Where is the Justice in Austen?

This is a recent blog of mine published on Austen Authors.  Enjoy!  I’d love to hear your opinions as well.

wickham-wedding

Readers often comment on the fact that in Pride and Prejudice there is no comeuppance or cosmic justice for the “bad” characters.  Although Wickham is shackled to Lydia and is forced into a new job, he gets off very easily for someone who has behaved so despicably.  Other characters who are deeply flawed end up no worse by the end of the book.  Collins will still inherit Longbourn, and he gets a wife who is far better than he deserves.  Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine continue on their merry ways, protected by their wealth and status.

Indeed, one of the fun things about Jane Austen Fan Fiction is that we can imagine some kind of justice for these characters in the form of imprisonment, death, or simple humiliation.   They are so flawed that their comeuppance can serve as a great source of humor as well as providing the satisfaction of having the wicked punished.  I have written such scenes; they are great fun and very emotionally satisfying.

Yet, even when I write them, I am aware that in some ways such scenes are not in keeping with Austen’s original intent.  She clearly intends that the bad/flawed characters should not suffer an evil end.  It would be easy enough for her to serve up some kind of cosmic justice to them.  However, it is enough for her that good characters have loving marriages and find secure places for themselves.  This is true in all her novels.  Fanny Dashwood gets to live off her ill-gotten gains.  Willoughby gets lots of money.  Lucy Stone gets the rich guy.  There is no justice meted out to Fanny Price’s relatives or Anne Elliott’s.

In some ways it is unsatisfying.  Don’t you want someone to take Lady Catherine down a peg?  Or tell Collins what a fool he is?  But in other ways, it feels exactly right.  It certainly makes Austen’s stories more true to life.  Haven’t you ever met someone who doesn’t deserve the good fortune they enjoy?  We struggle to earn a living while someone who is shallow or downright nasty glides along on inherited wealth—or is just in the right place at the right time.  Or you meet a couple where you think, “he/she doesn’t deserve a spouse like that.”  I believe, one of the reasons we don’t mind the absence of the kind of emotionally satisfying closure you get with other books is because it does feel familiar to us.

They also feel true to us in the way that the flawed characters cause trouble for the “good” ones.   Some of her characters do scheme and deceive for the sake of their own ends.  But in general, the wrongs they cause are a result of carelessness.  Wickham ruins Lydia’s reputation because he’s fleeing creditors and wants some company on the road, not because of some evil master plot.  And doesn’t that feel true to life?  Haven’t you had a friend who was in a bad relationship with a guy who was just careless of her feelings—without any evil intent?   They can cause just as much, if not more, damage as someone who actually intends harm.

Certainly characters like Lady Catherine or Collins or Miss Bingley or even Mrs. Bennet don’t rise to the Lord Voldemort—or even the Snidely Whiplash— level.  Their biggest flaws tend to be excessive self-regard and lack of sympathy for others.  Again, the wrongs they cause are mostly through carelessness (or in Collins’s case, excessive stupidity).  Doesn’t that feel familiar?  How often do friends and family cause deep wounds without intending to?  You experience the pain while also understanding that it stems from the other person’s own flaws rather than malice.  Austen’s characters remind us of people we know, albeit often exaggerated versions.

Ultimately, what sets the “good” characters apart from the “bad” ones is greater self-awareness—which is its own reward.  All of Austen’s heroines don’t end up wealthy, although they all have secure homes.  But they all benefit from an understanding of themselves, sympathy for those around them, and awareness of their own flaws.  In fact, becoming aware of one’s flaws is part of the plot of many of Austen’s books.  The reward for that journey of self-exploration is the ability to form a truly loving relationship with another person.  And that, Austen demonstrates, is what the flawed characters miss out on.

 

The Secret of Mr. Darcy’s Enduring Appeal

I wrote this blog recently for the Austen Authors website.  Please share your ideas about what you think makes Darcy so appealing!

If you’re like me, since early childhood you have been exposed to a wide variety of romantic heroes:  fairy tale princes, billionaires, superheroes, spies, cops, bad boys, vampires…the list goes on and on.  But yet somehow Mr. Darcy always stands apart.  He isn’t Prince Charming or James Bond or Superman or Edward Cullen, yet Darcy somehow manages to feel more real and more romantic than his fictional counterparts.  Austen herself wrote some great romantic heroes, but Darcy is somehow different.  Why is that? What is his enduring appeal?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  Any fictional character with such a powerful grip on our collective imagination is bound to be a complex and multi-faceted cultural phenomenon.  But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Darcy’s appeal as I’ve written stories about him, and I’ve identified some salient traits. While these characteristics are not necessarily completely unique to Darcy, they do set him apart from the majority of other romantic heroes.

  1. He is steadfast. She turns him down, but he still holds out hope for gaining her love.
  2. He is willing to overlook her family. Yeah, it takes him a while to get there, but he must love her an awful lot to put up with Mrs. Bennet, Lydia and Wickham. Talk about difficult in-laws…
  3. He likes her intelligence. This is a biggie.  He does think she has fine eyes, but what he really likes is her wit, cleverness, lively conversation.  Wouldn’t every woman like to be appreciated for her brain?
  4. He values her backbone. One of the first things he notices about her is that she stands up to him.  I always assume most women treat him like Miss Bingley, fawning over him and agreeing with everything he says. Darcy likes Elizabeth because she’s her own person.
  5. He defends her to other people. Isn’t this a female fantasy?  A guy who will tell other people (including catty women) you’re beautiful and smart when they’re criticizing you.
  6. He fixes problems for her. Yeah she generally takes care of her own issues, but she can’t fix the Lydia/Wickham fiasco. He wades into the scandal for her sake, and doesn’t even want to take credit for it.
  7. He’s played by Colin Firth (and that other guy who’s kind of cute too).

However, in my opinion #8 is the biggest single contributor to his enduring appeal:  Darcy is willing to change his behavior for Elizabeth’s sake.

Let me say it a different way:  He admits he was wrong and tries to be a better person so he can deserve her. 

He essentially starts as a selfish character (at least in the way he views love and marriage) and evolves into one whose primary consideration is the happiness of the woman he loves.  Who wouldn’t love that guy?

I don’t know about you, but this is a bigger fantasy for me than a guy who can play baccarat smoothly or defend me from gangsters (not just because those other situations don’t arise very often).  No matter how much you love your significant other, there are always ways you wish he or she could change to make your life easier.  But Darcy’s kind of change is a bit of a fantasy.  Real life is far more messy.  If your beloved does change his/her behavior for you, it tends to be with far more strife, more gradually, and over a longer period of time.  In other words, changing one’s behavior (at least the behavior that springs from one’s intrinsic nature and beliefs) is a long, painful process.

But in Pride and Prejudice, this rich, powerful, handsome man who could wed just about any woman, changes his behavior because he wants Elizabeth Bennet.  (Sigh. Swoon.) His willingness to change is a testament both to Elizabeth’s worth and to the power of love—which is part of the appeal of Pride and Prejudice itself.

Giveaways of A Very Darcy Christmas!

I’m lucky enough to be a guest at three different blogs which are offering excerpts and giveaways of A Very Darcy Christmas.  Check it out!

http://calicocritic.blogspot.com/2016/12/book-excerpt-and-giveaway-very-darcy.html

https://moreagreeablyengaged.blogspot.com/2016/12/available-at-amazon-happy-holidays-to.html?showComment=1482336973248#c3909149365579615725

http://babblingsofabookworm.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/a-very-darcy-christmas-by-victoria.html

Giveaway and 4.5 Star Review

There is a Giveaway and a lovely 4.5 Star Review for A Very Darcy Christmas at From Pemberley to Milton.
Rita writes, “This is a very entertaining book full of laughter and holiday spirit but it can be read at any other time of the year. It is funny, romantic and up to the standards Mrs. Kincaid already got us used to. She marvels at adding humor to her stories and yet keeping true to Jane Austen’s characters, and A Very Darcy Christmas is vivid proof of her proficiency in this type of stories.”  Thank you, Rita!

https://frompemberleytomilton.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/a-very-darcy-christmas-review-giveaway/

4.5 Star Review for A Very Darcy Christmas!

Claudine at JustJane1813.com  gave A Very Darcy Christmas 4.5 stars, writing a very insightful review:

“It’s a challenge to write JAFF that has a more humorous than serious bent without losing some credibility, but Victoria Kincaid handles this challenge with her uncanny ability to combine Austen’s storyline and characters with a variety of different forms of humor so that her jokes stayed funny throughout the story, while at the same time, the characters felt true to their original personalities. Mrs. Kincaid is also an author who has a knack for moving a story along without getting caught up in descriptive language or other superfluous details that could slow down the pacing of her story, and in “A Very Darcy Christmas,” she demonstrates this skill throughout her story.”

You can check out the review, read an excerpt, and enter a giveaway for a free copy of the book at https://justjane1813.com/2016/12/04/a-very-darcy-christmas-by-victoria-kincaid-a-review-an-excerpt-a-readers-choice-giveaway/

Two Giveaways for A Very Darcy Christmas!

I was fortunate enough to be a guest at two blogs, Diary of an Eccentric and From Pemberley to Milton, this week.  In my guest posts I discussed various things I had learned about Regency Christmas traditions.  The posts also include excerpts from my new novel,  A Very Darcy Christmas, and giveaways of the book.  Be sure to check it out!  Here are the links:

https://frompemberleytomilton.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/a-very-darcy-christmas-guest-post-giveaway/

https://diaryofaneccentric.wordpress.com/

Excerpt from my new novel

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of A Very Darcy Christmas, now available for pre-order.  It will be released on Amazon on Nov. 27th.

“Mrs. Darcy, there are people downstairs in the entrance hall who say they are your parents.”
Disdain dripped off every syllable Giles uttered. Elizabeth pretended not to notice. Every day Pemberley’s butler demonstrated that he did not approve of the upstart country lass his master had married. In the months since William had brought her home as his bride, Giles’s friendliest tone of voice could be described as frosty. On the other hand, Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, and the majority of the other staff had been most welcoming.
Elizabeth rushed to her feet. Her parents should be safely ensconced at Longbourn for the Christmas season. What could have brought them to Pemberley unannounced?
She hurried from her sitting room and followed Giles down the grand front staircase, her heart contracting with every step as she imagined what kinds of evil might have befallen her family. Her mother and father were indeed standing in the hall.
Their rumpled, travel-worn attire contrasted noticeably with the grandeur of the room. The inhabitants of Pemberley called it the marble hall because of the black and white marble squares covering the floor as well as the classical statues set in niches along the walls.
It was an impressive room, meant to stir amazement in Pemberley’s newly arrived visitors, and from the expressions on her parents’ faces, it was having the desired effect. Elizabeth had been duly impressed when she had first arrived at Pemberley, but now the room reminded her of a mausoleum, grand and cold and forbidding. She and Mrs. Reynolds had recently finished decorating the room with holly, evergreen boughs, ivy, and mistletoe for the yuletide season. The greens softened the room’s sharp edges, but it was only slightly more welcoming.
Her father’s careworn face relaxed into a smile when he saw her as if her presence made the unfamiliar surroundings more bearable. He does not seem overly alarmed; perhaps the situation is not dire. However, the moment her mother noticed Elizabeth, she commenced fluttering her hands and breathing rapidly as if she had experienced a terrible shock.
In other words, everything was quite normal.
Before Elizabeth could open her mouth, her mother launched into a torrent of complaints. “Oh, my dearest Lizzy! You do not know how we have suffered. The ruts in the road and the quality of the coaching inns! And there was a most disturbing odor in Lambton when we traveled through.”
Standing by the ornately carved front door, Giles watched this performance with a pinched mouth and lifted chin that left no doubt as to his opinion of the Bennets.
The best Elizabeth could do was to treat her mother’s shrieking as if she spoke in a normal conversational tone. She embraced both of her parents. “This is a surprise! I did not expect to see you so soon. Is something wrong?” She searched their faces for signs of agitation. Had something happened to one of her sisters?
“Everything is well,” her father assured her.
Mrs. Bennet gaped at her husband. “How can you say that, Mr. Bennet, when we have heard the most frightful news imaginable?”
Fear gripped Elizabeth’s chest. “What has happened?”
Her mother drew herself up to her full height. “Meryton is about to be invaded!”
“It is?”
Her mother’s head nodded vigorously. “Mrs. Long was the first one to rouse my suspicions.” Now she lowered her voice. “There have been a great many strange men visiting Meryton—speaking in French accents!”
Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes. “Fanny, I explained that both of the men are laborers from Ireland. They speak with Irish accents.”
Mrs. Bennet put her hands on her hips. “And how would you know a French accent from an Irish one? Mrs. Long met a Frenchman when she was one and twenty. She knows how they sound!”
“Mama—” Elizabeth began.
“But that is not all,” her mother continued. “Colonel Forster’s regiment had been wintering over in Meryton as before, but then they decamped suddenly. Called away, just like that! I wager they are in Brighton at this moment, preparing to fend off a ferocious French assault.”
Elizabeth bit her lip to stifle a smile. “I have read nothing to suggest that in the papers.”
“Of course not!” Mrs. Bennet waved her handkerchief dramatically. “The authorities do not wish to stir up alarm. But why else would they have called the regiment away?”
“There was political unrest in the North,” Mr. Bennet murmured.
“Mrs. Long does not believe it,” Mrs. Bennet said with a dismissive nod. “And what is more, Mr. Long does not believe it. He was in the militia for a year in his youth and said such orders were highly irregular.
“Fanny—” Mr. Bennet started.
Her words continued unchecked. “An invasion is imminent. Nothing you may say can convince me otherwise.” She folded her arms across her chest.
Elizabeth feared this was the truest statement her mother had uttered since arriving.
Mrs. Bennet continued without even taking a breath. “And, of course, Meryton will be one of the French army’s first targets.”
“Before London?” Elizabeth asked.
“Well, London will be well-defended. Meryton no longer even boasts a militia!” Mrs. Bennet flicked open her fan and vigorously fanned her face. “Mary and Kitty refused to leave Hertfordshire. Even Jane would not listen. But I told your father I was coming to Pemberley. Since it is so much further north, we have much less of a chance of being slaughtered in our beds.” She folded her fan again. “How very clever of you to catch the eye of a northern man.”
Having never considered this a feature of her marriage to William, Elizabeth did not respond.
“I pray you let us stay here for a while. What say you, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth gave her father a helpless look, not knowing where to start unraveling her mother’s convoluted reasoning. Mr. Bennet offered her a defeated shrug. Apparently he had given up on reasoning with his wife.
Well, she could hardly turn away her own parents. Perhaps she could talk sense into her mother during her visit. “Yes, of course, Mama. I am very pleased to see you both!” She smiled at them. “Welcome to Pemberley.”
Her father gave her a rather sad smile, but her mother grunted in response. “Now, if you will have them show me to my room. I am greatly fatigued by all this travel!” Now that their immediate fate had been settled, Mrs. Bennet eyed the hall critically. “Oh, Lizzy!” Her hand flew to her mouth. “You have hung greens already!”
“They make the house more festive,” Elizabeth replied.
“But it is bad luck to hang greens before Christmas Eve!” Her mother’s eyes were round with concern.
“Just a superstition—” her father interjected.
“No, it is not!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed, wringing her hands. “Mrs. Taylor hung her greens early one year, and the very next day their chickens refused to lay a single egg! She never made that mistake again, I will tell you.” She pointed an accusatory finger at Elizabeth. “You have practically begged the French to invade.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I like the greens.”
Mrs. Bennet’s hands fluttered. “Well, don’t blame me when the French invade. I warned you!”
“I promise not to blame you, Mama, if the French invade.” Elizabeth gestured to the butler. Perhaps her mother would be more rational after she rested and freshened up. One could only hope. “Giles, I think we can put my parents in the red bedchamber.”
Giles’s expression could not possibly have been haughtier, but he gave a slight bow and left to summon a maid. As the maid led Mrs. Bennet up the stairs, the older woman warned the wide-eyed girl about the imminent French invasion. Elizabeth and her father fell behind, staying out of earshot.
“I apologize, Lizzy,” he said. “Trying to stop her was like trying to halt a runaway carriage. When she declared her intention to visit Pemberley with or without me, I thought my presence might mitigate the damage.”
Elizabeth took her father’s arm. “I am very pleased to see you both, Papa. And it will provide an opportunity to show you Pemberley.”
He smiled gently. “I must confess, that is something I am anticipating with pleasure. What I have seen so far is quite grand.”

Elizabeth gave her father’s arm another reassuring squeeze, but her spirits sank. With Georgiana visiting Rosings Park for the yuletide season, Elizabeth and William had been anticipating a quiet Christmas celebration by themselves. Since they had arrived at Pemberley after their wedding voyage, Elizabeth’s life had been a whirlwind. She had spent much of her time familiarizing herself with the household and the servants, caring for tenants, entertaining neighbors, and performing the many other tasks required of Mrs. Darcy. William had been looking forward to having her to himself over Christmas, and the feeling was very much reciprocated.
Well, Mama and Papa are only two people, Elizabeth reminded herself. And Papa will happily spend much of his time in the library. Certainly I can find a way to occupy Mama.
Elizabeth and her father had just reached the top of the stairs when she heard quick footsteps behind them. Glancing over her shoulder, she found one of the footmen rushing toward her, his brow creased with worry. “Madam, Mr. Giles sent me to inform you. Miss Darcy’s coach is on the drive!”
Elizabeth blinked. Georgiana? What was the matter? Her sister-in-law had planned to visit Rosings Park for at least three more weeks, until Twelfth Night. Although Lady Catherine had initially severed all contact with Pemberley, she had recently insisted on Georgiana’s company—no doubt hoping to counteract Elizabeth’s pernicious influence. Georgiana had assented in part because she hoped to mend the breach between her brother and her aunt, although William had told her not to bother.
Elizabeth turned to her father. “Papa, I must meet Georgiana’s coach. Sally will help with anything you might need, and I shall see you at supper.”
Her father patted her hand reassuringly. Elizabeth quickly retreated down the great marble staircase. Georgiana was just entering the house. The slight woman was rumpled from travel, and some of her blonde curls tumbled into her eyes. But Elizabeth was most concerned about the signs of strain around the younger woman’s mouth and the tension in her shoulders.
Giles took Georgiana’s pelisse and bonnet, and then Elizabeth hurried to embrace her. “Is there trouble, my dear?” Elizabeth asked. “Are you feeling quite well?”
“Yes, my health is good.” Georgiana grimaced. “But William was correct. Visiting Rosings was most unpleasant. Aunt Catherine took every opportunity to disparage you and William. In addition, she invited two young men—both distant relatives of hers—to Rosings. It is clear they think they can be my suitors.” Elizabeth bit her tongue against a quick retort. How dare her ladyship ambush Georgiana in such a way? “It was so uncomfortable.”
This was one of the longest speeches Elizabeth had ever heard from Darcy’s sister; clearly she was quite disturbed. Elizabeth squeezed Georgiana’s hand sympathetically. “I can understand. Were they both so terrible?”
Georgiana sighed, pushing curls from her eyes. “Perhaps not, but I am not prepared to meet suitors, particularly without you and William to give me advice.”
Of course. After the Wickham debacle, Georgiana would be reluctant to trust her own judgment about men. Lady Catherine should not have attempted to influence her niece’s matrimonial prospects, but obviously she hoped to circumvent William’s authority. Elizabeth could think of several things to say about the woman, but she held her tongue.
“I decided to come home. I hope you are not too disappointed with me.”
Elizabeth gave her another hug. “Of course not, darling. I am very happy to see you, and William will be as well. He is out visiting tenants but will be home for supper. We would have missed you at Christmas! Oh, and my parents have come to visit from Longbourn as well.”
Georgiana gave a gentle smile. “How lovely. We shall be a merry party!”
Yes, thought Elizabeth. Hopefully my mother will not celebrate Christmas by discussing how we will be murdered in our beds.
Georgiana gave her sister-in-law another hug. “And you have decorated so nicely for the yule season. Mama never hung greens before Christmas Eve.”
Elizabeth smiled despite another reminder of her decorating deficiencies.
Georgiana took her leave and climbed wearily up the stairs toward her bedchamber. Although Elizabeth was pleased to have her sister-in-law home for the yule season, she could not prevent a pang of regret over more loss of privacy. But it is a big house, Elizabeth thought as she watched Georgiana disappear up the stairs. She is merely one more person. We shall hardly notice her.
Elizabeth had only taken one step toward the stairs when a brisk knock sounded on the door. Oh no, what now? Elizabeth fervently prayed for a wayward deliveryman.
Giles hastened to open the door. Elizabeth instantly recognized the tall figure silhouetted against the pale winter sky. “Richard!” she exclaimed.