Thursday 17 November 2016

A New Home

It's a pleasure to welcome Nicole Clarkston to the salon today, to hear more of Jane Austen and Nicole's latest novel.

Nicole has offered one copy of The Courtship of Edward Gardiner to a comment chosen at random. The contest is open to all and winners can choose between ebook or paperback, so don't forget to leave your comment below!


Writing a prequel is an interesting exercise in watching the calendar. Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice in 1813, and the events in the story span approximately a year of time. Those readers who like to ask such questions might wonder whether the narrative was actually intended to begin in 1812, or whether the final declarations of love should take place in the imaginary “future” of 1814. When I set out to write a prequel, I first had to answer this question. In my mind, the moment a reader first picks up the story is when it truly “begins,” so I chose to think that Fitzwilliam Darcy first insulted Elizabeth Bennet in the fall of 1813. Therefore, the following autumn when he declared himself to be “eight and twenty” would have been the year 1814.

I knew very clearly that I wanted to look at young Darcy at an age when he was still staggering with his new maturity, and reeling from the loss of his mother. I wanted to examine him as he tried to don his famous stiff upper lip, but still lacked the full wisdom and deportment that we see later. I also wanted to introduce Madeline Gardiner to a somewhat rowdy and precocious, yet thoroughly enchanting Elizabeth Bennet. There is some license extended to young children which is not to the elders, and Elizabeth needed to be of an age when she would come to nearly worship her new aunt, thereby looking to her for guidance. To that end, I rolled the clock back an even fourteen years to the year 1800, making Fitzwilliam Darcy aged fourteen, Elizabeth Bennet aged seven, and George III still on his throne.

At this time, the Industrial Revolution had yet to truly flourish, but it was in its infancy. Steam was only beginning to edge out water mills as a source of power. I found it interesting that Austen describes Charles Bingley as one who had come from “the north” and belonged to a family “in trade.” As such, his status would have been very similar to Edward Gardiner’s at this early stage, thus we see both Edward Gardiner and the senior Mr Bingley bumping into each other in the coaching inn. The Bingleys, however, rose in stature rather considerably over the next fourteen years. Since nothing purchases gentility quite so effectively as a large fortune, one must surmise that Mr Bingley Sr did rather well in his trade. 

It was quite natural to presume that Mr Bingley might have led the way into the new world of steam powered industry. One of the largest exports from the north of England at the time was wool, which, conveniently, must come from sheep, and this is where Mr Darcy (Sr) of Pemberley steps into the picture. There has and always will be an established way of doing things, and those who find creative alternatives often hold an advantage over their rivals. Mr Bingley proposes to Mr Darcy a mutually advantageous scheme- paying more for his raw material, but at the same time finding himself some loyal suppliers to continue feeding his more efficient mill.

Although this story is primarily intended to be a sweet love story, the realities of life do intrude in a few other areas. One notable place is in Edward Gardiner’s business life. One of his rivals has taken a rather substantial blow when two of his merchant ships encountered a storm. Not all merchants would have owned their own vessels, but the larger ones certainly might have. 

For a man in trade, such as Gardiner or his counterparts, owning their own vessel was a massive investment. It was not only the purchase of the ship and the paying of the hands, but also the establishment of a profitable trade route. Sending a ship halfway around the world to bring back a load of goods was a massive undertaking, and could only pay out if there were strategic ports of call and sufficient quantities of merchandise to justify such an effort. For smaller businesses, it often made more sense to partner with others to share the expenses and risks, or simply to contract with a private merchant ship for cargo passage. Edward’s rival had formed a partnership to launch himself into this very position, and taken a crippling loss as a result. Perhaps from this incident, Edward Gardiner always remained careful and well-reasoned in his business ventures.

There are a few other touches from the grit and reality of history, but “The Courtship of Edward Gardiner” was really intended to be a history of individuals. How did Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley forge their unlikely friendship? How did Elizabeth and Jane Bennet develop such a close bond with their aunt Gardiner? How did Edward Gardiner rise from his humble position in Meryton to his consequence in London? And, most importantly to any prequel: How did past events set the “future” into motion? 

The following vignette takes place just after the events of “The Courtship of Edward Gardiner.” Edward and Madeline have just returned from their wedding trip to a new home, and some very well-meaning souls have undertaken to make them feel welcome. Once more, we see a glimpse of how relationships began, and are able to follow the path to where they led. 

A New Home

Madeline Gardiner stood hesitantly before the spacious entry of her new home. For a moment, her eyes swept up the stone columns and traced the high archway curving over her head. Like many of the newer homes in Gracechurch street, the building aspired to modest gentility, tempered only somewhat by economy. Perhaps it would not have impressed those of high standing, nor even one truly accustomed to the lavish architecture of London. Madeline, however, reared in a simple village and a humble home, was absolutely breathless. All this… was to be hers?

She and Edward had toured the home in the first few days after their wedding, during his brief stop in Town to wrap up some business affairs. The house had become available just before their departure, and it had been priced attractively. Edward had quickly set a purchase in motion, and then they had taken the remainder of their wedding tour. Three weeks later now, they had returned, and the house was theirs. Or, rather, the structure was lawfully in their name, and Edward’s manservant had opened the door for them. It did not yet seem like her own. Peering nervously inside, she verified for herself what she already knew to be the truth: though the house did not yet possess the comforts of home, neither was it precisely empty.

“My dearest sister!” Fanny Bennet gushed through the door, her arms held aloft in jubilant welcome. “Was your journey comfortable? We did not look for you until the morrow! Oh, we have so much to show you. Come, come!”

Madeline cast a brave, sidelong glance to Edward. He smiled tightly down at her. He had- with Madeline’s blessing- allowed his sisters to settle some of the initial furnishings for their new home, so that he and his bride might immediately take up residence upon their return. It had not been without some trepidation that he had done so, but he had judged it preferable to tolerate a small degree of his sister’s taste, rather than to take Madeline back to his old bachelor flat. After all, he had asked only for the necessities to be sorted, and there had been very little time for Fanny and Dina to become too carried away. Besides, their husbands would have exercised some measure of restraining influence over them… surely.

“Now, you must close your eyes,” Mrs Bennet was insisting. “Oh, Edward, do you know nothing? You must carry your bride! Our Mama always did despair of you. No, no, over your right shoulder! Brother, you are quite as impossible as Mr Bennet. There, now, that is quite proper! Are you quite ready?”

Madeline, wrapped securely in Edward’s obliging embrace, squinted her eyes tightly closed. When the pitch of Fanny Bennet’s voice indicated that she had at last turned her attention away, Madeline risked a quick wink and smile. Edward rewarded her daring glance with a low rumble of laughter in his chest. “Welcome home, my dear,” he whispered near her ear, sealing his words with a light kiss to the edge of her bonnet. An observer would scarcely have noticed the small affection, but Madeline knew it for what it was; a promise, a troth, an effusion of genuine adoration- and, not least, a precursor to hours of shared intimacies, the like of which she had never before conceived.

For a moment, Madeline’s being surged in pride and delight. This caring, wonderful, passionate man had made himself her own. Every regard and sentiment dreamt in the most fanciful of girlish hearts was now hers to claim in the being of a respectable, intelligent man- one who also intended to provide for her more lavishly than the most fortunate of her prior acquaintance. She was truly blessed in every particular! The sentimental moment passed quickly, for the next, she was choking back a peal of unseemly laughter at his irreverence. “I pray my sister did not learn of my account at the lace shop!” he murmured between clenched teeth.

Cradled in Edward’s arms, Madeline officially took up the mantle of Mistress of her new home. She started to open her eyes, but a shrieked admonishment from Fanny Bennet caused her to clench them once more. She counted Edward’s steps, felt his body shift as he turned to the left, and bit down eagerly upon her lower lip to contain her impatience. Her resolve crumbled when he gasped and nearly dropped her.

“Wh… wh…. F-fanny?” he was stammering uncertainly. Numbly, he set Madeline’s feet upon the floor and braced an arm about her as she found her balance, but his eyes were roving the room in mute astonishment.

Madeline was no less in awe. The drawing room she had first seen as a vacant cavern, and for which she had fancied a few simple, tasteful furnishings to start, had been utterly transformed. A veritable bower of cushions, doilies, paintings, and floral arrangements assaulted her senses, and the narrow pathway through the room wove about the furnishings in an intricate trail fit only for a ballerina. “Fanny!” she breathed. “I… I am all amazement!”

“Oh!” the woman waved a modest handkerchief. “I only arranged the little extras. Our brother and sister Phillips chose the larger furnishings. Is not this a simply exquisite tapestry? And the cloth on this little settee, only wait until you see how many roses!” 

Madeline’s shocked gaze found Geraldine Philips, who stood beside her husband in serene approval. “Your account for the furnishings will need to be settled this week, Brother, for the purveyor was hesitant to extend so much at once. He did not wish to do so at all, but Mr Philips persuaded him, did you not, my dear? It was simply unthinkable to leave the job half done!”

“Th-thank you, Dina,” she gasped. “It is… why, it is….”

“Expensive,” a voice finished drily. 

As one, Madeline and Edward turned toward the mantel. Thomas Bennet leant against it with his elbow, cradling a cup of tea in his near hand. Edward swallowed visibly and nodded in greeting. “Thomas,” he coughed, “I, er, hope you have not permitted my sister to exhaust herself on our account!”

“Oh, you must not give it a second thought!” insisted that good lady. “Is that not right, Dina? Why, I declare, we never had such a time in our lives as the day we found these little cushions. And the lace! Why, I had no notion that your shop in Town was so fine! I cannot fathom that Mr Bennet has never thought before that I should like to see it!”

“There, you see?” Bennet offered a sly little smile. “You have not inconvenienced my wife in the least.”

Edward narrowed his eyes very slightly. “I am glad to hear it, Thomas.”

“Well, well, my dear, are you not planning to show them about the rest of the house?” Bennet goaded. Madeline was certain that she caught a gleam of mischief in the man’s eye. There could be no doubt of Lizzy’s parentage! she thought. Somehow the witty father and the high-spirited mother both lived on in their daughter, and she found that they resembled her rather more than the reverse.

“You simply must examine the dining chairs,” concurred Geraldine. “Mr Philips at first fancied a more elegant set, but you do know how a man will put on weight once he has married! I thought the sturdier set would be the wiser choice. Just see if you do not agree!”

Madeline gulped as Edward slid a hand to the small of her back, guiding her toward that part of the house. Every surface, every wall, every little cranny was stuffed and plumped and bedecked with all imaginable sort of feminine comfort. To be truthful, there was not a single piece which was not lovely and welcoming, but taken as a whole, it was as though a carriage of shoe roses and poseys had exploded inside the building. No longer could the house seem too large and too imposing- no, not even the massive homes of Grosvenor Square could withstand so many little baubles and trinkets, and still maintain their stately grandeur. 

Madeline paused within the dining room, chuckling as Geraldine Philips fairly thrust her brother into a dining chair to test its strength. Edward accepted the rough handling with grace and not a little bemusement, as his eyes, too, struggled to take in the overpowering luxury. This room also groaned under the evidence of Fanny’s heavy-handed decorating philosophy. The table might have been a fine specimen, had any bits of it been visible beneath the bona fide flower garden springing from its centerpiece. The rug was so thick that Madeline, in her narrow walking shoes, nearly lost her balance when her foot sank. One wall was laden with no less than four paintings, and the other boasted a buffet which stretched from one end to the other- for, apparently, Edward’s old one had been deemed inadequate to the task of serving their future family.

“Dina, Fanny,” Edward was shaking his head still, his gaze faintly glassy, “I had not expected you to trouble yourselves….”

“Oh! It was no trouble at all!” his middle sister assured him. “Mr Bennet said how he was quite confident that you and your bride would wish to come to a ready-appointed home, and so we thought to do all that was necessary. Look here, Madeline!” Fanny actually grasped Madeline’s hand and led her bewildered sister through another sumptuously adorned corridor, through to somewhat smaller room. “Fancy this, you have your own private sitting room!”

Madeline’s eyes rounded still more. If the main drawing room could be called “comfortable,” this bastion of femininity could only be described as “adhesive.” Why, if she fell into that sofa, it might take three people to rescue her! “Fanny,” she whispered in awe, “you have truly out-done yourself!”

“I am so glad to hear that you love it!” Fanny Bennet, one of the silliest women Madeline could count among her acquaintance, took her hand once more. Her face shone with sincere feeling, even as every feature trembled in girlish delight. “Do you know, I was so hoping that Edward would find a nice wife, and I think you have made him very happy. Oh, yes, I know what a change it must have been from your old home, but Dina and I wished for you to be quite comfortable here. Do you truly love it?”

Madeline felt her own eyes pricking with tears. Giddy, and at times ridiculous though Mrs Bennet might be, a heart of gold beat within that good woman. “Yes, Fanny, I do. It is clear that you know how to make one feel at home!” Her compliment was well-received, for the older woman nearly squealed in delight. Madeline repressed an amused sigh. She fully expected to encounter many occasions to roll her eyes at her new sister’s frivolities, but her affection and genuine good-will could never be doubted.

Edward had at last completed his task of “testing” each dining chair at Geraldine’s pleasure, and drew near. “I do hope, sisters, that you have not worked your arts on every room in the house! I… do not know how guilty I shall feel that you have gone to such trouble.” “Nor,” he whispered to Madeline as his sister turned away, “how my pocketbook shall sustain such a violation.

Madeline snickered silently as Fanny answered. “Oh! Mr Bennet would not allow us to touch the library, nor even your quarters, Edward. Oh, but Sister, your own chambers! Oh, you will simply swoon!”

Edward cleared his throat with a grateful nod toward Thomas Bennet, who still stood by with a mild smirk. “I believe,” he commented, “that it will take three maids each morning for your chambers alone, Mrs Gardiner.”

Brimming with trepidation, the new couple mounted the stairs behind Edward’s bubbling elder sisters. Edward’s face was still drained of all colour.

“My dear,” Madeline murmured wickedly under her breath, “I think it may be safer that I should instead share your quarters, instead of becoming forever lost in my own!”

A sudden beam of mischief lit upon his face. “A capital idea! I shall be certain to tell my sister how… useful I have found her kindness.”

About the Book

Every great love has a beginning. 
In Austen's Pride and Prejudice, we meet with perhaps the most sensible, caring relatives a lovelorn young woman could hope for: Mr and Mrs Gardiner. What is their story?
Edward Gardiner has just been refused by the lovely young woman he had intended to make his wife. Heartbroken and eager for a diversion, he accepts an invitation from his brother-in-law, Thomas Bennet, to accompany him along with his two eldest daughters to the north on family business. Gardiner's pleasure tour is interrupted, however, when his eldest niece falls ill and is unable to travel farther. 
Stopping over in the scarcely remarkable village of Lambton, the men decide that Bennet must continue on, while Gardiner and the children remain. The only trouble is that Gardiner has not the least idea how he should care for one ailing niece and another who is ready to drive him to distraction... until he meets with Madeline Fairbanks.

About the Author
Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools. She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don't ask).

Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole's books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.

Buy Link:

10/21: Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
10/22: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
10/27: Review & Giveaway Savvy Verse & Wit
11/01: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
11/08: Guest Post & Giveaway So little time…
11/11: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
11/15: Review & Giveaway at My Vices and Weaknesses
11/17: Guest Post & Giveaway at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life
11/26: Excerpt & Giveaway at Margie’s Must Reads
11/30: Review & Giveaway at  Diary of an Eccentric
12/01: Guest Post & Giveaway at From Pemberley to Milton

Written content of this post copyright © Nicole Clarkston, 2016.


Suzan Lauder said...

Since I already won a copy of this book at another site, I don't need to be in the draw. I loved the excerpt! This is how I'd imagine Mrs. Bennet's decorating taste, too. It's also a nice taste of the substance of the novel, which I intend to start reading soon. I love the history behind the fiction; it's half the fun! Thanks to Mme Gilflurt and Nicole for this post!

Anonymous said...

poor Madeline! I love when she meets her sisters-in-law.

Unknown said...

You have captured their personalities admirably. I would love to read the book.

Vesper said...

Well Madeline was tactful, not sure I well I would have behaved

meikleblog (at) gmail (dot) com

Gerri Bowen said...

A very entertaining excerpt. A teaser!

Beth.Glixon said...

Thank you. I would love to read the book.

Michelle Hamilton said...

Can't wait to read the story behind the romance of one of my favorite Austen couples!

Ana said...

ana (dot) mr (dot) 1986 (at) gmail (dot) com

Nicole Clarkston said...

Safe travels, Suzan!

Nicole Clarkston said...

Mrs B is just too easy of a target. (snicker!)

Nicole Clarkston said...

Thank you, Eva! Good luck in the giveaway!

Nicole Clarkston said...

Right? I think most of us would have told her in no uncertain terms to decorate her own house, but I imagine that a fair bit of that d├ęcor eventually found its way to Longbourn. ;-)

Nicole Clarkston said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Gerri!

Nicole Clarkston said...

Good luck, Beth!

Nicole Clarkston said...

These are my favorite kind of people. They may not be flamboyant, but they are good to the core. These are the kind of people of whose company you will never tire; who are easy enough to let you raid their fridge, but elegant enough that you always feel inspired to be better when they're around. Jane and Lizzy were lucky to have their influence. :-)

Anji said...

Oh my goodness! I expect Madeline was probably more struck dumb than anything else. I wonder how long it took her to surreptitiously remove items, one by one, until these rooms were more in keeping with hers and her new husband's tastes.

Please don't enter me in the giveaway, as I've been lucky enough to win a copy elsewhere.

Mary said...

Poor Madeline and Edward!!!
What a start to married life,to enter a veritable flower garden,happily containing such feminine touches that would make any man (of trade or higher social standing) question his masculinity!!!

Can just imagine the consternation on their faces as the doilies,frills and lace laughingly mocked them at every opportunity!!

Perhaps Madeline is wise to see the positives.....sharing Edward's bedchamber would certainly have its advantages!!!

Thoroughly enjoyed this witty piece!

Loved the book and highly recommend it!