Sex and the Single Lizzy

L&D

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?”.

The Red Chrysanthemum at Garden Fever! Book Soiree

On Sunday, February 2, I will be performing a reading from TRC at the 11th Annual Garden Fever! Book Soiree, always held in Super Bowl Sunday. For those of you not familiar with the Portland, OR gardening scene, Garden Fever! is  the best small neighborhood garden center in the tri-county area, and I dearly wish Lori and Richard Vollmer would branch out into Sellwood. I had the honor of reading at the very first soiree, where local garden writers were encouraged to read from books that inspired us. I read from Christopher Lloyd’s Clematis, the 1989 edition.

Since that first reading, I have read several more times, as my gardening books were published, and Garden Fever! has been a great supporter of Timber Press, an internationally recognized publisher of the best gardening books, carrying most of their titles, including my two whilst both were in print. In addition to that support, I’ve taught classes at Garden Fever!, and have performed with Lori and Richard in the Goddess Flora Chorus and Deadheading Society, now, alas, defunct. For many years the Chorus performed at the GF! winter celebration, performing horticultural carols for which I wrote the lyrics.

Imagine my surprise when, whilst Christmas shopping, Lori insisted I participate in Soiree #11. “Lori!” says I, “TRC is fiction! Yes, it is flowery, but you’ve never had a fiction author flog a work of fiction.” She was insistent. So copies of TRC have been ordered, and I’ll be there, watching as my gardening and JAFF worlds collide. Really, the GF! gang ought to be selling tickets.

For more information, and a list of the authors joining me, visit www.gardenfever.com/Garden_Fever!/EVENTS_%26_/CLASSES.html

TRCLindaB

 

Happy Birthday, Dear Author

Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775. Were she alive today, she would have reached the remarkable age of 238, or as she might have said, “Eight and two hundred thirty.” No doubt the clamor for her miraculous utterances would be so great, she would not get much writing done. Thankfully, we have her amazing words with us still. She is a writer for the ages.
A year ago at this time I was trying to muster the courage to send the first three chapters of TRC to Meryton Press.  I asked myself, “What would Jane Austen do?” She said to me, courteously translating herself into a modern vernacular she thought I would understand, “Do it old school, girlfriend.” It worked. The proposal (three chapters, the outline, and a cover letter) were printed on real paper and sent via the postal service. It got their attention.
So thanks, Jane, and Happy Birthday! On you, 238 looks pretty damned good.

Excerpt: The Red Chrysanthemum

Now that the TRC Blog Tour is over (with a HUGE thank you to Jakki Leatherberry at http://leatherboundreviews.blogspot.com/ for being our tour guide), I am left with an excerpt that didn’t get used. Rather than have it languish, feeling sad to be left behind in a file of “excerpts for the tour” I will insert it here.

The Set-up: In this scene, Elizabeth Bennet has already found the nosegay meant for her from Fitzwilliam Darcy. She has come to Pemberley in secret, and at Darcy’s behest, to create a scent for him to give his sister on the occasion of her seventeenth birthday. This is the reason for such secrecy as Elizabeth moves through the Pemberley cutting garden.

StachysOfficinalis-small

Betony, Stachys officinalis

Chapter 5, A Flower Unseen                           25, July 1812

Elizabeth marshalled her wits and began looking through the shelves and cupboards of the Pemberley stillroom. She found some attar of damask rose in a brown bottle that had not lost its perfume. Generally, the room was clean but the cupboards were a fright with drawers housing broken shears as well as those still useful. Open shelves were full of dust and grimy bottles with contents no longer fresh, most with faded labels. One cupboard was devoted to vases of all shapes and sizes and half a dozen were sparkling clean as though recently used. She developed an idea for a scent and started making a list of the items she would need just as the housekeeper returned to the stillroom.

“May I be of service, Miss Bennet?” she asked.

“Mrs Reynolds! Yes, I was just putting a short list together. I need an apron and some boiled water, and if I could impose upon you, is there Arabian jasmine in the conservatory?”

“Yes, ma’am, shall I pick some?”

“Yes, please. Just blossoms that are open, as one would use in tea.” Mrs Reynolds nodded as Elisabeth continued, “And an empty bucket?”

Mrs Reynolds wanted to ask Elizabeth just how much scent she intended to make but knew such a question was impertinent. “And that is everything?”

“Yes, thank you. I am going to don my cloak of secrecy and venture out for some flowers whilst you are picking jasmine. Where is the cutting garden?”

“Are you sure you should, miss?” Mrs Reynolds was worried.

“I know what I want, and if the flowers I require are not there, I shall return directly.” Elizabeth took up the herbal and found a pocket in the cloak for it.

Mrs Reynolds gave her directions to the garden. It was located off the southwest corner of the house in a walled area and she consoled herself that Miss Bennet would be on the opposite end of the house from any view to be had by the occupant of the music room.

Elizabeth walked down a long dark hall, past little pantries of jarred fruit and curing meats. She squinted at the bright sun upon exiting the house and waited a moment for her eyes to adjust. To her right was a path lined with espaliered fruit trees; she had been told the cutting garden was at the end of it. She entered a walled garden and found Sweet William and scarlet lychnis growing there. She consulted the herbal. How much do I wish to say? I would not have him think me forward, but Charlotte always said a lady should leave a gentleman in no doubt.

Elizabeth found the first blossom on a clump of red chrysanthemums and snipped it. Dare I say so much? She walked back toward the house, feeling her nosegay would not be as eloquent as Darcy’s had been. She saw a perfect peach hanging low over the stone path and stooped to pick it. It occurred to her that fruit might have meaning and she consulted the herbal. ‘Your qualities, like your charms, are unequalled,’ it read. Hmm, she thought, I could leave the peach sitting with the vase and herbal. He would understand they are meant to be together.

As she walked back to the house, she noticed a swath of viscaria had seeded itself at the edge of the paving stones. She stopped, turning pages. It means ‘Will you dance with me?’ How marvellous! This is exactly what we should do! We should start over. Elizabeth picked enough for a whole vase full.

Another path lined with garden plants beckoned to her left. She could not resist a little exploration. She found betony, the flower of surprise, and decided it would do quite well. Mr Darcy was now surprising her daily. Bearing an armful of flowers, she snuck back into the house.

 

TRC Book Signing and Reading with Linda Beutler

digs_book_signing

 

Whenever I get together with my friend JJ deSouza we hyper each other into outer space. You can imagine the fireworks when I revealed to her I had written a work of Jane Austen fan fiction, and she responded she is a JAFF addict. Her shop has a whole corner of “Austeniana”, and she immediately offered to host a book signing and reading. You’ll want to come if for no other reason than to meet JJ, a woman truly worth knowing. Plus, we’ll have tea & espresso and sweet-treats to enjoy. TRC will be for sale, and a limited stock of red chrysanthemum fabric art pins by Miss Kurmudgeon.

Writing Mr Bennet

Writing Mr Bennet

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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.

A Flower That Inspires

Scabiosa caucasica Sweet Scabious

Scabiosa caucasica
Sweet Scabious

A lifetime ago, when I made my living as a floral designer, I was asked what my favorite cut flower was, and often my answer was this, Scabiosa caucasica, the sweet scabious, or pincushion flower. Unfortunate name, isn’t it? The plant’s ancient medicinal use was the treatment of skin irritations, making that ugly generic name more understandable, if not more aesthetically appealing. Its native range is the Caucasus Mountains, vaguely northeastern Turkey and points east. It was painted on the walls of Pompeii, and grown in mission gardens in California even before Jane Austen was born. Clearly a well-traveled plant. And, it is beautiful.

The sweet scabious is an herbaceous perennial, meaning it goes dormant (appears to die) in the winter, and restores itself every spring to flower in the sun throughout the growing season if you do not allow it to set seed. It attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies to your garden. Its vase life is about 10 days if you harvest it at the state you see it in here, with the central composite florets still tucked closed, giving the center its distinctive quilted look. The color ranges from pale to near cobalt blue, and here you see a plant from the Isaac House Hybrid strain. The best blue, however, comes from the cultivar ‘Fama’, or ‘Fama Blue’, a luscious shade of periwinkle. There is also a very good white form, ‘Alba’.

Okay, it’s pretty and lasts well in arrangements. But cut to the introductory scene of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, as Elizabeth Bennet winds her way home from a walk along the Hertfordshire hedgerows, and you’ll understand my fascination. She is carrying Scabiosa. They had me right then and there, even if the acting hadn’t been brilliant and the screenplay genius. Although I don’t mention Scabiosa caucasica in The Red Chrysanthemum, it was there in spirit.

The “business” of the eldest Bennet sisters in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice is often flower-related. Lizzy and Jane are seen gathering flowers and tending their mother’s garden, Lizzy and Jane bundle flowers and herbs for decoration and fragrance for the house, Lizzy carries a pitcher of flowers into the dining room as Mr. Collins hovers about her like a fat greasy bumblebee, and, most iconic for me, Lizzy carries sweet scabious into the house in the very first scene. It wasn’t much of a stretch for me to imagine Lizzy happily occupied as a gently bred-young lady would be, in the family stillroom working with flowers and foliage to create teas, scented water, drying herbs for the kitchen, following recipes for strewing herbs and sachets to sweeten the house; all of this coalesced to bring her, in The Red Chrysanthemum, into the Pemberley stillroom.

The meaning of sweet scabious is Admiration. Well, really…what’s not to admire?

 

 

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.