, if only her boy would live! And how lost she had felt when the last ragged breath had left his body limp in her arms, his eyes unmoving, his chest eerily still. 
She had let out a mighty wail the likes of which Hunsford had never heard, lost to everything but the profundity of her grief. She had not been practical Charlotte in that moment. She had been nothing but a mother, deprived of her life’s greatest achievement and proudest joy. 
Her husband’s idiotic rambling brought her back to the conversation and his insulting suggestion.
“Well, yes, but, as the boy is no longer with us, a man wants his name to carry on, that is, I am his father…” 
He spluttered on and Charlotte settled her eyes on the window, the church just visible in the distance, and next to it, the churchyard that held her beloved boy in its peaceful clasp. 
“No, Mr. Collins, we will not,” she said simply.
He looked at her stupidly for a moment, but her eyes remained fixed on the window.
“What was that, my dear?” he asked.
“We will not name him William.”
“But surely, I am his father, my name, I must—”
“No,” she said forcefully. “I have already birthed and buried a son called William. There will not be another.”
Mr. Collins stood gaping at her, his mouth opening and closing like a fish.
“I shall call him Lucas Adam, after my family and my grandfather.” She looked at the baby fondly.
“He was always kind to me.”
Mr. Collins had left the room then, and she had written it in the family Bible before he could argue further. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Adams loves sunshine and a good book. If she had her druthers, she’d live in a villa on the Mediterranean and go tango dancing every Friday. She makes great cookies and often laughs at inappropriate moments.
 She is the author of The HouseguestUnwilling, and Meryton Vignettes: Tales of Pride and Prejudice.
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2 comments:

  1. Nice to see Charlotte finding a back bone in the excerpt. It's gone on my wishlist

    ReplyDelete