Thursday, 18 May 2017

Mistress: A Pride and Prejudice Variation

It's a pleasure to welcome Sophie Turner, to discuss the matter of Jane Austen's widows; don't forget to comment for your chance to win a copy of Sophie's book!


Thank you so much for hosting me here, Catherine! I’m really excited to do my first guest post on your blog and share what it was like to write Elizabeth as a widow in my new book Mistress: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, with Parts Not Suitable for Those Who Have Not Reached Their Majority.

Mistress is a story that essentially ate my brain over the course of November, 2015, to the point where I almost unofficially did National Novel Writing Month (the story at that time fell short of true novel length, but in the time since, the gaps left during that flurry of initial writing have been filled in).

I had been considering writing a Pride and Prejudice variation with more adult content for some time, but I wanted it to be something different than what we often see in this genre and in romance generally – the experienced man and the virgin young lady. In order to do that without giving her some sort of ruinous present or past, that meant Elizabeth needed to be a widow.

But making her a widow created its own set of complexities that I needed to work through. Austen’s work includes an array of widows: Would Elizabeth be left near genteel destitution, like Mrs. Bates? Would she revel in her position, money, and power, a la Lady Catherine de Bourgh? She certainly didn’t seem the type to become a scheming Lady Susan, but perhaps circumstances would have required her to do so. Circumstances could even have required her to follow Mrs. Clay’s arc, and become a mistress.

None of these was quite the path I took Elizabeth down. Yes, Mistress does encompass both meanings of the word, but not in a Mrs. Clay or Lady Susan sort of manner.

The thing about widows during that time was that they could run a full gamut, from those who had married for financial security and entirely lost it after the death of their husbands, to those who possessed complete security and freedom. This was a time when any fortune and property a woman possessed went to her husband upon their marriage, and when women themselves were considered to be the property of their husbands. This makes marriage sound rather unappetizing, but married women at least had greater freedom to travel and to be in the company of men than unmarried women.

Truly the most free, in Georgian society, was the widow who had been left in good financial circumstances. She had control of her own money, she could be alone in the company of a gentleman, she could correspond with a gentleman without being engaged to him, and she could even embark upon an affair with minimal consequences, provided she was discreet. When Mr. Darcy takes a widowed Elizabeth out driving in his phaeton for several days in a row, there is no scandal, merely gossip to feed the rumor mill. This would have been very different for a Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

And it was this sort of widow I wanted Elizabeth to be – one with power, fortune, and control over her own choices. She is a rarity in that she is a young and beautiful widow with these things: death due to childbirth made widowers of her age far more common than widows. With the Longbourn estate now in her hands, she does not need to – indeed, she adamantly does not intend to – remarry. She’s had a very miserable time of it in her first marriage, having been required to submit to the will of someone who does not respect or appreciate her.

All of this means that even the deepest love may not be enough to compel her to marry, and I found this gave her courtship with Darcy a different power dynamic. She has a secure future, and control of her own life, which brings a great degree of risk to any prospect of remarrying. Yes, Darcy still has Pemberley to offer, but this is a different offer to a woman worth 40,000 pounds (the value of Longbourn), rather than 1,000 pounds. Once marriage vows were said in that era, they were generally for life: only the rich could afford divorce, and even then, it was quite scandalous and could only be brought forward by the husband.

That, in itself, makes widowhood very different during this era than it is today. In the Georgian era, while there were, of course, beloved spouses who died, the death of a spouse was the easiest (and for most the only) way to escape a bad marriage. Such is the case for Elizabeth, whose knees give out upon learning of her husband’s death; this is mistaken by the neighbourhood as a collapse in grief, not relief. Elizabeth may not hold Lady Susan’s callous attitude towards the death of a spouse, but she still feels the benefit of it.

Darcy certainly has his work cut out for him. In order to win Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, he has to win so many facets of her: her heart, mind, soul – and yes, body. The latter, as the adult-ness of this story indicates, proves to be the most challenging. And yet, because Elizabeth is a widow, this is far less scandalous than it would have been if she was unmarried. Instead of the experienced man and the virgin young lady, we have a well-read-but-minimally-experienced man and an experienced-but-it-was-a-bad-experience lady.

Will Darcy succeed, and convince her to embark upon a second marriage? The answer to that is at the core of Mistress.

Readers interested in learning more about the widows and widowers depicted in all of Austen’s works should give a read to this excellent analysis.


  1. This sounds fascinating. I can see so many possibilities and I'd love to see how the story unfolds.

  2. Thank you for your comment, dezigner! Yes there were so many possibilities...I'm considering writing some of the other paths the story could have taken. But for now there's just the one. :-)

  3. I didn't realize you began with Elizabeth as a certain kind of widow and then had to figure out how to make that happen as opposed to the other way around!

  4. This does sound interesting and would love to be entered in for a chance at an eBook.

    1. I'm delighted to let you know that you have won a copy of the eBook; please let me know your email address so you can receive your prize!

  5. Nice to read this.Thank you so much for sharing this post.

  6. I love this angle for a plot - very original, and I am looking forward to the character development and story telling!!

  7. If Lizzy now has Longbourn, obviously she must have married Mr. Collins for some reason. I can't blame her for not wanting to remarry -- she could very well end up with a fortune hunter in disguise or another toad. I look forward to reading this.

  8. Let us hope that Elizabeth did not invest in the China trade of the period 1820 to 1840's. While great profits might be had they were only for the few. But if she stayed with India and could get her hands on a reliable supply of Kashmir Pashmini Shawls, she might even have been welcome at Court.

  9. Thank you, Julia! It's interesting to look back at how stories begin...the seed of the idea isn't always what you'd expect. :-)

    Thank you for your interest, rayvness79 and Roger!

    Thank you, Megan! And yes this premise definitely gave a lot of opportunity for character development.

  10. What an interesting premise and very different way to look at Elizabeth. I can't wait to read this! Thank you for offering one as a

  11. So excited ! Always looking for my next read! I love Austen , Bronte , Dickens and those who pay tribute to these authors, This looks like it would be my cup of tea!!!!

  12. My knees would collapse in relief, too!

    1. I'm delighted to let you know that you have won a copy of the book; please let me know your email address so you can receive your prize!

  13. 50of47, thank you for your comment! The timing was such where unfortunately she didn't have much of a choice...

    Demetrius, thank you for your comment! In the story she's got her hands full just with the Longbourn estate, so no investments outside of that yet.

    pdxirishgirl, thank you for your comment! It did end up being a premise with a lot of possibilities -- it was tough to choose just one path for it to go down.

    Angela Imperiale, thanks for your comment, and glad to hear it sounds like your cup of tea! :-)

    Rae Stricklin, mine as well! Thanks for your comment!