The forced marriage scenario. It is a plot device that appears in Jane Austen based fiction quite often.
I suspect I am not rehashing much untilled ground here when I speak of this. The forced marriage often occurred when two people were caught in a compromising position, and often the truth did not matter. It was the perception of those who found them, and gossip made the situation more salacious. In its essence, the matter almost always devolved to the person’s reputation. Someone deemed amoral or compromised was looked down in society, and often could not even show their faces without experiencing extreme ridicule. In such circumstances, marriage was often the only recourse, for though the person might still be deemed tainted by society, marriage would at least restore a veneer of respectability. The offenses, though not forgotten, could at least be put to the side.
There were, of course, other ways in which a marriage could be forced upon an unwilling (or at times willing) couple. It could be no more than an accident, a set of circumstances that looked salacious, but were in fact benign. Then again, it usually was not. In a society that often valued wealth and standing more than anything else, the compromise was often used as a tool to obtain such things. This could run from ensuring one was caught alone with the object of the plot by someone they could reasonably assume would publish it far and wide, to more elaborate plots designed to force another’s hand. It seems from my reading that more often wealth was the motivating factor, but standing and even other lures might turn one to plotting. There are credible reports from the era that tell of all manner of stratagems to effect a compromise, including one I have read that talks about a young woman taken from school by an unscrupulous man who claimed her father was ill and calling for her. I suppose teaching children to refrain from believing anyone they don’t know, even if they claim parents sent them is not only a phenomenon of today’s society!
That did not always mean a successful compromise would lead to a marriage. One had to choose one’s target with great care, for it was possible to bite off more than one could chew. A commoner compromising an earl, for example, was not likely to succeed regardless of the position in which they were found. If the compromised was of such standing in society that the talk would be brief, they might refuse to yield to the pressure. The lower in society would likely be irrevocably ruined. Sadly, the consequences were different for men and women, as men could more readily withstand a scandal, and would often be the recipient of back-slapping and jests touting his virility for his trouble. A woman would be more likely to be condemned regardless of the circumstances
In looking back over my own work, I was interested to note that I have never used a forced marriage scenario between Darcy and Elizabeth, though I have had a few occasions where I could have, most notably in the book pictured to the right. I have used attempted compromises and the like, but while I have often seen authors force them together when they still do not like each other, I have never actually done it. My variations tend to be milder between them than most, for I often prefer a more typical romance without all the rancor that happens in the novel.
Therefore, I would like to present a forced marriage scenario with a twist. The scene is as follows: Darcy is in Kent visiting with his aunt while Elizabeth is staying at Hunsford. This excerpt happens the night that Elizabeth learns from Colonel Fitzwilliam of Darcy’s interference with Bingley and Jane. Where Darcy went to the parsonage to see Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, in this instance he is prevented by a confrontation with his aunt. Please note this has received only the most basic of edits. Thus I present, an excerpt from Unintended Consequences.
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The door opened, and in strode a whirlwind in silks and lace. As was her custom, Lady Catherine’s dress might have been appropriate for a ball in Almack’s, or for a dinner with a duchess. Thus she always was, for she had no head for economy, and an aristocrat’s notion of keeping the distinction of rank.
“Darcy,” greeted she, her manner as offensive as it usually was. “I have been looking everywhere for you.”
“Oh?” asked Darcy, only mildly interested. He had noticed that Fitzwilliam removed his foot from the table as soon as the door opened, a fact which was far more diverting than anything Lady Catherine might have said.
“Yes, for I have something which I would say to you.”
Inwardly Darcy sighed, for he was certain he knew what this presaged. But he had no time to reply, for Lady Catherine continued at once.
“As you know, I have hoped that this would be the year you would stop dithering and come to the point with Anne. I tire of waiting, so I will ask you one more time—when do you mean to ask for her hand?”
“I do not mean to ask for her hand, Aunt,” replied Darcy quietly.
Perhaps it was for the best after all. While he had avoided the subject and done all he could to provoke Lady Catherine to drop her insistence, he had rarely spoke openly for fear of inciting an argument. If he was to pursue Miss Elizabeth, surely it would be better to disabuse her now, allow her anger to cool for a time, then present her new niece when she had regained her equilibrium. There might be some hope of acceptance.
“There is nothing binding me to Anne,” said Darcy, these thoughts passing through his mind in an instant. “You speak of my mother’s wishes, but she never mentioned anything of an engagement to Anne, and my father openly disparaged the very notion. Please, Lady Catherine, drop the subject. I do not wish to marry Anne, and she does not wish to marry me.”
“Anne will do as she is told,” snapped Lady Catherine, the light of anger already burning in her eyes.
“But I will not,” replied Darcy, keeping his temper firmly in check. “All you will accomplish by pursuing this matter is a break in the family. Desist, I beg of you.”
Lady Catherine watched him through narrowed eyes. “It is unfortunate that you have proved recalcitrant in this instance, for it rouses me to actions I would prefer to avoid contemplating. I shall assume your obstinacy has nothing to do with the distraction which recently appeared in our midst, for your rebellion predates it by many years.”
What the devil was his aunt saying? Surely, she could not suspect his interest in Miss Elizabeth, for he had been entirely careful to practice circumspection in her company, knowing what her reaction would be.
“Whatever is prompting it, it must stop.” His aunt’s voice was firm and immovable as Rosings itself. “You will marry Anne as you were intended.”
“I have already said I would not.”
“Perhaps you have. But you do not understand the hold I have over you. You will marry my daughter, or you will suffer the consequences.”
Darcy regarded her, wondering of what the virago was speaking. “I know of no such hold, Lady Catherine. I am my own man. Pemberley is mine and my fortune is free of encumbrance. If you do possess such a means to compel me, I invite you to inform me of what it is.”
His aunt stood tall and proud, her bearing betraying no doubt, the confidence emanating out from her in waves. “What of your sister’s little adventure this past summer?”
For a moment, Darcy did not understand to what his aunt referred. Then a surge of anger exploded within him and he took an involuntary step, putting himself directly in front of her. From his position behind them, Darcy could hear Fitzwilliam’s hissed inhalation, and heard him striding to join him in confronting her.
“Of what are you speaking?” demanded Darcy.
“Do not obfuscate, insolent boy! Your reaction has all but confirmed that my information is nothing but the truth.”
“And where did you receive this intelligence?” pressed Darcy. “And what do you know?”
“My source and extent of my knowledge I shall keep to myself,” said Lady Catherine, her step to the side smooth, as if she were merely walking while thinking, rather than taking herself from his intimidating presence. “But I know enough to know that you will not wish this information disseminated to the public.”
“You would hurt your own niece to force Darcy in this matter?” queried Fitzwilliam, his voice as low and dangerous as Darcy knew his own to be. “What kind of a woman would do such a thing?”
“Blame Darcy!” spat Lady Catherine, whirling on Fitzwilliam, one bony finger extended. “If he would do his duty and propose to my daughter, I would not need to resort to such threats.”
“This is all nothing more than tripe,” said Darcy. “You would never open Georgiana to such infamy for no other reason than your own selfish concerns. And what would the earl say?”
“I care little what my brother says,” said Lady Catherine. “This is between the Darcys and the de Bourghs—the Fitzwilliams are not involved.” Lady Catherine turned to Fitzwilliam and waved him away. “You may leave, Nephew, for your opinion is neither wanted, nor is this a matter that concerns you.”
“Fustian nonsense!” snarled Fitzwilliam. “You propose to ruin my ward; that makes it my concern.”
Lady Catherine ground her teeth together but decided to ignore Fitzwilliam in favor of Darcy. “Do you truly wish to test my resolve?”
“Do you truly propose to hurt my sister for no other reason than your own selfish desires?”
The lady’s look bored into Darcy, not a shred of give in her manner. “You will march into the sitting-room where my daughter awaits, and there you will propose to her. If you do not, you will not like the consequences.”
“In that case, Lady Catherine,” replied Darcy, clenching and unclenching his fists in an effort to avoid throttling his aunt, “I shall not stay another minute in this house. You may consider all connection between the Darcys and the de Bourghs hereby severed.”
As Darcy stalked from the room, he called for his carriage and his man, instructing Snell to gather his things and follow him to London in the second carriage. His aunt’s continual harangue he ignored. He said he would not stay another instant in that house, and he meant it.
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Well, what do you think? Is Lady Catherine too over the top? How do you suppose he will go about avoiding his aunt’s compulsion? Does Darcy have something up his sleeve? And how does Elizabeth fit into this? Find out when Unintended Consequences hits Amazon in early May!