When I plan P&P adaptations, I try to be different. Given the explosion of this genre in recent years, it can sometimes be difficult to find a different angle. Thus, at times the challenge is to be different than I have been before, rather than regurgitating the same story lines over and over. I’ve had a reformed Wickham, I’ve changed Lady Catherine to make her more likable, I’ve played with the characters of Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty, I’ve made Mr. Bennet a bitter, vengeful man, and I’ve even played around with the birth orders of the Bennet sisters, to say nothing of the difference I’ve forced on our favorite idiot, Mr. William Collins. The one thing I’ve never done, however, is take Lady Catherine as she is and make her a sympathetic character.
How can this be done, you say? Well, let’s give it a shot, shall we? The following is the description, cover reveal, and excerpt of my newest offering, Love and Libertine, which, while still firmly a story of Darcy and Elizabeth’s journey toward each other, may just have you thinking a little differently about Lady Catherine.
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Who would have thought a visit to sleepy Hunsford in Kent would be dangerous? Certainly not Elizabeth Bennet. Invited as she was by a dear friend, Charlotte Collins, who had become the parsonage’s mistress a few months earlier, Elizabeth expected a quiet visit in the company of her dear friend.
There are few things more irritating than a forceful relation who will not accept refusal. Fitzwilliam Darcy realizes this truism again when Lady Catherine adjures him to come to Rosings Park early for his annual visit. Matters change, however, when Darcy learns that Miss Elizabeth is in Kent, and the reason his aunt has asked for his presence is to see to her protection.
For Sir Lewis de Bourgh, husband to Lady Catherine, is a man of few inhibitions and a taste for young ladies. Soon after she arrives in Kent, Elizabeth becomes the object of interest for the gentleman, a man who is accustomed to getting what he wishes. It will take all Elizabeth’s considerable fortitude and Mr. Darcy’s influence to avoid falling prey to an unscrupulous man who lacks morality.
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After a time of this inspection, Lady Catherine finally allowed Charlotte to persuade her to take tea with them. It was the most agreeable time to be in Lady Catherine’s company, for her ladyship chatted as if they were nothing more than friends sharing a visit of affectionate gossip. This changed when the lady had been sitting with them for a time because of a subject of which Charlotte had not thought Lady Catherine would concern herself.
“Your cousin is to stay with you?”
The lady’s question was rendered curious by the sudden interest with which she regarded them, the sense of annoyance flowing in her voice, and the hard look she gave them. For a moment Charlotte did not know how to respond; her husband appeared petrified that he had provoked her ladyship’s anger. Mr. Collins was incapable of responding, so Charlotte assumed the burden herself.
“Yes, your ladyship. Elizabeth Bennet is the second eldest daughter of my husband’s cousin, Mr. Bennet, and has been my firmest friend for many years. Before our wedding, I petitioned her to visit me this spring. My father and my younger sister, Maria, are also to stay with us, though my father will return to Hertfordshire after only a week.”
The answer had not mollified Lady Catherine to any great degree, though Charlotte could sense the lady’s attempts to calm herself. “I remember you saying your sister is still full young?”
“Maria is sixteen, Lady Catherine,” replied Charlotte, now curious as to her ladyship’s meaning.
“Sixteen,” said Lady Catherine, though in an absence of mind. “Young enough that she should not be a problem.” Then the lady’s eyes found Charlotte’s again, and they hardened. “Then this Elizabeth Bennet is of an age with you, Mrs. Collins?”
Charlotte found herself more mystified than ever, her confusion allowing her husband to interject while she gathered herself. “Oh, no, your ladyship,” said Mr. Collins in the usual oily voice he used when speaking with the woman he venerated above all others. “My eldest cousin, Jane Bennet, is but two and twenty. Though I do not know Cousin Elizabeth’s exact age, she cannot be above twenty.”
“Lizzy will be one and twenty in July,” confirmed Charlotte.
Lady Catherine’s eyes closed, and she swallowed thickly. When she opened them again, she regarded them with a look that appeared almost resigned. “I seem to remember you speaking of your young cousins as the handsomest girls of the neighborhood, Mr. Collins.”
“They are all agreeable and handsome young girls,” replied Mr. Collins. “Though Miss Mary is not the equal of her sisters, and the youngest two are quite wild.”
The sigh with which Lady Catherine replied was one of resignation in full bloom. Charlotte had never seen her ladyship behave in such a manner and was becoming concerned. Before she could say anything, however, Lady Catherine directed a sour look at Mr. Collins, half of which might have been sufficient to make him cower in fear.
“I should have preferred that you would consult with me before issuing such an invitation, Mr. Collins,” said she, her displeasure beating down on Mr. Collins.
“It is as I told you!” squealed Mr. Collins, turning a frightened eye on Charlotte. “The invitation should never have been issued. You shall write to Cousin Elizabeth directly and inform her we have rescinded it. I shall not have Lady Catherine upset by her wild ways!”
“You said nothing of Miss Bennet’s wild ways, Mr. Collins,” said Lady Catherine before Charlotte could muster a response. “Is she like her youngest sisters, Mrs. Collins?”
“Lizzy is as well behaved as any woman I have met,” replied Charlotte, knowing Mr. Collins would not dare to contradict her before his patroness. “She is a little playful and she is quite intelligent, but I cannot imagine she would offend your ladyship.”
“No, I am certain you are correct, Mrs. Collins. I do not speak of Mr. Collins’s cousin as if I expected her of being someone I could not abide. Rather, there are other factors which make her coming . . .”
The lady fell silent, unwilling to continue, and Charlotte’s mind fled to the rumors she had heard in her time at Hunsford, matters of which she had known but given no great thought. Surely Elizabeth’s presence would not provoke any specific problems in that quarter. A man would have to be depraved, indeed, to make improper overtures to a girl related to and under his parson’s protection!
“Then perhaps it is best to do as my husband suggested and cancel the visit,” said Charlotte. Disappointed though she was to be denied her friend’s company, there was little Charlotte would not do to protect her.
“No,” was Lady Catherine’s firm reply. “Doing so would be such a breach of good manners that I cannot countenance it. Mr. Collins said they were to arrive soon?”
“Near the end of next week,” replied Charlotte.
“Then we must simply ensure that your cousin is comfortable and protected while she is here,” replied Lady Catherine.
“Yes, Lady Catherine, we should wish to do nothing less.” Mr. Collins looked on his patroness, his eyes shining, his smile beatific, as if he were caught in the grips of some ecstasy. “I can assure you, your ladyship, that we shall do nothing which lessens the comfort and enjoyment of my dear cousin—and my wife’s family. I dare say that Cousin Elizabeth’s time in Hunsford shall be the envy of all, for no one cares for family as much as I do—with the exception of your ladyship, of course. And, I imagine we shall enjoy the advantage of your boundless wisdom and support, for my cousin would benefit from your instruction on the proper way to comport herself, your thoughts on honor and decorum. She could not fail to be edified by it, I am sure!”
It was clear in Mr. Collins’s rambling soliloquy that he wished for more invitations to Rosings Park and was angling to provoke his patroness’s added attention. Given Lady Catherine’s annoyance, Charlotte was certain she could see it as well as Charlotte could herself. In the past and according to Mr. Collins—an unreliable witness, to be certain—invitations had been more plentiful before she had come to Hunsford. Given what she had heard, Charlotte now suspected she knew the reason for her ladyship’s incivility.
“I should be happy to come to Hunsford to instruct her,” replied Lady Catherine, “but I am afraid we shall be too busy to gather at Rosings for the foreseeable future.”
Mr. Collins deflated at this, but Lady Catherine was not finished.
“I would have you remember, Mr. Collins, that your cousin will be your responsibility while she is present. As the master of the house in which she will reside, you must see to her protection from all quarters. In particular, I must adjure you to ensure that she stays close to home, for it would not do if she were found wandering alone in the woods of Rosings.”
Frowning, Mr. Collins turned to Charlotte. “My recollection of my cousin is that her father affords her the freedom to walk wherever she desires—is that not correct?”
“Lizzy is fond of walking,” replied Charlotte, remaining diplomatic.
“While she is here, you must induce her to discontinue such tendencies,” insisted Lady Catherine, returning Charlotte’s attention to her husband’s patroness. “Not only is it unladylike to ramble all over the countryside without a thought as to the state of one’s petticoats, but there are particular . . . dangers . . . at Rosings, which makes it inadvisable at best.”
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I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the altered circumstances of Elizabeth’s visit to Hunsford. Love and Libertine is a short novel, coming in at about 85,000 words, and will be available on Amazon on October 22. And now for the cover!
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