The Trouble With Bookends

There was no word in the English language for “bookend(s)” until 1908. That’s right, the word bookend is a year younger than my house. And therein lies the trouble with bookends. For the record, the term “book prop” did not appear until 1862, and “book support” arrived on the scene in 1874. The French had appui-livres, support books, but it never gained traction in English usage. After all, who in England ever listened to the French? When one is striving, as one of course does, for Regency vocabulary and usage accuracy, learning such a common and one assumes age old concept is shockingly modern causes the brain to explode, or at least gives the sensation it will.

This matters because in my forthcoming novel My Mr. Darcy and Your Mr. Bingley, a particularly contentious conversation among ladies taking tea causes Jane and Elizabeth Bennet to take up poses of dismay at either end of a settee, with a confused Georgiana Darcy sitting between them. Mr. Darcy enters the drawing room and finds all of the ladies present agitated, but the vignette made by Jane, Elizabeth, and his sister reminds him of bookends with his sister as the book. And why the hell not??? You or I would think exactly the same.

And so the scene was written, posted for all members to read at A Happy Assembly, and submitted in manuscript form to Meryton Press. It never occurred to anyone to question anything so simple as bookends. Indeed, I don’t know how my estimable and damnably curious editor, Gail Warner, got the wind up about this, but I do remember her comment in the edits: “You’re not going to believe this…”

It can be said of my nature that I am often rebellious, and to prevent my brain exploding I began my own research. On occasion I can trip Gail up by executing an end run to the online Oxford English Dictionary, which can be accessed through my local library, bless them. In this case, all was in agreement with Gail’s sources. The OED gives random uses of a term, starting for “bookend” in 1908. Think of a really bad word, scream it as loud as you can, and you will be somewhere near my tenuous emotional state. (But I was amused by the most recent noted entry for bookend from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2003, “A pinch bottle of Haig and Haig scotch whiskey served as a bookend on the shelf.” If you’ve never had a shot of pinch Haig and Haig, you will want to now.)

As it happens, Wikipedia has an entry for bookends. It is no shock that the bookend evolved with the book. The Greeks had scrolls, obviating the need for bookends. Scroll-ends has never caught on, has it? In the middle-ages books were great flat things stacked on top of each other. It was in the Georgian era that books got smaller and started to be stored upright with spines outward, on vast arrays of built-in bookshelves for personal libraries.

In the Regency era, when presumably everyone had filled in their wall shelves and needed more space, the swivel bookcase, as shown here, was invented. One or a series of these sat in the open space of a personal library, near chairs, and although I didn’t get it in the picture, on the top was a knob for turning the device on an axis. Like on one’s built-in bookcases, the shelves were meant to be full—chock a block with no room to spare, and extra books were stored laying down and stacked (books used as bookends, and yet no bloody term for doing so). The bookcase you see here was dated to 1818, and found in a local antiques shop for a princely sum.

(As a side note, I must mention that small versions of these were made with open handles to turn the swivel; handles which were also used to carry the petite bookcase from room to room by ladies of a literary bent. It was very fashionable, and certainly Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy would have been given one by her bookish father for a wedding gift.)

Where, you might ask, does this leave our perplexed author and her editor, who is by now wholly sorry she asked the question? Since Darcy could not be seen scrambling to come up with an apt bon-mot for the appearance of Elizabeth and Jane with his daft sister between them, some other familiar paired objects must be found. Not one to give up a fight when I can be obsessed instead, I searched Regency and Georgian paintings online, hoping some old coot had been posed in front of his books, with structures not known to be bookends but serving that function, in the background. Then Darcy could say the Bennet sisters reminded him of his painting of Lord So-and-So in front of his books. But no, I must suffer for past sins, evidently. No such painting could be found.

My purpose here is not to give away the grand, and I do mean grande, finale to my search for Darcy’s thought picture of Elizabeth and Jane. You will see it soon enough, on the back cover of My Mr. Darcy and Your Mr. Bingley. No, my purpose here is to whine like a big dog, which I am satisfied I have done pretty well, and to warn off any other innocent authors of Jane Austen Fan Fiction who might want to ever consider using the term “bookends”. I mean, heaven forbid I should have to rewrite the scene, right? That thought never occurred to me, although a dark nameless fear grew within me—no doubt feeding on all of the gray matter from the brain explosion—with each dead end in the search for a matched pair of somethings that might look like bookends without being called bookends.

I am still married, I never kicked the dog or the cat, I didn’t develop a drinking problem, and I didn’t throw anything. I absolutely did not end relations with my editor. She was as delighted as I with the ultimate solution to the trouble with bookends, but that is a tale for another day!

A Lady Calls (the little story that inspired a novel)

The general lack of moxie attributed to Charles Bingley stuck in my craw from my first reading of Pride and Prejudice. I know for a certainty I am not alone in this. Two or so years ago there was a hotly contested thread about Bingley and the definition of personal responsibility over at the Meryton Literary Society’s A Happy Assembly site, and this little story was my response to it. Yes, Bingley is ultimately the author of his own actions. He allowed himself to be persuaded out of what he wanted—there is no disputing that. For me, the what-if of Bingley developing a spine became the next creative leap of faith. Not so much spine as to make him a regular Darcy—he has to still be his affable self—but rather enough his own man to realize he is miserable and sort out why for himself. So begins My Mr. Darcy & Your Mr. Bingley.

But Bingley’s sisters took a huge risk in not responding to Jane Bennet’s letters announcing her presence in London. What if Caroline and Louisa had not been home and their brother was when Jane paid her call? Just to enliven the proceedings, I cast the POV from the butler, who can but guess at the tense excitement such a coincidence might create. And so let us consider what happens when…

A Lady Calls

By Linda Beutler

The butler tapped lightly at the open door to the study of the Hurst residence in London. “Excuse me, sir.”

Charles Bingley looked up with bright eyes. “Yes, Humpy?”

The butler, whose name was Humphrey, pursed his lips, expressing in doing so as much disapproval as he dared. On the whole, the staff at Hurst Place did not find Mr. Bingley’s habit of altering their names to be amusing or even quite proper.

“Sir, I am not aware of the plans of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, and their maids are on errands. A lady is here, and is wondering if they may be at home to callers this afternoon.”

“I do believe they will be. They are making calls themselves just now, but Caroline, at least, intends to be at home.”

Humphrey bowed. “Thank you, Mr. Bingley.”

Bingley asked after the morning’s caller as Humphrey made for the study door. “Who is it who has called, Humpy?” His tone was not a little bored. The morning’s post held no excitement.

The servant’s shoulders sagged minutely. He turned and read the card on the salver he carried. “A Miss Jane Bennet, sir.”

Before Humphrey knew what he was about, Mr. Bingley was standing so as to plunge one handle of the salver into his silk brocade waistcoat as he snatched the card.

“Ouch, Humpy! Must you stand so close?”

Humphrey knew there was no rational response to be made.

Mr. Bingley tapped the calling card to his nose.

“Roses!” He smiled widely and stepped around Humphrey into the passage.

The servant followed and watched as Mr. Bingley dashed into the entry hall.

“Miss Bennet! How delightful to learn you are in London! You are looking very well!”

The lady curtsied and kept her face down. “Mr. Bingley!”

“Caroline will be receiving callers this afternoon. Pray tell me, how long have you been in London?”

“It has been five days, sir,” came the demure reply.

“And your family is well?”

Miss Bennet nodded but did not meet Mr. Bingley’s eyes. “Everyone at Longbourn is perfectly well, sir.”

“And you are staying…?”

Before the lady could answer, the gentleman did so for her. “Oh, but you are staying with your aunt and uncle in Gracechurch Street, are you not?”

The lady at last met Mr. Bingley’s eyes. “You remember?”

“I do!” Mr. Bingley laughed. “My sisters spoke of it enough, it rather stuck.”

The lady’s eyebrow rose, but she did not respond directly. “My aunt had business nearby this morning, and I wished to renew my friendship with your sisters. I had written—twice…” Miss Bennet quickly gave a little cough behind her hand.

Humphrey wondered if he heard her say “twice” or did the lady clear her throat?

“…I would be in town, but perhaps they have not had time to respond. The —ahem, first—letter was but a fortnight ago.” The clear blue eyes were lowered again. There was irony to be detected.

It was Mr. Bingley’s turn to raise his brows. “Yes, well, you are here now, and how lucky for me to be at home to you. Very lucky. I shall scold their manners.”

The lady appeared alarmed, but looking up, was faced with a broad smile. She returned the expression. Mr. Humphrey thought her smile held some affection.

“Please do not scold them, Mr. Bingley.”

“Why ever not? They scold me with predictable regularity. I am pleased for the reason to return the honour. Yes, most pleased.” Mr. Bingley paused a moment in apparent study of the lady caller before nodding his head decisively. “Miss Bennet, have you any engagements for this evening? I have been invited to join Darcy in his box at the theatre. He would not care were I to bring a friend, or indeed, several friends. May I invite you to join us?”

“Oh, I cannot think so, Mr. Bingley.” The lady’s chin lifted. “I cannot think Mr. Darcy would approve.”

“Nonsense! Do not call here this afternoon. I shall call on you! Give me the direction, that I might meet your relations and repeat the invitation to them. I recall you are most fond of this aunt and uncle. I shall send a card around to Darcy. Would that reassure you?”

Again the lady smiled with a warm look into Mr. Bingley’s eyes. “Yes, I would be relieved for the assurance Mr. Darcy would know me in town.”

Humphrey was as well acquainted with Mr. Bingley’s friend Mr. Darcy as a servant could be. He readily understood the lady wishing to be comforted on that score.

Mr. Bingley looked a little sour for a moment. “He only seems imposing.” The gentleman shook off his disquiet. “I am certain you will find him friendlier here than in Meryton. I shall call at two o’clock, depend upon it.”

Miss Bennet looked vastly pleased. Humphrey thought her one of the most beautiful ladies to ever visit Hurst Place.

Mr. Bingley followed the lady onto the broad top step of the house. An expensively appointed landaulet was just pulling to a halt.

“Here is my aunt for me, sir. The direction of their home is on my card.”

Mr. Bingley held out his hand and Miss Bennet placed her gloved one in his. He looked into her eyes. “What is the date, Miss Bennet?”

“’Tis the seventh of January, sir.”

“Let us remember this day. Let us have seven be our lucky number, shall we?” He bent and kissed her gloved hand, holding his lips against the thin leather for longer than seemed necessary.

The lady blushed and grew agitated.

Mr. Bingley laughed, sounding a triumphant little crow. “Until two o’clock?”

Miss Bennet nodded with a happy smile and turned away.

Mr. Bingley closed the door and crossed the entry hall. “Humpy! This is my lucky day! The luckiest day of my life!”

Humphrey could not be quite as pleased with it, and did not adequately hide the roll of his eyes, to be so addressed.

Mr. Bingley saw the look. “So sorry, Mr. Humphrey. I should not try your patience. When my high spirits get the better of me, please remind me of your preference. I know better. I do. Now I must write to Darcy. Send a footman to me, Mr. Humphrey.”

A lucky day indeed. He took a greater liking to the lady caller, Miss Jane Bennet. He hoped to see more of her, if her presence inspired such an improvement in Mr. Bingley. “Very good, sir!” Humphrey nodded and nearly smiled.

Did Not See This Coming

The Red Chrysanthemum Wins a Silver Ippy

Life is a funny thing…or mine is, anyway. I really never know what will lead to what. So to have won, with Meryton Press, a Silver Ippy for romance writing is certainly something I would never have guessed could or would happen. I have to thank the best editor ever, Gail Warner, and everyone on “team TRC”, including Janet Taylor, who created a cover like no other. Then there’s Ellen Pickles, who insisted we work in the flower images, again, making TRC truly unique.

To the blog tour hosts, and the mighty Z in MP marketing, thanks for helping spread the word.


Sex and the Single Lizzy

Yes, my stories will always contain a consummation between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Get used to it, or read someone else. They will not anticipate their vows (at least not in any stories set in the Regency era), but I find the qualities in Elizabeth Bennet that both consciously and unconsciously attract Darcy lead me to that final, sometimes slapstick, sometimes intensely serious, physical expression of love. How they reach that ending to courtship, and transition to creating a marriage, is what makes their journey unique to each JAFF author.

Reviews and comments about The Red Chrysanthemum have amused me in their wide range of tolerance, lack thereof, or appreciation for the book’s ending chapters. More than one reviewer says those chapters read as if written by another author, part of another story. I say these readers were not paying attention to Darcy. He repeatedly imagines touching Lizzy, and drawing her into his arms. Indeed, by the end of the very first chapter, when she smiles at him from a window, he nearly bolts back into the inn to do just that. Where do readers think such hints are leading? A final peck on the cheek and a handshake? When she includes a peach in a floral message, and he sits in the sun stroking it as he falls into a nap, well really…is this a man who will be timid of the sensual appreciation of his new wife?

It is certainly a transition Jane Austen could not have fully understood. When discussing Pride and Prejudice as Austen wrote it, readers have expressed to me the “flatness” and “incomplete” sensation of Lizzy and Darcy’s six week courtship. We are given some frank and funny conversations in the days immediately after the second proposal (the obligatory how-did-you-come-to-love-me? tale), the not unexpected knowledge that Aunt Phillips is annoying, and then boom!—a brief double wedding—on we go to the end without so much as a touch. We are told when Lizzy finally accepts him, Darcy “expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do”…but I’m not sure “violently” is the word Jane wanted. It implies action, and we have no evidence of Lizzy even so much as meeting his eyes, let alone raising her face for a chaste kiss of betrothal.

We have no idea how Lizzy approaches and prepares herself for her wedding night. Anything any author writes is mere conjecture. We know her nature is curious, intelligent, competitive even. She grew up on a farm, so she cannot be unaware of what the sex act entails from a purely structural point of view. We can assume she has no notion of the act being pleasurable for women; that is not the sort of information a Regency Mama would want her daughter to know (although I would venture that Mrs Bennet’s explanation of the birds and the bees must have been vastly different for Lydia than it was for Lizzy and Jane, if it happened at all). Certainly the elder daughters understand what constitutes ruin, while Lydia has no concept of it.

In TRC, on the two day carriage ride to Pemberley, Darcy fills the role of educator. He leaves little to her imagination, and expresses his expectations forthrightly. He answers her questions as we expect Fitzwilliam Darcy would, with honour and candour. They have already kissed, and Darcy has consulted her about his choice of where their “wedding night” should occur.

In my forthcoming book, Longbourn to London, due out through Meryton Press in mid-July 2014, the whole of the tale is consumed with the official courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and their first week of honeymoon, spent at their house in London. By the morning of the wedding, they have shared a handful of passionate kisses, and a separation has pushed Lizzy to the edge of her tether, as far as longing for the further granting of favours is concerned. It is Darcy who, up until they enter a carriage bound for London as husband and wife, does what a gentleman must do to preserve his bride’s honour: he stays away! Once in the carriage, after an initial contretemps, their affectionate exchanges begin to unfold. Then in Darcy House, Lizzy tries to cover her nerves with varying degrees of success. Darcy is patient until…he is not. And thus, we proceed to the bed.

Longbourn to London will, I hope be amusing to you, and well within what we might imagine Darcy and Lizzy saying and doing as they approach married life, and then adjusting to it. This is not a variation, nor is it truly a sequel. It is a “what happened?”.

Writing Mr Bennet

Writing Mr Bennet

It has been posited that of all Jane Austen’s characters, in life she was most like Mr Bennet. Although Jane could be as girly as the next woman, and is seen to be so in the surviving letters to her sister Cassandra, scholars see much of Mr Bennet’s detachment and enjoyment of human folly in Jane Austen’s keen observations of her fellow creatures. Jane took great joy in standing aside and watching personal dramas unfold. Something in life or her nature gave her a tendency to cynicism, and she could, if sufficiently provoked, express a hearty sarcasm for the foibles of others, and even herself.

Many authors of Jane Austen Fan Fiction have taken a thorough dislike to Mr Bennet, but I cannot. I adore him. Yes, his desultory attitude towards his younger daughters, and his tormenting of his wife (oh, c’mon…she deserves it), are annoying to some, but he adores and appreciates Elizabeth, and for that alone I am always disposed to regard him favorably.

Because The Red Chrysanthemum draws inspiration from both the canon as well as the 1995 BBC production’s screenplay, readers should keep the shrewd and bright-eyed performance of Benjamin Whitrow in mind as they read my Mr Bennet. There we see a Mr Bennet who has accepted his lot in life, that he married because his head was turned by a pretty face and one presumes he proposed to Frances Gardiner, as she was born, impulsively and romantically, and perhaps with more eloquence than could be appreciated by his betrothed. I like to think Mr Bennet swept his wife off her feet as they courted, and himself into the bargain!

Given enough time undisturbed in his library, Mr Bennet can bear the vagaries of a female household with amused equanimity. His dearest daughter achieves the same result by taking long, vigorous walks. What he cannot bear is that his Elizabeth find herself in a predicament similar to his…making due and hiding from the unpleasantness of a passionless marriage.

In TRC we see Mr Bennet at his best through letters, which were great fun to write. Although described in the canon as a lackluster and unambitious correspondent, in this story he must respond quickly, and does. We get to witness his thoughts as he receives two unexpected letters from Pemberley, as well as a surprising letter from his brother-in-law, Edward Gardiner. In formulating his answers, Mr Bennet is well aware the happiness of his two eldest daughters hangs in the balance, and in one case more than the other, knowing the right thing to say is not obvious. In taking Jane into his confidence, we have a chance to hear Jane’s loving but clear-eyed opinion of Lizzy, and Mr Bennet’s eyes are opened to the inherent wisdom lurking behind Jane’s steady sangfroid.

So as you read TRC, remember Mr Bennet is represented here by an author always ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, as long as Elizabeth’s happiness is his foremost goal.

Writing The Red Chrysanthemum

aTRCbookmark front    In September 2011, 200 years to the day that Fitzwilliam Darcy arrived at Netherfield (or so I told Meryton Press in my query letter) I checked out the first title of Jane Austen Fan Fiction I’d ever read, looking for some light summer reading. It happened to be What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds. It begins as Darcy approaches the inn in Lambton, and he is in hopeful spirits because Elizabeth has smiled at him. Reynolds’ contention is, Darcy is about to pluck up his courage and ask Elizabeth if he may court her. As in Pride and Prejudice, he finds her reading Jane’s letter with the awful news about Lydia. But he does declare himself, and Elizabeth’s response is affirmative.

   After reading much more JAFF, I started asking questions myself. And, I began enjoying Pride and Prejudice variations told from Darcy’s point of view, or mixing his with Elizabeth’s, which of course strays from Jane Austen’s style. I watched, again and again, the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series. Suddenly my vague musings had voices. In returning to the original novel, I found two things wanting: more details of the official engagement (yes, Aunt Philips annoyed them…but what else?), and a satisfactory answer to why Darcy visited Lambton on that fateful morning. I started a long story—probably novel length, the words have not been counted—Longbourn to London, detailing the courtship of Elizabeth and Darcy, from about five days after the accepted proposal to the end of their first week of married life, spent at their London home. Knowing the stars of the 1995 mini-series shared a brief affair during the filming inspired (fueled) portions of the book. It is for adult readers, and is posted in its entirety in the stories forum at the Meryton Literary Society’s “A Happy Assembly” website.

    Early in “L to L” as I call it, Elizabeth asks Darcy the question I wanted Jane Austen to answer: why did Darcy go to Lambton when he knew he would see Elizabeth in the evening? As the Darcy in my story spoke, another Darcy asked, “What-if?” What if, when Darcy got to Lambton, Elizabeth was indeed reading a letter from Jane, full of happy, if trifling, news? There we start The Red Chrysanthemum. Elizabeth and the Gardiners stay their full ten days in Lambton. The dinner at Pemberley takes place; Elizabeth gets the chance to speak to Bingley about Jane, and gets to know Georgiana. Banter over dinner blossoms into a floral conversation aided and abetted by dear Mrs. Reynolds, who plays a larger role in this telling. But the original Pride and Prejudice is the template, so the letter from Longbourn arrives at Pemberley (Why not to the inn in Lambton? That would be telling!), and Jane Austen’s original story lures us back.

The Red Chrysanthemum is also a story for adult readers as the details of the wedding night are what one might expect of such characters as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. They are love, they are in love, and for this modern reader (and author), such a profound love needs fruition.

For those who know my garden writing, but have never read Pride and Prejudice, please let me suggest, at the very least, you watch the 1995 BBC mini-series (rent it from your library, Netflix has it now, or buy it on Amazon), before reading The Red Chrysanthemum. The luminous Jennifer Ehle won a BAFTA for her perfect interpretation of Elizabeth Bennet. Colin Firth, quite famously, embodies Darcy. The screenplay by Andrew Davies is remarkable for its enthusiastic restraint. The whole of it may embolden you to read Jane Austen’s original. I hope so.

Writing: it’s like planting a garden


When my husband and I were looking at houses to buy—over 21 years ago!—he was a little distressed when at each property our realtor showed us, I would immediately start envisioning the garden I might plant there. I had to explain to him  this was an irrepressible involuntary response to seeing what was often a blank space, and no “bonding” was implied. Until I had a garden of my own, this was just an exercise I seemed to need to go through to see if I could make a garden at whatever lot we were looking at.

My introduction to reading, and then writing, Jane Austen Fan Fiction was very much the same. The first title I read was What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds. It planted seeds by answering  questions I always had about various facets of Pride and Prejudice, with the biggest, healthiest sprout of curiosity being: why did Darcy visit Elizabeth in Lambton on that fateful Friday morning, when he knew he would be seeing her that evening? Sure, sure…we all think we know the answer, but Ms. Reynolds gave us her version, and set me thinking about what my own conjectures might be, and well, the rest, as they say, is history.

So, each new book of P & P variations  I read became like those dozens of potential gardens I saw. What would I edit (pruning)? Were there too many introduced characters (weeding)? How did Darcy and Elizabeth progress in their understanding of each other (nourishing the soil)? Where there unbelievable elements (trying to grow tropical flowers in Portland)? Was there fulfilling physical intimacy between them (why plant a garden then cut off all the flowers just before they bloom!)?

Like settling into my own garden, when I began to write I was like a champagne cork shot out of a bottle. Big bold flowers, roses, phlox, clematis, peonies—sex!—everywhere, but perhaps that first story didn’t have the thoughtfulness, the structure, if you will, a good garden needs to give multi-season interest, and give the eyes an occasional place to rest without excessive stimulation.

Now we come to The Red Chrysanthemum, to be published in September 2013 by Meryton Press. Gardens continue to evolve and improve, just like writers. A garden is never finished, and most writers will tell you that no book is either…one can wordsmith one’s phrasing forever. But at some point, for better or worse, we feel the urge to share our gardens, invite friends and family, perhaps other gardeners, to see what has been created. The time arrives to engage in a conversation about how the garden came about, and where it is going. When TRC was nearly complete, I knew I felt about it the way I felt about my garden, nervously ready to share (letter of query = sending the invitations), ask for advice (editing = pruning, weeding, deleting unpleasing plants and adding better ones), and invite everyone to read it (publish it = hang out the sign “Garden Open Today”).

Welcome to my garden!