An ad hoc tête-à-tête between Lady A~ and her fashionable friends that will embrace all things engaging and vexing in each of her Bath Novels. She will arrange her politic and impolitic tatter (musings) on these to both please and provoke. Indeed, it is here that such a lady might employ the sharpest nib of her most ‘political’ pen! Note to Ladeites: Lady A~ shall never ‘tweet’, she shall only ‘tat’!
T-A-T, THE SECOND
Dearest Fellow Formidables,
With my first child’s ‘coming out’, in the year celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane’s Sense and Sensibility’s being born in 1811, I thought that I should like to take you, my fond friends, upon an exclusive tour, two centuries on, through Merits and Mercenaries’ very ‘novel’ neighborhood, while at once providing you a brief history.
When the thought of writing ‘something Jane’ leapt into my head, all those years ago, and, I confess, spurred on by the sight of the eminently divine Colin Firth plunging coolly into his Pemberlean pond* (and now with his lovely Oscar), I had no idea what I was about or what such contemplations might yet create; I simply felt impelled by a force unseen. This force was something which, I imagine, had always been prodding me here and there over the years, and since my earliest encounter with JA (at the tender age of 15), but had never really pushed me into taking a cool plunge of my own. It did finally succeed at that cited ‘Darcinian moment’, however, and as it urged me to sit down to my writing-desk it was, at first, with every intention to write something of a sequel. Of course, as you will soon discover, this ultimately became no such thing, but rather evolved into a story quite out of the blue. Instantly M&M went on its own willful way—as if to follow little Fanny Price—taking its own course and creating its own characters—a ‘chusing’ book, if you will. Amazingly what was once destined to be yet another extension of Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s story, very suddenly became an ‘entirely new’ tale about William and Katherine, and all of their perfect and provoking advocates and adversaries.
When the ‘charm’ of that composition was too rapidly ‘dissolved’, however, and the harder reality of fulfilling a lengthy writer’s apprenticeship—as long as Jane’s, in fact—became the next learning chapter of my writing experience, I began to ponder a very different fate for my first-born and its greater ‘neighborhood’. It started with the very essence of what is known to be the universal ingredient in all of Jane’s stories—‘3 or 4 families in a country village’. Indeed, if my first novel was to find a proper ‘home’ anywhere—with any Publisher or the Public—thought I, then I had to find that ‘village’ and at least two ‘families’ besides, to reside in it. And so the idea of giving Merits and Mercenaries sisters and brothers, and settling these literary siblings alongside their six rather more celebrated ‘cousins’, and all in one literary neighborhood—at length—became the very volumes, connections and domain you find here.
But, as with anything novel, this fanciful notion was fraught with first difficulties. I had to find a means to create such a place, and the fresh creatures in it, in a manner that was at once unique and universal—aye, there was the rub in my tub! Again I called upon the Rosetta stones left to us not just by Jane herself, but all of the significant ‘Other-Austens’; the chief of whom—and by a furlong the most interesting—was Cassandra Elizabeth, Jane’s devoted sister and companion. Indeed, to me, she was the most significant (shadow) figure behind the very glowing persona of Jane Austen’s public genius. In such a fashion, it was only natural that Cassandra should become the focal point from whence everything in the Bath Novel history should be nurtured. An account of this, fond friends, you will duly discover in the ‘Preface to The Bath Novels’—a fascinating narrative preceding Merits and Mercenaries (and indeed every Bath Novel)—but I shall not sport with you and spoil any of the mystery there. Suffice it to say, that what Cassandra conveyed in such ‘putative’ history, about Jane and Bath, and detailed in that ‘Preface’, gave rise to the concept of seven companion novels aligned alongside her gifted sister’s classic six. Thus, seven original books refreshingly written in the ether of Jane’s inspiration—but enigmatically drawn by another lady’s hand. And, hence, the happy concept of Lady A~ being merely ‘a lady’ (or the reverse): a very likely marriage of pseudonyms reflecting at once the ‘relationship’ of the ‘originator’ to the ‘imitator’ and the very (distinguished and undistinguished) names by which Jane was (conversely) well known!
But there was something else in this ‘match’ that was significant too. Intrinsically, these nom de plumes reflected ideally my idea of the marriage of ‘like-minds’, and not just between two ‘ladies’, cast two centuries apart, but between two complementing sisters—each with a compatible intellect to mirror the gifts of the other, so as to produce one reversible and very remarkable image of genius. Writing was Jane’s craft and drawing was Cassandra’s. This ‘union’ of talent can very clearly be seen in Jane’s youthful, ‘wryly nascent version’ of England’s historic past: The History of England, wherein she wrote irreverent accounts of kings and queens, come and gone, while ‘beautiful Cassandra’ finely illustrated them all.By such means, then, I began to think of fashioning something beyond an interchangeable author-identity (linked to Jane’s ‘unproductive’ sojourn in Bath) that would similarly complement and ‘mirror’ this notion of the delightful interdependency of both the ladies A~ and their ‘progenitors’, the Misses Austen. Something where reflecting opposites would create perfectly balanced ‘partnerships’ not unlike that of Jane’s (public) written work and Cassandra’s (private) illustrating influence. Thus, just as in Jane’s (and Cassandra’s) History of England, a dual realm was divined for seven new novels, and their historically distanced ‘cousins’, with novel words and vintage images. Through technology, this lady found that Jane and Cassandra’s Regency World could be portrayed most animatedly in the present. Everything could be harmoniously collected in one interactive domain—upon a ‘platform’—where the true ‘Lady A~’ might be as ‘indistinguishable’ from her modern counterpart, ‘a lady’, and where the ‘families’ of their work might very possibly be ‘comfortable’ literary neighbors—companions, if you will, living side by side, across the chasm of time.
And so Lady A~’s very fine family of six was saucily ‘settled’ alongside a contemporary lady’s clan of seven—and all in one universal neighborhood— right here in The Bath Novels of Lady A~! Purposely set in Jane’s fashionably favorite color blue, this ‘sparkling’ new realm was effectively born from a cherished era of old. Relevantly does it reflect the 21st century’s intrigue with the English Regency, and its most acclaimed sovereign-novelist, while similarly it exhibits that novelist’s sovereign influence over an intriguing collection of 21st-century English Regency novels, written for some acclaim.
Indeed as we honor that great lady’s landmark 200th anniversary, in this our universal neighborhood, one might certainly consider the event of Sense and Sensibility’s birth as something relatively significant to the late arrival of its modern ‘neighbor’. For just as the day is partnered to the night, and as surely as Jane was the shimmer to her sister’s shade, and Cassandra’s brush as pertinent to Jane’s ivory, might not the complementing coincidence of Merits and Mercenaries’ arrival—in such a place, in such a year, and to such a sisterhood—do something rather uniquely great for this lady?
Believe me, fond friends,
Yours most affectionately,
and presently in the neighborhood,
* For those dull elves who claim Colin Firth first found fame in a diary, let me advise you to take to review his earlier and more terrific splash!
Lady A—’s Pocket-book: 1st March, 2011.
Whilst ambling down a muddy lane with that parcel of wretches, Selina and Sophia, I took it upon myself to extol the virtues of the newly fashioned pattens (purchased recently in Bath)—presently on my feet—which now sported leather straps on wooden wedges. Being quite wild to celebrate the demise of the old iron rings, which once tortuously elevated these contrivances to my shoes, in order to uplift me from the dirt, I spoke most effusively of the modern marriage of strap, platform and shoe.
“La! How can you be so very droll?” inquired Selina, in her impertinently wretched manner, “What care we for the evolution of your horrid clogs! What are they but two pieces of wood attached to a pair of (I must confess) very indifferent boots; and whether they be supported by a ring of iron or a wedge of wood, what is the significance of such an observation? Your fixation with the trite is as tedious as your Miss A’s obsession with the obvious! What did the delightful Miss Brontë once say of your muse’s prose: ‘Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet,’ and that Miss A. was ‘a very incomplete and rather insensible woman.’ I declare, that describes your ‘plain Jane’ in quite the most fitting way; if you are to follow such simple example, I pity your poor readers, for what should they look forward to but infinite vignettes of fingers and toes!”
“Indeed!” cried her oracle-in-arms, and while waving them wildly. Such paltry descriptions of insignificant detail can only vex your readers exceedingly, what with your arch-scoundrel’s ‘flawlessly manicured hand’, your ‘quizzing eyes and ears of London’s finest set’, and, pray, what was another such stupid sketch, Selina (no assisting response)? Ah, yes, that feeble line concerning the ‘fleetest motion of Charlotte Falstead’s two feminine feet’! Such water-thin gruel in Merits and Mercenaries can claim, for you, very little merit as a lady. You had better make Miss Brontë your religion and abandon Miss A’s senseless philosophy, if you want to get on at all as an authoress. Upon my word, if you are to write anything worthwhile, it simply must read as something that ‘throbs’ as ‘fast and full’ as Miss Brontë’s dangerously delectable prose!
Quite taken aback by the fervor of emotion expressed by so droll a person, and so fiercely upon the subject of at least two fine minds, I could only state my case, while eyeing the necessary advancements of my very amenable footwear.
“You, dear Sophia, and not unlike your Miss B., surely speak some degree of ‘heresy’? For myself, as I merely emulate my mentor, I can offer nothing rational in defense; for her however, I can certainly propose something more, and, perhaps, particularly for Selina’s sake? What should any of Miss Brontë’s lovers want but a plentiful dose of Miss A’s mouths, eyes, hands and feet? Only think, without them, even for her ‘ghosts’ and ‘vampires’, there could be no saying anything with ‘earnest, religious energy’—no seeing the flaming ‘lurid visage’—or, for that matter, no trampling upon any wedding veil and tearing it in two! If ‘the seat of life’ is, as your Miss B. so aptly described it, ‘unseen’ what should any of those in love observe? Why, there is nothing so very charming in brooding when one may smile at teasing wit, nor is hidden sentiment as bewitching as anything more plainly expressed. And, pray, what is looming, dooming, gloom to that which is light, bright and sparkling? What indeed should this world of austerity want with any more despair, even if the daunting Miss Brontë should support it? ”
An indignant smirk, at length, moved a stony mien, “It is because neither you nor Miss A. have, as Miss Brontë so aptly described, even a ‘speaking acquaintance’ with our ‘stormy sisterhood’!” cried Sophia, in her novel way. “What is drawing-room gossip to madness on the moors, or a parson’s apoplexy to the blood-chilling terrors of the insane? All of the Misses B. understood the passion of fear well enough to make their tales eminently more memorable than anything spirited up by you or your Miss A! And there is nothing so very clever which you can say or write about that!”
“Nothing, but that if I should choose to memorialize anything, it should be to keep as far away from all three of the Miss Brontës’ dark-and-testy Radcliffe fare as possible. To be sure Sophia and Selina, I should as lief digest Dr. Grant’s ‘green geese’ than make any feast of Jane Eyre’s ‘foul German’ specters, lest, in the consumption, the latter horror make me (as the capital Miss B. so terrifyingly drew it) too ‘insensible from terror’! I believe it was this senseless deficiency, which, in that last lady’s misgiving eyes, made my Miss A. so very incomplete?”
With a decided look of disdain and much mud upon their shoes, the vexing duo offered their usual ‘humpf!’ to walk off, arm-in-arm, down the dirty lane just as ‘flexibly’ as their two stricken pairs of legs could carry them.
Another time I had cause to look at my ten toes, set in more practical terms, and to marvel at the art of so plain a ‘platform’ that had made my strolling comfort—through this inhospitable region of the neighborhood—so perfectly complete!
Note to myself: Purchase ‘improved’ pattens for S & S when next in Bath!