Saturday 24 June 2017

The Exile by Don Jacobson

It's a pleasure to welcome Don Jacobson, author of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque!


Of Pride & Prejudice, Supporting Characters, and The Wardrobe

Consider these words:

“I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall!  Anywhere but here!”
The three sentences are simple, no?  Yet, if you read them closely, you will be able to discern much about the person thinking them, her situation and the context in which they passed through her head.
I will readily admit that your context will be a key element in the deductive process. If you are or have been the parent of a teenager, you likely have heard this passing over the lips of your “l’il darlin’” any of a number of times from age twelve to nineteen. If your happy youth is still thrilled to be around you, just wait. 
And, when would such utterances be most likely to occur? When you denied her the car keys? No, that would have sparked a rejoinder like, “You are so unfair. You always let (pick the name of the older sib) have the car. You’re treating me like a baby!” 
This is punishment time. And she understands that her elderly tormenter knows she is in the wrong.  What could he possibly know about love? He is ancient…at least fifty years old! Thus, she is not convinced her crime deserves exile.  But, so deep is her wish to escape to a place where she can be her own person, to be in charge of her own life, that she is willing to endure exile from her family.  Better to fly away than face the music.
How like a teenager.
How like Kitty Bennet.
How fertile the ground for The Wardrobe!
The fourth Bennet daughter was sketched quite lightly by Ms Austen. Kitty coughed nervously when faced with uncomfortable situations, hid in Lydia’s shadow, and giggled like a teenager. The bigger question is not ‘Why did Austen write her that way?’ but rather ‘Why was Kitty the way she was?’ What shaped her past? What will shape her future?
Having stood in front of a class of bookish Marys, speechless Georgianas, terrified Kittys, and overly-impressed-with-themselves Lydias, I continue to be amazed at how accurately Austen portrays adolescent girls (boys have their own categories). Would that she had likewise informed us of what went on in the eighteenth year that acted as a veil through which her negative caricatures had to pass to become (possibly) sensible women like Lizzy and Jane.
We know that Austen’s portraits of the girls—from Mary to Maria, Kitty to Georgiana—was exaggerated for dramatic purposes. 
Many JAFF authors have fixed upon Kitty’s artistic talent.  This may be a process of elimination.  Lizzy plays (at whatever level Lady Catherine may believe) and sings, but embroiders only passably. Lydia is the clotheshorse. Jane rests at the side of the family portrait serenely embroidering.  Mary attacks the pianoforte with Wagnerian zeal.  What is left to Kitty but painting and drawing?  In The Exile, art is used as the modus operandi, much as music served for Mary in The Keeper.  
Yet, Kitty, although a year older, is characterized as always being led around by Lydia.   Many argue that she was Lydia’s accomplice.  Her coughing suggests a nervous constitution exacerbated both by her mother’s constant nattering as well as a desire to be anywhere but where she is at the moment.  There are likely deeper traumas hidden under her compliant nature that will explain her behavior between the ages of six and seventeen. These are the underlying frame-work for Kitty’s story in The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque. This novel explores how Kitty Bennet sheds her fears and worries and takes control of her life.

Centering A Series Around Secondary Characters

I realize that some readers may find The Bennet Wardrobe series to be too far away from the centerline (ODC) of traditional JAFF stories. I do love “Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam” tales and plan to write many once The Bennet Wardrobe is complete. But for now… 
In 2014, a vale through which I was passing set my “what if” brownies to work. What if the other characters actually were three-dimensional?
Perhaps it was one of the Caroline Variations I was reading at the time that inspired me to wonder if she had always been a grasping shrew, sneered at by all, lessers and betters alike. A small excerpt from Volume 1 of the Bennet Wardrobe, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, offers a thought.
“…Your Excellency and Mrs. Adams, may I present Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, Miss Bingley and Miss Bennet?”
Mrs. Adams brightened and reached out to Caroline.  “Oh, Miss Bingley—you are Miss Bingley now, I assume because your sister has married—it has been far too many years since I saw you last.  Addie will be thrilled to know that we met you.  How are you doing, dear?”
Caroline visibly came to life at Mrs. Adams’ greeting.  This was an unspoiled part of her life, laid down before Darcy ever came into her ken, before the considerations of the ton and its artificial expectations and snobbery had taken advantage of her sense of inferiority.  With the Johnsons, Caroline did not have to fight to fit in. When she smiled back at Louisa Adams, years were stripped away from her face.  She chatted briefly with her old friend.”

My first JAFF writing happened late one night in a motel room in Connecticut where I was staying with my family after a visit to my failing mother. The sheets of scratch pad are carefully folded away for an as-yet-to-be-written work. This fragment was a letter from Caroline Bingley to Jane apologizing for her behavior and thanking her sister-in-law for putting up with her for the past several years. Caroline had decided to change her life and leave Regency Britain to make a fresh start in the United States. As such, she was presuming upon her friendship with Louisa Johnson Adams, another daughter of trade, to accompany her as the couple returned to Washington City where Mr. Adams was to become Secretary of State in 1817.
Change—the heart of Pride and Prejudice—was what Lizzy and Darcy experienced in full over the course of the masterpiece.  The letter from Caroline, thrown up by my subconscious at a difficult time, lit the way to the idea that all of the sisters (and Thomas) were actually heroes in waiting. Ms Austen just did not have the literary reason to create an epilogue to P&P that would tell their stories.
I dealt with Mary’s growth after the weddings in late 1811 in Volume 1 of The Bennet Wardrobe Series: The Keeper. Kitty’s story is told in The Exile. Thomas will stand for his family in The Avenger while Lydia will wander the dusty paths of Northwestern France in The Pilgrim.
The Bennet Wardrobe is an alternative tale in the Jane Austen Universe. While the characters are familiar, I have endeavored to provide each of them with an opportunity to grow into more natural personalities, although not necessarily in the Regency.  If they were shaped or stifled by the conventions of the period, the time-traveling powers of The Wardrobe helped solve their problems, make penance, and learn lessons once they had overcome the inner demons by giving them a chance to escape that time frame, if only for a brief, life-changing interlude.
Would it have been possible for them to do so staying on the Regency timeline? 
Perhaps. However, something tickled my brain—maybe it was my youthful fascination with science fiction meeting my adult love for the Canon—that threw the idea of the Wardrobe up in front of me.  Now my protagonists could be immersed in different timeframes beyond the Regency to learn that which they needed to learn in order to realize their potentials and in the process carry the eternal story of love and change forward to even the 21st Century.
The Wardrobe Series is currently projected as six books to realize the grand arc of the Wardrobe’s Plan.
Please enjoy the following excerpt from The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.

Chapter XXXIII
la Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, May 9, 1892
The Renoir Likeness

The words from the Founder’s Letter echoed through Henry’s mind as he stepped from the cab in front of la Galerie Durand-Ruel in la Rue Laffitte. There was an urgency pulling on his sensibilities that he could not ignore.
Why did She…the Lady of the voice I have heard in my dreams all these years…beg me to act with all due speed? How does she know my sister? Oh, if only I could have seen her face during those weeks by the beach. What am I seeking?
He adjusted his fedora with a tug on the brim, pushed his dark glasses up his nose with a stiffened forefinger, shot his cuffs from the sleeves of his medium grey suit jacket, and strode across the sidewalk to number 16, a modest building which he knew, from the stenciled addresses on crates carefully unpacked at Matlock and Selkirk throughout his childhood, contained treasures beyond measure. A liveried employee awaited his approach. With nary a flicker of his eyes, the attendant opened the door through which Henry passed into a cathedral of art.
Giant scenic canvases by Monet elbowed for attention with the dancers of Degas and the workers of Pissarro. Then there were walls of Renoir. Riots of noonday color competed with the dimness of russet sunsets and misty dawns.  There was much to overwhelm the senses, but little that would clearly explain why he had been directed to this spot in Paris upon such short notice.
A young man, obviously one of the gallery’s assistant managers, dressed in a pitch-colored suit that accentuated the bleached whiteness of his shirtfront, slid soundlessly across the birch-stained floorboards. He skillfully sized up Henry’s obvious wealth, pegging him as a man of substance and not one of the nouveau riche Américains seeking six feet of painting to cover a blank spot on a wall above a sofa. 
Preferring to conduct his business in his native tongue, Henry reached into his vest and pulled out his card, presenting it to the attendant English side up. The young fellow’s eyebrows shot toward his hairline. He instantly recognized the name of one of Monsieur Durand-Ruel’s best customers…now obviously extending across two generations!
He quickly assumed a deferential attitude and inquired, “Ah, Monsieur le Compte…how may we at la Galerie Durand-Ruel be of service to you? Are you perhaps seeking one of Maître Monet’s latest? He is now studying haystacks and the ways in which the quality of light changes with the seasons.”
While Henry appreciated the manager’s eagerness, he was seeking only information and Durand-Ruel himself, he believed, would be his best source.
“I do thank you for your attention, M’sieur, however, I would ask if you could inquire if Monsieur Durand-Ruel would be available to meet with me. I come on a matter of great urgency and some delicacy,” Fitzwilliam said.
Disappointed that he would not be writing a sales slip for one of the wealthiest art buyers in Britain, but also professional enough to understand that fulfilling even this small commission could result in great rewards for the gallery and, perhaps, himself, the functionary bade Henry to take a seat in a comfortable armchair facing an American grouping of Cassatt and Whistler. Then he hurried away into the rear of the gallery.
Paul Durand-Ruel was now in his in his 60th year. He had spent the better part of the past two decades discovering and promoting the fleet of radicals who had by now been grouped under the moniker “Impressionists.” Finding customers willing to take a risk on unproven and controversial artists had been challenging, leaving him often to despair that his gamble would ruin his family. Then the Americans discovered Impressionism. They silenced French derision with dollars sending countless Monets, Renoirs, Degas, and Sisleys across the Atlantic.
  When his assistant presented the Earl of Matlock’s card, the dealer immediately rose, tossed a soft drape over a painting on an easel adjacent to his desk, and followed the youngster back onto the main floor. The Fitzwilliams and the rest of the Five Families had been mainstays on Durand-Ruel’s list since his earliest days. Yet, the Countess rarely came to the gallery except when she would be in Paris for her annual…how did she put it…ah yes…“museum crawl.” But that would have been in August when the Fitzwilliams repaired to Deauville. For her son to suddenly appear unannounced in early May…well, that was unusual.
The bluff impresario crossed the skylight-illuminated room to where the young man stood with his nose about three inches away from Cassatt’s Woman Standing, Holding A Fan.
“Her understanding of womanhood is astounding, is it not? You may wish to move quickly on that one, my Lord. I have a wealthy Philadelphian coming in tomorrow. I plan to suggest that he repatriate Ma’mselle Cassatt’s painting,” Durand-Ruel playfully stated.
Henry spun and, with a large smile, stuck out his hand, “I am also certain that you have a few other little gems that you will attempt to foist off on Cousin Jonathan, you old thief.”
Durand-Ruel guffawed causing his assistant to glance over sharply as the Monsieur was never loud—especially not in these hallowed halls.
When his mirth had quieted, Durand-Ruel gazed intently at the Earl, “Perhaps, my young friend, we should go into my office where you will feel more at ease.”
Once the two men had settled in armchairs beneath a Monet haystack, and pleasantries had been exchanged, Henry explained what he was about. Durand-Ruel was puzzled as to how he could be seen as being able to provide the slightest assistance in the case of Fitzwilliam’s missing cousin. However, Henry was insistent that he could not reveal what forced him to dash from London to Paris.
After the two men had spent a desultory quarter hour poking and prodding the mysterious case of the lost heiress, Durand-Ruel leaned back and shot a look at Henry.
“I do not know if I should be amused or confused, my Lord. You come here searching for a woman. Of that species, I have hundreds, but all are of oil on canvas or pigment on paper. If you could be satisfied with that, I would end your quest in a moment and send you home with five, making myself all the richer.
“However, you want one of flesh and blood. Of that, I have none.
“Perhaps we are pursuing this problem in the incorrect manner. Here I am, a purveyor of art, yet I have not asked you about the appearance of this young lady.”
Fitzwilliam had the grace to blush when he realized that in his enthusiasm he had neglected to do that which had been done with hundreds of waiters, hotel managers, shop girls, and porters. He speedily pulled a small pasteboard folder out of an inner pocket and presented it to his friend.
Durand-Ruel flipped open the cover and gazed down at the photograph in his hand. His eyes widened and he gave a small gasp. He looked at the young aristocrat.
“Where did you get this photograph, my friend?” he whispered.
Surprised at the older man’s reaction, Henry slowly replied, “I have had this particular print for over two years. Miss Bennet sat for it when she passed through Berlin after her graduation. When she stopped at Menzel’s studio, she encountered the young American Stieglitz who offered to take her portrait.”
Momentarily diverted from his surprise by his critical appraisal of the image, Durand-Ruel murmured, “Such control of light and shadow. This young man has a future.”
Then more firmly, “I fear I surprised you, my Lord. The reason shall become clear in a moment…for you see, even though I have never met your Miss Bennet, I have assuredly seen her before…in fact not more than a half hour ago.”
With that, he stood and walked over by his desk.
Henry started and sat absolutely upright. 
“You saw her? Where? When?”
With a puckish grin, Paul Durand-Ruel, ever the showman, turned the easel he had been studying earlier and, resting a hand near the top of the shrouded artwork, said, “Here is one of those gems I just received from my dear Pierre-Auguste. I was going to sell it to that rich American tomorrow. Perhaps you would rather acquire it for your collection.”

And with a flourish he pulled the violet silk away.


The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque Media Kit
By Don Jacobson

Beware of What You Wish For

The Bennet Wardrobe may grant it!
Longbourn, December 1811. The day after Jane and Lizzy marry dawns especially cold for young Kitty Bennet. Called to Papa’s bookroom, she is faced with a resolute Mr. Bennet who intends to punish her complicity in her sister’s elopement. She will be sent packing to a seminary in far-off Cornwall. 
She reacts like any teenager chafing under the “burden” of parental rules—she throws a tantrum. In her fury, she slams her hands against the doors of The Bennet Wardrobe
Her heart’s desire?
I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall!  Anywhere but here!
As Lydia later said, “The Wardrobe has a unique sense of humor.”
London, May 1886.  Seventeen-year-old Catherine Marie Bennet tumbles out of The Wardrobe at Matlock House to come face-to-face with the austere Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam, a scion of the Five Families and one of the wealthiest men in the world. However, while their paths may have crossed that May morning, Henry still fights his feelings for another woman, lost to him nearly thirty years in his future.  And Miss Bennet must decide between exile to the remote wastelands of Cornwall or making a new life for herself in Victorian Britain and Belle Époque France.
ArkansasAustenFan reviews “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey”: 

What an amazing historical novel that has a paranormal Wardrobe, which transports members of the Bennet-blood-family into the future and back… Don Jacobson is a master storyteller weaving English history into the lives of the P&P characters in a unique way. This book is not light, fluffy reading. It is an intriguing novel that would make a wonderful mini series on BBC much like Downton Abby.

Author Bio: 
Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years.  His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio.  His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards.  He has previously published five books, all non-fiction.  In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe SeriesThe Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series.  Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.” 
 Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations.  As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.
He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound.  Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).
He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear.  Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.  
His other passion is cycling.  Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills).  He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days).  Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).

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Blog Tour Schedule: 

06/17   Just Jane 1813
06/20   Savvy Verse and Wit


darcybennett said...

I am so glad that this book explores a secondary character that I have never read about before as a main character. I look forward to learning more about Kitty.

Janet T said...

That excerpt still gives me goosebumps! I love the 'flourish' of removing the silk from the painting. Would like to have seen Henry's face when he beheld it.

Great post. Thanks Catherine and Don.