Archive for June, 2011

Yet More Regency Bagatelle

June 28, 2011

This piece, started as an exercise in writing in an alien style (Regency—Jane Austen being the model for this.)has afforded me much amusement. I find I like writing in a non-contemporary style; so much that I’m writing a Regency Romance as a new project. The style I’m using there is a little less formal than this, but the scenario is more dynamic, featuring steam and a possible Napoleonic invasion.

This bagatelle is my training camp for the other and I’m hoping that the lively physical conflicts in the background will provide the punch that modern readers expect. I’d like to write the interactions with the same sense and sensibility Miss Austen used, and rely on cannons going off between conversations to provide the pace of narrative drive needed today. Anyway—back to the folks at Pemberly…

Dinner was served in the dining parlour where the five family members and three guests nevertheless seemed lost around the huge mahogany table laden with much silver and fine china. The Darcy’s table was a modest one for such an informal gathering, some new-caught trout with oyster sauce, boiled chicken and a pig’s face, a bullock’s heart roasted and a rich plum pudding. Conversation was scarce and intermittent as the meal was attended with proper diligence, but grew more lively when decanters of spirits of various kinds—brandy, rum, shrub—moved in ceaseless procession around the table.

Mr Author, seated between Mrs Darcy and Miss Darcy, watched Gisel, on the other side of their host, with a little concern as she sampled every spirit offered. He well knew she had a good familiarity with spirits but was inclined to be too confident of her capacity for them at times. He decided to restrict his own intake to shrub, where the rum was diluted with water, orange and lemon juice, so that he might keep a more sober watch upon her conversation. She liked tall, haughty aristocratic men—how else did she get into that unwise affair with Lord Ricart of Amberden?

Even so, with the constant buzz of several conversations around him he only heard snatches of their conversation, which seemed to rest in safe generalisations of politics and the new steam engine tramway that carried coal from the mine to the River Aire near Leeds. Steam engines were still a novelty in 1814, and sounded safe, so he hoped they would stay with them and not broach the subject of the recent Luddite riots where workmen smashed the new cotton machines. They were bound to be at odds there, and Gisel would likely have a forceful opinion to offer.

Miss Austen, between Mr and Mrs Bennet, seemed to enjoy an exchange of witticisms with the paterfamilias, some of which seemed to grow out of the earnest pronouncements of the distaff side of the house. That good lady, being in such fine humour at the fruits of the table and the sight of her second, and most troublesome daughter, seated at her own table opposite her wealthy husband— and such a fine table in such a fine house—that she took all her husband’s teasing with an admirable calm and gracious patience.

Miss Darcy, at her brother’s side, seemed interested in hearing Gisel’s contributions to the opinions on mechanised travel and factional politics. What scraps Mr Author heard suggested Mr Darcy was faced with selecting a new candidate for his constituency, since the one he’d had elected at the last election, in 1812—had  become indisposed due to ill health. It was vexing to have to request a by-election to fill the empty seat, but Mr Darcy found it essential if he was to continue to have a voice in Parliament to advance the affairs of his estates and the region of Derbyshire where they were located. He seemed to be undecided between a son of one of his neighbours and a bright young curate recently sent to assist the aged rector of Lambton.

Rather fearing Gisel might express a recommendation for some red revolutionary, or a Freemason, Mr Author did his best to join in.

Gisel jumped in before he could speak. “So whoever you nominate will be elected?” she queried, smiling sweetly at Mr Author. “That seems novel to one such as myself who has lived under different arrangements of Parliamentary democracy.”

“Indeed. What differences do you mean?”

Mr Author, disregarding any possible rudeness, made a second attempt. “So you have the only vote, Mr Darcy, or are there few electors in the constituency?”

Mr Darcy turned his head. “There are twelve electors, but most are obliged to the Darcy family for past and present favours.”

Gisel set down an empty glass. “Twelve? But how many people live within the constituency?”

Mr Darcy shrugged. “Fifteen hundred, but only twelve who can give proof of being forty shilling freeholders.”

Gisel seemed about to respond but Mr Author got in first. “So this constituency elects a Knight of the Shire?”

“It’s a questionable term, whose meaning is somewhat lost in antiquity, but yes— the Darcy prerogative comes from the days when my grandfather was first among equals. The electors are all descendants of the men he lived and prospered among.”

“Fascinating,” Gisel allowed. “But I like Iskander’s system where everyone has the right to vote.”

Mr Darcy’s mouth all but fell open. “Really? How can one possibly control such an arrangement?”

More Regency Bagatelle:–

June 22, 2011

Mr Author turned toward Miss Darcy, sitting near him, and decided the likelihood of contretemps could well be tackled by the family, so he might exchange a word with her. “I understand you play the pianoforte, Miss Darcy. Whose music do you like to play?”

“Oh, I think Herr Haydn’s variations in F Minor are my favourite piece. Not that it is any way more…musical…than Herr Beethoven’s Sonata number fourteen– that is so popular nowadays. And deservedly so.”

“The Moonlight? I had best take care, Miss Darcy, or you will soon exhaust my musical knowledge.”

She laughed prettily. “Oh I expect you are being modest, Sir. Since you have come from foreign parts you perhaps know of Herr Beethoven’s composition in honour of the Duke of Wellington.”

“The victory of Vitoria? I’m surprised you have heard of it. It was only recently given its premiere in Vienna.”

“One hears much in rumour since the defeat of Napoleon’s armies at Leipzig, and we were lately in the city.”

City would mean London, of course: Mr Author glanced at Miss Austen, wondering if she showed interest in the conversation – it would be a great contrast to her ignoring the war in her novels. She glanced over with a slight smile but immediately turned back to the conversation between Gisel and the Darcys.

“And you have a definite interest, I can tell.”

Georgiana smiled. “Not a profound one I fear… but my brother spoke of such national affairs often when we were in the city.”

The continuation of their conversation was here interrupted by Mrs Bennet’s voice. “I did so hope that Mr Bingley and Jane would be here by now. They should not have undertaken such business at this time of the year… missing the opportunity to enjoy the first anniversary of their marriage with sister and best friend— and indeed, if they are hindered by any further delay, they may even risk losing part of the Christmas season here at Pemberly.”

Mr Bennet put out a hand to calm her. “Please do not fret so, Mrs Bennet. It may be that good houses with excellent grounds and estates are not allowed to languish disregarded so long in these parts as they have been in Hertfordshire.”

“Oh, Mr Bennet, how could you venture to say that good properties are so neglected in Hertfordshire.”

“They are looking for a home nearby?” Gisel asked.

Elizabeth turned her face from her mother and smiled. “We are hopeful. Mr Darcy sent a bailiff to look at an estate in Yorkshire and his report so interested my sister and her husband that they have gone north to inspect it themselves.”

Mrs Bennet almost wailed, “Yorkshire. How could they think to live so far from Longbourn?”

“It is but thirty miles from Pemberton,” Mr Darcy replied. “Mrs Bingley would be but a short day’s carriage ride from her sister.”

Mrs Bennet’s expression hardly sweetened. “Indeed, that close? I’m sure they will find their proximity a great comfort. Far be it for me to begrudge my daughters such happy convenience.”

Mr Bennet gestured with his wineglass. “ I believe I told you that before, Mrs Bennet. It could be that you have forgotten.”

“I’m sure that I must have. Would it be any wonder? What with the necessity for our own travel, and ensuring Kitty and Mary were well instructed how to conduct themselves in our absence — oh, how vexing that Mary felt too poorly to travel — I do hope she follows my instructions about her diet and rest – and if it were not for the kind attention and offer of Lady Lucas to keep an eye on them… we could never have been here ourselves.”

And so it was with such happy conversation that the latter part of the afternoon was whiled away until such time as it became necessary for the new guests to be shown their rooms to dress for dinner.

********

More Regency Bagatelle

June 14, 2011

Continuation of my Regency Bagatelle—an extension of the current fiction promotion artifact of interviewing the characters of fiction. I thought I’d like to try writing with a Regency sensibility, a la Jane Austen, so I have myself, Gisel Matah, (my very modern woman protagonist of my Iskander series), and Jane Austen, visiting the Darcys of “Pride and Prejudice” in 1814, the December following their wedding.

It started as an exercise (two posts below), but I’ve been having fun with it—and isn’t that what writing is all about?

Gisel stepped across the room to sit where offered, while Miss Austen moved closer to the other side of the fire to stretch out a hand to it. Mrs Bennet, who sat upon that side, though by no means uncomfortably close, edged away as if feeling somewhat crowded.

“Oh, Mr Darcy!” Mrs Bennet exclaimed. “I really cannot consider the slightest drop of wine at such an hour. It will surely go directly to my head. No–I really cannot accept any such refreshment at this time … but of course would not wish my apprehension to spoil such pleasure to anyone else in the company. No. Please do not hesitate from taking refreshment on my account. Mr Bennet, please, assure the guests that my health and headaches should not cause them to forgo their host’s hospitality.”

Mr Bennet stood to accept a glass from the somewhat disconcerted Haggerston who appeared not to know which way to turn. “Have no fear, Mrs Bennet. I’m sure your son in law’s guests will accept your words as uttered in a spirit of concern and comfort. Miss Austen, I see from your expression that you might be pleased to accept a glass. Haggerston…”

Author glanced at that lady, who taking her hand from before the fire, seemed to be suppressing some trouble with her breath behind a handkerchief pressed to her face. Mr Darcy took a glass from Haggerston to hand Miss Austen as the others were quickly served and the butler left the room.

Elizabeth Darcy leaned forward. “Miss Matah, I hope you do not find our climate too forbidding. It has turned cold these past three days. Before that, my husband and my father were out fishing in the lake it was so warm.”

“Oh no. I find it cool but not uncomfortably so. I have travelled a fair bit and been in both hotter and colder climes.”

“Really. You are well travelled? Do tell.”

Gisel exchanged a glance with Mr Author before answering. “As a young girl I was partly raised by my Greek grandparents at their home in Naphlion. I also spent time with my father recently in … Sweden, and with my mother in London…”

Mrs Bennet gasped. “Then your parents—”

Elizabeth Darcy dove in loudly, “In Greece? Is it possible that you may be conversant with the language of that place?”

“I speak Greek. I can read and write it also.”

Mrs Darcy looked up at her husband. “Isn’t that a happy circumstance, Mr Darcy?” She returned to looking at Gisel and reached out to her hand. “My husband has a communication from someone at Athens. Perhaps you could…if it would be no trouble… to take a look at it for him. What do you think, Mr Darcy?”

“I would not wish to trouble Miss Matah with such a trifle.”

Gisel smiled. “It would be no trouble at all, but of course it may not be written in Greek, since the country is within the Ottoman Empire. It could be written in Turkish, and I know nothing of that script.”

“It is Greek,” Mr Darcy affirmed, “but not comprehensible using the Greek I learned in school.”

Gisel smiled. “Classical Greek and modern Greek—I’m familiar with the problem. It would be like trying to read Italian from a knowledge of Latin. My Greek should be closer to that of your letter writer.”

Mr Darcy shrugged. “Then perhaps we might look at the letter tomorrow.”

Mrs Bennet stared at Gisel as if she were suddenly transformed. “Well I never. So young to have travelled so. It was always said when I was a girl that one should travel widely to learn about the world, but unfortunately I was unable to do so…not only was it a financial burden I did not wish to impose upon my parents it was rendered impossible by the outrageous behaviour of those Parisians. That machine…the name escapes me at the moment…created to—” She stopped speaking with her hands pressed to her mouth.

“Do not distress yourself, Mrs Bennet,” Mr Bennet urged. “I am sure everyone present is familiar with the device you would rather not mention—although it was allegedly invented as a humane means of execution…” He glanced at Miss Matah while changing a mischievous expression for an innocent one. “Are others in your family equally well travelled?”

Gisel grinned. “My brother as well, but he was unable to accompany me on this visit.”

“He’s not unwell, I hope.”

“Not at all, but he is in considerable demand due to his proficiency in mathematics. Several departments of our administration rely upon his advice.”

“Well I never.” Mrs Bennet repeated, sitting back in her chair.

More from Regency Bagatelle

June 8, 2011

 

<This piece of Regency nonsense continues from the May 31st post below.>

“A king?” Miss Austen’s eyes brightened. “Even if monarch of some minor kingdom in a distant eastern land, I am perhaps somewhat reassured that you will find a ready acceptance of your foreign customs. While the owners of Pemberly are most respected county gentry they are not accustomed to being received at Court—although they have been presented to the Prince of Wales when attending a function in the city.”

Author quickly cut off Gisel’s darkening response by interjecting, “Is that Pemberly House?” drawing Miss Austen’s attention to the first view of Pemberly House offered by a bend in the drive and a gap in the formal row of beech trees.

“Yes. That will be the house. Perhaps you might request the coachman to pause here a few minutes.”

“Good idea.” Author let down the window of the door and leaned out. “I say, old chap. Will you stop here a moment so we might look at the estate?”

The coachman pulled back on the reins. “Right yer be, Sir.”

Author reached out to the handle and opened the door. “Would you like to step out a moment to look?” he suggested to Gisel. No response. “Miss Austen?”

“I think not. I believe I feel quite a chill in the air.”

“Yes of course, the nasty frost at Christmas in 1813,” Author remarked. “How about it, Miss Matah. I think it a good idea to stretch our legs.” He followed that up with a meaningful glare.

“Oh, all right.”

Author gave a hand to Miss Matah as she alighted and they walked a few yards away from the carriage without speaking. When they reached a place where they could see the house in the hillside opposite, Gisel began speaking in a low voice. “If I have to be exhibited as a throwback from some goddamned savage kingdom almost too, too coarse to speak of in polite company I’m bailing out of this horseshit right now. Turn this boneshaker around and let’s go back.”

“We can’t. Not without insulting our hostess and her people. This is a great opportunity to broaden our treatment of the culture and polite society of Lingdon and Tarnland. I don’t mean Gaian society to be anything inferior to Regency England.”

“I don’t see why I have to be included in this.”

“If I can put up with wearing this uncomfortable and damned cold monkey suit without complaint I’m sure you can practice your genteel discretion and modest silences when they are appropriate in formal society. You could find it useful.”

“Bullshit!”

“Don’t speak so loudly. Look at the scenery.”

From the edge of the wood the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the drive, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; — and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.

Author turned his attention to his companion. “Miss Austen described the house, as seen for the first time by the mistress to be— “

Gisel waved her hands at waist height, as if conducting a very short choir. “Although she didn’t know she was going to be, then – did she? You’re not the only one who’s read the book.”

“Right. ‘She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste’.”

“Okay. So I promise not to make a scene. Let’s get going.”

They climbed back into the carriage and resumed the drive—descended the hill, crossed the bridge, and drove to the door; and, while examining the nearer aspect of the house, the front door opened and a footman approached to speak with the driver.

Author heard the exchange as, “Yers, ‘tis the Austen party o’ three.”

With that another footman and three maids appeared from a side door and came to assist the travellers’ dismounting, removal of the baggage, and sundry other attentions that characterized an arrival of unfamiliar guests. The front door was opened by yet another footman who, with one of the maids, took their outer travelling garments and carried them away. An older man, the butler, met them in the foyer and with great dignity said, “If you’ll kindly come this way, Ladies, Sir, the family are gathered in the South drawing room,” and led them across a tiled hall and past a grand staircase to a door which stood partly open.

As they filed in the butler stood by the open door to address the family. “Your guests, Sir, Madam… Miss Austen, Miss Matah, and Mr Author.”

A tall man standing by the fireplace bowed, and the three responded. Fitzwilliam Darcy was every bit as imposing in appearance and manner as he had appeared in the novel: tall and handsome and of noble mien. “Miss Austen, Miss Matah, welcome. I hope you are not too fatigued from your journey. Mr Author, thank you for your diligent care of the ladies. I trust you found our county facilities adequate and easy of access. I hope we can find something to amuse you while the ladies are visiting. Do you shoot?”

“Not lately. I was somewhat of a marksman in my army service, but restrict myself to more social entertainment these days.”

“Quite. Quite so.” Mr Darcy dismissed the topic with a wave of a hand that scattered the grouse and partridge into far distant coverts. “You have not actually met any of the family before, I understand.” He proceeded to point everyone out by deferential but slight bows. “My father in law, Mr Bennet; my wife Mrs Darcy –“

That lady looked up and smiled. “Elizabeth, please. Let us be more hospitable than formal.”

Mr Darcy leaned back and raised his chin. “Very well. Elizabeth Darcy, then: My mother in law, Mrs Bennet; and my sister, Georgiana Darcy. Please take a seat— Miss Matah, beside me at the fire?” He turned to the butler still standing by the door. “Perhaps our guests would enjoy a glass of wine, Haggerston – the family also.”