TRC Book Signing and Reading with Linda Beutler

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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.