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.