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Hello, friends! C.P. Odom has a new Pride and Prejudice variation, Determination, and I’m excited to welcome him back to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release. He’s here today to share an excerpt, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Please give him a warm welcome!


This excerpt is from Chapter 8 of my new novel, Determination. Since the released blurb on the cover and previous excerpts in the blog tour make it evident that Colonel Fitzwilliam is in romantic pursuit of Jane Bennet, the colonel issued an invitation for Jane, Elizabeth, and her aunt and uncle to be his guests at the theatre for a new production of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar. This excerpt is about what happens during that excursion.

Chapter 8

He is not a lover who does not love forever.

— Euripides, writer of classical Greek tragedies

Friday, May 1, 1812
Covent Garden, London

Jane looked out the window in surprise as her uncle’s carriage slowed and came to a halt. Shoppers still thronged the pedestrian walkways to either side of the street since many of the shops along Bow Street stayed open until ten o’clock or even later. But there was no sign of the theatre.

“Why have we stopped, Uncle?” Elizabeth asked, leaning out of the window for a better look. A series of dividers separated the pedestrians from the streets, and she was surprised to see a line of carriages ahead of their coach with several more stopping just behind.

“Covent Garden is the largest theatre in town, Lizzy, and it is usually considered to be the leading theatre of the English-speaking world. Only Drury Lane came close, but the rebuilding likely will not be completed until the fall. Even then, it is uncertain whether it will be able to open since the management is said to have been virtually bankrupted by the cost of the renewal.”

“I thought a new company had been formed to cover the cost of rebuilding by subscription,” Mrs. Gardiner said.

“Quite correct, dear, but subscriptions have proven barely able to keep up with costs. Whitbread and his fellow investors are said to have little left in their purse. In any case, Lizzy, there is always a line of coaches, carriages, and hacks waiting to drop their passengers in front of the theatre. We shall simply have to wait our turn.”

Both Jane and Elizabeth settled back to look out at the shops on either side of the street, and there was much to see. Streams of people strolled along the street, pausing occasionally to inspect the various offerings in the fine, high windows. There were drapers, stationers, booksellers, china sellers, and many more, all close to each other and without any break between shops. The shoppers were dressed well but not opulently. Covent Garden and similar shopping areas such as Leicester Square and the Strand were not in the most fashionable areas, but the shops were still genteel and respectable.

The girls had shopped often with their aunt in Cheapside, which was not so very different from the scene they saw here, but everything was significantly altered at night as the streets were lit by a multiplicity of lamps and lanterns of all different colours and brightness. Jane pointed out a dressmaker’s establishment that showed women’s materials—silks, chintzes, muslins, and more—many of them visible behind the windows lit by carefully placed lamps to pique the interest of those passing by.

Just then, their coach lurched into motion again, and they moved up a coach-length before again halting.

“We could get out and walk,” Elizabeth commented, “and then we could inspect the shops more easily.”

“Ah, but it is not done that way,” responded her uncle with a smile. “The theatre employs people who will stop the pedestrians when we alight from our coach, forming a line so we may enter the theatre. If we walked up to the entrance, we would be simply more pedestrians, either forced to enter with those buying tickets or directed away from the arriving coaches. In addition, I should not like to try escorting three ladies past all these merchants’ windows and still arrive in time for the beginning of the play.”

Elizabeth sniffed audibly to show her opinion of this last comment and returned to inspecting the businesses on her side of the coach while her uncle and aunt shared a soft laugh at her expense.

“It is too bad Miss Lucas declined to attend, dear,” Mr. Gardiner said to his wife. “She might have enjoyed the shops even if she does not care for Shakespeare.”

“I believe she would have liked to come, if only to be able to say she had attended the theatre and seen all of the finest society in London. Why, I understand the Prince Regent will be attending tonight,” responded his wife. “But Maria must have eaten some bad meat when we were at the market yesterday. I especially suspect that beef pie she purchased from the gypsy.”

How Maria would have loved to boast that she dined nine times at Rosings with her ladyship, drank tea there twice, AND attended the theatre when the Prince Regent was in attendance, Elizabeth thought sardonically. Silly girl. I told her not to buy that pie.

Gradually, their coach moved up position by position, and Elizabeth happened to be looking at Jane when she saw her sister’s expression change. Jane had been idly looking at the shops on her side of the coach when her head suddenly swivelled and stopped. Her eyes seemed to sharpen and focus, and her whole expression softened even as her lips curved into a smile.

“There is Colonel Fitzwilliam waiting for us,” she said.

“I daresay he is waiting, Jane,” Mr. Gardiner commented dryly, “but I believe I am correct when I say he is not waiting for your aunt and me.”

“And as amiable as I find the gentleman, I am certain he is not waiting for me either,” Elizabeth said teasingly.

Jane’s cheeks grew a little pinker, and she lowered her eyes, but Elizabeth was sure she was not displeased. However, she could not help feeling a pang of regret when she thought of Mr. Bingley.

Had it not been for Mr. Darcy’s arrogant interference, that might be Mr. Bingley waiting, she thought angrily. No matter how Colonel Fitzwilliam might try to change my mind, I do not believe I can ever forgive Mr. Darcy for that.

***

As soon as their carriage stopped in front of the theatre, two servants in Covent Garden livery quickly opened the door and pulled down the step. Mr. Gardiner would normally have exited first in order to assist his wife and nieces, but he waved Jane ahead since the colonel was already stepping forward to do the honours.

Richard’s breath caught in his throat as Jane stepped through the door of the coach, bent over slightly to duck under the top of the door frame. She thus presented to him a most enchanting view down the front of her fashionably low-cut evening gown.

Her aunt had ordered the gown prepared early in Jane’s visit in order to show off her niece’s figure to best advantage though Jane had never had occasion to wear it until her aunt suggested she do so tonight. Mrs. Gardiner’s suggestion certainly achieved the intended result. Richard was not able to keep his eyes from dropping to Jane’s bodice and the view of her neckline as her breasts swelled against the constraints of her gown. He was at least able to make himself wrench his eyes away after a moment so he could accept Jane’s hand as she straightened and stepped to the ground.

Does she know just how enticing she looks? he wondered in numb confusion. Does she have any idea of the effect she is having on me—and on any other man looking this way?

Only manners strengthened by rigid self-control allowed him to exchange greetings with her, though he really wished to simply step back and stare. He did not think he had ever seen a young lady more beautiful in her person or more attractively attired, though he knew enough about women’s fashion to realize that Jane’s gown was nothing extraordinary. It was quite in keeping with the fashion of the day, heavily influenced by the move towards the more simplified and classical styles of Greece and Rome. The waistline was high, and the material was an inner layer of fine white linen with an outer layer of sheer white silk. Gone were the heavy brocades of the previous century, replaced by the clean lines that fell from the high waist just under her bosom all the way to her hem. The sleeves were short, hardly more than straps across the shoulder to support the dress while allowing a low, square-cut neckline to show off the snow-white perfection of a lady’s bosom.

It is a beautiful gown that many a high-society daughter could not wear with more credit, Richard thought. They might pick elaborate gowns with more embroidery and a much higher price, but they could not look as beautiful as this country lass before me—or as desirable.

The addition of physical desirability to his already fixed admiration for this striking young woman only firmed his already expressed intentions, and the soft smile she gave him sent a tingling sensation down his spine and made his blood seem to sing in his veins. He believed he would never forget this moment, his varied emotions twisting, turning, and melting together until no single strand could be untangled from the others.

My intentions are already declared, at least to her uncle, but tonight makes me absolutely determined that nothing—absolutely nothing—shall sway me from winning her and making her my bride.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

The note of query in Elizabeth Bennet’s voice brought Richard’s attention back to the present as he realized that, despite his attempt at self-control, he had clearly been staring too long at her sister. He was quick to turn back to the coach and assist Miss Elizabeth to the ground. The expression on her face was clear: she knew it was the sight of Jane’s exposed bosom that had paralysed him.

And it was clear that she did not approve.

***

Richard was correct in his supposition since Elizabeth had heartily disagreed with her aunt’s suggestion for Jane’s gown earlier that day, believing it was much too revealing.

“Lizzy, you are in London, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world,” Mrs. Gardiner had said with a smile. “Every woman attending the theatre for this opening performance will be dressed in her absolute best evening wear with considerable shoulder and bosom on display.”

At Elizabeth’s disbelieving look, her aunt had continued. “It is not customary or proper to wear a low-cut or short-sleeved gown to an afternoon event, even in London, but it is quite appropriate for the evening. Trust me, all the younger women tonight—both married and unmarried—will be showing considerable bosom. Jane will be much admired by all the men—and envied by all the women.”

“Especially one young man,” Elizabeth had grumbled under her breath.

“Well, I certainly hope so,” her aunt had replied merrily. “After all, we women have to use whatever assets God has given us.”

Elizabeth was well aware that her aunt was more sophisticated than either Jane or herself, but it was still startling to accept her aunt’s intention to make the best use of the impact Jane’s innocent but nevertheless undoubted sexuality would have on a healthy young man, even one as urbane as the son of an earl. Then she had a further thought.

“Will you be wearing…that is…”

“Will I be wearing anything similar to Jane, even at my ancient age?”

Mrs. Gardiner had laughed delightedly as Elizabeth turned bright red in embarrassment. “Yes, Lizzy, I have something in mind for myself also. After all, I have a man in my life to entice, even if we have had four children. I just wish I had had time to have something as alluring made for you, especially if your Mr. Darcy decides to accompany his cousin.”

“He is not my Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth had said instantly, startled and upset. But her aunt had simply given her a sly smile, which had left Elizabeth feeling decidedly unsettled.

***

Elizabeth was easily able to discern that Fitzwilliam was having difficulty breaking away from the vision of her sister though he did manage to straighten and mumble a greeting to her. But Elizabeth was inwardly certain that he had little awareness of what he said, and he looked distinctly relieved as he saw Mr. Gardiner step next into the doorway. That meant her uncle could assist his wife, which allowed the colonel to turn back to Jane and offer his arm. Elizabeth was warmed and disturbed at the same time as she saw the animation of her sister’s smile when she took the proffered arm.

But Fitzwilliam appeared more in control of himself as he offered his other arm to Elizabeth, and she lost little time in taking it. She had managed to quell her irritation by now, and her expression was one of careful calm. She knew it would do no good to poison the relationship between Fitzwilliam and herself. Even if she thought Bingley would have been a better match for Jane, it was obvious that Jane was captivated by the colonel. If he did as he had told her uncle and managed to marry Jane, it would be disastrous not to be able to visit her beloved sister because of the disapproval of her husband.

Two uniformed doormen opened the theatre doors as they approached, giving them all a bow. Elizabeth looked around in interest once they were inside, and she quickly realized her aunt had been correct about the eveningwear of the ladies. All the fashionable women walking about on the arms of their escorts or waiting to go to their seats were elaborately coifed and gowned, many in attire even more revealing than Jane’s.

Several of them should have exerted a bit more common sense and self-control, considering they no longer have Jane’s or even my aunt’s figure, Elizabeth thought puckishly, her usual nature beginning to reassert itself. She also apprehended that Aunt Gardiner had been right about Jane’s effect on the men.

The contortions some of these gentlemen are going through in trying to get a closer look at her without offending their present partners would be quite entertaining if it were not so necessary to maintain my composure.

For a moment, Elizabeth felt a brief flash of jealousy that she was not the cause of so many men trying to get a better look, but she easily repressed it. She had deliberately dressed in an understated gown that would have been appropriate for visiting but was rather out of place tonight. However, she felt little desire to attract the attention of other men. Having so unwittingly attracted the attention of Mr. Darcy, she had no desire for further interest along those lines.

The noise level had increased remarkably once they were inside the foyer, and Jane had to lean towards Richard as she said, “There are more people here tonight than I had expected. Is it very expensive to attend this theatre, Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

“Not unduly so, Miss Bennet. The ground level boxes go for six shillings, and a great number of people from all walks of life attend every week. It appears they will be playing to a full house tonight.”

“Where shall we be sitting?”

“We have the good fortune to have the loan of a private box, so we should have an excellent view. We go up these stairs just ahead,” Richard said, nodding towards the stairway. An employee in evening dress was passing parties up the stairs and, when their turn came, Richard handed him the card Darcy had given him. The man took only a cursory look at it since Richard had taken the precaution of presenting the card prior to the arrival of the Gardiner party.

The man snapped his fingers, and one of several uniformed boys sprang to his side.

“Enjoy the performance, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” the man said as he handed the card to the boy.

“Thank you, Logan, we shall,” responded Richard politely.

“After me, if you please.” The boy, who appeared to be about twelve or thirteen, led the party up the stairs and down a long, narrow hallway.

“Here you are, ladies, gentlemen.” He opened a door towards the end that led into a box. “Enjoy the play.”

“Thank you,” Richard said, giving the boy a shilling. Mr. Gardiner gave him another, and the boy grinned widely at his good fortune.

“Thank you, sirs!” he exclaimed before he scampered down the narrow hall, expertly squeezing past the next party being led to their box by one of his fellows.

“Now we know why they employ boys,” Mr. Gardiner said. “They are small enough to get past parties coming this way.”

The box had seats for six, three in front and three behind, with the chairs in front on a lower step so the view from the rear was unimpeded. The chairs were comfortably made with cushions on the seat and back as well as upholstered arms.

***

“Would you and Mrs. Gardiner care for the lower seats, sir?” Richard asked. “Or perhaps we could let the ladies sit in front while we sit behind.”

“No, no, you young people sit down front. I only need my spectacles to read—my vision is otherwise quite excellent. Mrs. Gardiner and I shall make ourselves comfortable in the rear.

And you will also be able to keep an eye on your two nieces, thought Richard with amusement as he recognised Mr. Gardiner’s ploy. Who knows what might happen with Jane dressed as she is?

Richard made sure that Elizabeth did not manage to separate him from Jane, and before she realized what was happening, he had offered her the left hand seat. She had no choice but to take it, which allowed Richard to seat Jane in the middle seat. He took the remaining seat on the right while Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner settled down in the two seats on the right directly behind Jane and him.

Richard saw Elizabeth looking at him in a speculative fashion, and he arched an interrogative eyebrow. The interior of the box was only dimly lit, but their eyes were rapidly growing used it.

“Yes, Miss Elizabeth? Did you have a question?”

“Not a question, sir, a compliment on the skilful way you arranged the seating.”

“Tactics—my soldier’s training, you know. But I do want to offer you a compliment on your diligence in attending your sister. No ne’er-do-well shall get close to her with you providing protection.”

“Surely you are not suggesting you fall into that category.” Elizabeth gave him her sweetest smile but with the light of deviltry dancing in her eyes. She might prefer Bingley as a husband to her sister, but she did very much like Fitzwilliam. “Yet I do note with dismay that you have reverted to your beloved uniform again. And just when Jane and I had reason to believe your wardrobe of fashionable attire was rather extensive.”

“I am afraid your sister has caught me out, Miss Bennet,” Richard remarked, turning now to Jane. “Either your assessment of my indifference to fashion was correct, or I have exhausted the only two pieces of gentlemanly attire I own.”

“Ignore her, Colonel,” replied Jane with a smile. “She and I often tease our younger sisters about swooning over a red coat, but I think your uniform suits you perfectly.”

“I hope I might be introduced to your other sisters soon,” Richard said quietly, his nerves tingling as he awaited an answer to this probe.

Jane was conscious of a sudden constriction in her throat at this indication that Richard’s interest would not be limited to her tenure in London. She had to swallow several times before she could finally say, “If…if you visit our home in Hertfordshire, I shall be glad…very glad…to introduce you.”

“Excellent,” Richard said, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders. “Perhaps I might pay your family a visit Saturday week? I know you travel home tomorrow.”

“I…I shall look forward to seeing you again,” Jane said quietly, and the softness in her eyes as she looked at him made Richard feel about six inches taller.

However, he caught the expression on her sister’s face, and he was not at all sure what to make of it. Not disapproval, exactly, just…assessing. But assessing what?

“I am not at all familiar with this play,” Jane said as they waited for the theatre to fill. “Lizzy and I were usually more interested in the comedies and the tragedies.”

“The tragedies, Miss Bennet?” Richard asked, arching his eyebrows. “I am dreadfully sorry, but I have great difficulty picturing you delving into King Lear.”

“Well, perhaps my interest did lie more towards the comedies,” admitted Jane sheepishly.

Richard fixed his eyes on Elizabeth. “And does that mean you were more interested in the tragedies?”

“Actually, it was the histories rather than the tragedies, though I admit a partiality to Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.”

“I cannot remember hearing of a production of Julius Caesar here in London,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “I read the play many years ago, but it does not seem too popular any more.”

“It used to be popular some fifty years ago,” her husband said. “And I hear it is very popular in America these days. Evidently, they read it in the spirit of republican patriotism, and whenever it is performed, the part of Caesar is invariably played by an actor with a most distinguished upper-class British accent.”

The last sentence was stated in such a droll manner that it inspired a general round of laughter, tinged with some apprehension since relations between America and England gave every appearance of degenerating into dangerous territories.

“In any case,” Richard said, not wishing to dwell on such sombre matters, “it seems this resurrection of Julius Caesar is the work of John Kemble, who manages the theatre and is the brother of Mrs. Sarah Siddons, the famous actress. He will play Brutus, and his brother Charles will play Marc Antony. I have heard they plan a completely different interpretation of the play. Evidently, they intend it to be more of a ‘noble drama,’ with great attention paid to ‘accurate costuming’ and ‘scenic splendour.’ Or, at least that was the way it was described in The Times.”

Richard had noted that Elizabeth was looking around the theatre as he talked, and he guessed that she had just realized how favourably their box was placed, close to the left side of the stage and at a slightly higher level, where they would be able to look down on the actors from a point only slightly above their heads. Suddenly, when she twisted around to look at the empty seat behind her, he was not surprised to see a sudden look of anger on her face.

“Uncle,” she announced, clearly trying to keep her voice calm, “do these not appear to be very nicely located seats? Compared to what I can see, ours would seem to be among the very best.”

“Of course, Lizzy. This is a third level box, a private box. It can only be rented yearly, and the seating is thus very desirable.”

Elizabeth nodded tautly, before turning to Richard. “You mentioned you had the good fortune to have the loan of a private box, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Would it be possible this box belongs to your cousin Mr. Darcy?”

Richard’s expression as he looked at Elizabeth was one of calm composure though he could see embarrassed looks on the faces of her aunt and uncle out of the corner of his eye. He knew Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had to be distressed at the unseemly anger their niece was displaying.

They, of course, must have immediately deduced what has only now occurred to their niece, he thought, but they had too much tact to comment on it; whereas, Miss Elizabeth, with her usual forthright manner, simply plunges in and speaks her mind.

“It is indeed Mr. Darcy’s box. He was kind enough to offer it to me for our use tonight.”

“I do hate to be so uncharitable since we are your guests tonight, Colonel,” Elizabeth said, her anger now openly displayed, “but I remember your original reason for visiting my uncle’s house. I cannot help wondering whether Mr. Darcy might coincidentally be joining us tonight.”

“No, he will not,” Richard said flatly. He locked stares with Elizabeth, and he saw the surprise on her face at his blunt statement and his cold, dispassionate tone. She could not long maintain her glare in light of such a refutation of her suspicions, and he could see her anger fading away.

“Then why did he give these seats to you?”

“Because he knew he would not be attending. When I mentioned my intention to attend tonight, he offered the box to me, saying someone might as well have the use of a box for which he had already paid.”

Fitzwilliam’s last words had been stated in an emotionless tone, and Elizabeth flushed in embarrassment as she realized how rude her comments had been.

“I might also mention,” Fitzwilliam continued, “that my cousin has always favoured Shakespeare’s histories, and he had shown the greatest interest in attending this revival of Julius Caesar. I was thus surprised when he made his offer. In addition, this is not the first time he has allowed me and others of his friends to make use of his box. He has always been most generous, even when we were boys together.”

Elizabeth was now stricken at how she had converted the convivial atmosphere to one of cold formality, and she realized Fitzwilliam had just thrown in her face the knowledge that Mr. Darcy had not put her out of his mind but was instead avoiding his usual activities because of the blow to his spirits. She felt especially dreadful as she remembered commenting so lightly to Jane that she was sure he had other feelings that would soon drive away any thought of her. Obviously, such a change in his opinion had not taken place, and she suddenly realized just how spiteful and malicious her behaviour must appear to her companions. A great wash of embarrassment and shame swept over her, and her cheeks flamed red as other remembrances flashed across her mind.

“I am sorry,” she said in a strained voice. “I spoke very much out of turn. I beg everyone’s forgiveness for my careless and thoughtless words.”


About Determination

“Love at first sight” is a laughable concept in the considered opinion of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam andnever occurs in real life—certainly not in the life of an experienced soldier. In fact, until he observes the smitten nature of his cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy, he doubts that fervent love truly exists. Marriage, after all, is a matter of money, social standing, and property.

But his cousin becomes besotted with Elizabeth Bennet, the lovely but penniless daughter of a Hertfordshire gentleman, and is determined to make her his wife. Unfortunately, emotions overwhelm hisgood judgment, and he botches an offer of marriage.

When the colonel attempts to untangle the mess, his own world becomes almost as chaotic when he makes the accidental acquaintance of Miss Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s beloved elder sister. Can emotions previously deemed impossible truly seize such a level-headed person as himself? And can impassible obstacles deter a man of true determination?

Amazon (U.S.) | Amazon (U.K.)


About the Author

By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics.

I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife’s beloved Jane Austen books after her passing.  One thing led to another, and I now have five novels published:  A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015), and Perilous Siege (2019), and A Covenant of Marriage (2020). Four of my books are now audiobooks, Most Civil Proposal, Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets, Consequences, and A Covenant of Marriage.

I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats.  My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).

Colin Odom Facebook page | C. P. Odom Amazon Author page | C. P. Odom Goodreads page | C. P. Odom Meryton Press page


Giveaway

Meryton Press is generously offering 8 ebook copies of Determination as part of the blog tour. You must enter through this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!


Thank you, Colin, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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It’s my pleasure to welcome C.P. Odom back to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate his latest Pride and Prejudice variation, A Covenant of Marriage. Colin is here today to share his thoughts on a PBS special, “I Hate Jane Austen,” as well as an excerpt from the book. Please give him a warm welcome!

****

This guest post doesn’t really have anything to do with my new Pride and Prejudice variation, A Covenant of Marriage, but some time back my wife saw a program listed on PBS called “I Hate Jane Austen.” She’s not a big Austen fan herself, but she’s managed to put up with my writing in this venue for about the last fifteen years, first in the fanfiction arena and then being formally published by Meryton Press. So she thought I might be interested and recorded it for me.

When she informed me, I wasn’t too interested. I know there are people who don’t like Austen, but I didn’t think I wanted to listen to the arguments of someone on that side this question. However, when my fourth novel, Perilous Siege was published, it touched a chord in my wife and she read the freebie paperback copy I received from my publisher. The result was quite surprising to me—she read it cover to cover in two days and absolutely loved it! It was the first time she’d read more than a few passages in any of my books, and she began to enthusiastically convince friends and family to read it also.

It caught me so off guard that when she resumed her efforts to get me to watch this PBS program, telling me it wasn’t a negative hit-piece that I relented. How could I resist her arguments after she enjoyed my latest novel so much?

  • The blurb for the program says that British columnist Giles Coren meets academics and fans of author Jane Austen to see if they can change his mind regarding his dislike for the author. Hour long program.
  • Coren opens by reviewing all the hype for Jane Austen, her fame, her reputation as one of the greatest writers in English literature, all the books, movies, variations, and shows, saying, “It’s not enough to like her. You’re expected to love her. And I just don’t. In fact, I hate Jane Austen.”
  • I hadn’t heard of Giles Coren before this point, though my wife said she was a bit familiar with him because he’s a restaurant critic in addition to being a journalist and English literature graduate. He says that possibly the germ of his dislike of Austen came from having been forced to read her as a teenager, which I could sympathize with because I’d been forced to read Herbert Melville and Joseph Conrad among other so-called “giants of English literature” during my high school years.
  • The first of the experts he consults is Professor John Mullen, who’s been teaching Austen for more than thirty years and luckily is a neighbor. Coren asks what he is missing about Jane Austen, and Mullen’s response is to say that most people like Charlotte Bronte and Joseph Conrad who didn’t like Austen didn’t “get” her humor. Mullen thinks that’s one of the most delightful things about her works, and staggers Coren when he goes on to put her on a par with Shakespeare.
  • Coren asks incredulously, “You put her with Shakespeare?” and is flatly incredulous when Mullen responds, “Definitely. Definitely.” After some back and forth, Coren finally states that he thinks he’s unsavable, to which Mullen advises him to forget about all the other Austenesque paraphernalia and “go back to the books.”
  • So Coren starts with Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first novel, and speaks with best-selling author Joanna Trollope, who wrote a modern version of Austen’s novel. His first question is, “Why?”
  • Trollope makes a number of interesting statements that I had not encountered in my research into Austen. First, she addresses Jane Austen’s fans, and points out that her earliest admirers were men—in fact, other male writers—while Austen is promoted in modern times as a girly and romantic thing rather than the tough and sinewy observer that she was. This point made me remember that such perceptiveness was one of the characteristics Austen imbibed into her Elizabeth Bennet in contrast to most of her feminine contemporaries.
  • In the ensuing conversation, Coren betrays what he had missed in his reading of Sense and Sensibility when he states that Austen seems to be portraying Marianne and Elinor as two wildly divergent personalities while it appears to his 200-year later viewpoint as if both sisters were rather similar. Trollope’s explanation centers on the fact that Coren doesn’t really understand the meaning of “sensibility” in the context of Austen’s time. As she explains, sensibility was a philosophical fashion in Europe when Jane Austen was growing up. When Austen started this novel, she was a victim of sensibility, being passionately emotional like Marianne. Sixteen years later, when she finally finished, she had come to realize that being sensible like Elinor—logical and rational—was more correct.
  • With respect to Coren’s objection to money being so prominent, she points out that the money was hugely important and not to be casually dismissed. “In Jane Austen’s day, if you didn’t fall into poverty. You fell to utter destitution, to rags, the gutter, and starvation.” Because Coren didn’t understand this, she charges that he thus thinks that Austen is for a fluffy kind of girl, which is not at all the case.
  • With considerable reluctance, Coren attends a Regency ball in Bath in period costume. He’s willing enough to dress up, but he resolutely states that he does not do dancing. In addition, he inserts jibes at various points as he prepared for the ball, including “Jane Austen is an icon, and once a person becomes an icon, it becomes impossible to think critically about them” and “crucially she’s out of copyright.” But even with this jaundiced prejudice, Coren is surprised to enjoy himself at the ball. He even dances (which must have taken some practice, since he danced Austen’s favorite dance, a cotillion), and later says that he won’t be reading Austen more often but that he does look forward to the dancing which she enjoyed so much.
  • The next topic is Pride and Prejudice, to which Professor John Mullen interjects that the best thing about this novel is Austen’s dialogue. He goes on to say that Austen wrote the best dialogue that’s ever been written in novels, a statement that Coren still has a hard time swallowing. It gets no easier when he looks into the Bollywood version of P&P, Bride and Prejudice, since the director of that movie, Gorinda Chudha, tells him he is misguided and he doesn’t understand what the story is about. When he says that, no matter what Austen tries to tell the reader, all her stories are about who they’re going to marry in the end. The director notes that Austen was instead highlighting the boundaries and constraints on women at that time. She says Austen was writing about what she knew, the cultural mores around her world, but she was constrained against explicitly making the point about how limited was the world for women at the time. Instead, she had to be deft and witty in how she said it. She says that Jane Austen is witty and she would pick up Austen and read her at any time, to which Coren responds slyly, “Better you than me.” Obviously, he hasn’t been convinced by the arguments made so far.
  • Chudha’s comments are made more relevant to today’s world when he visits with the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan for tea and reading Austen. From their discussion, he realizes that many of the social problems facing women that he thought to be long solved were still relevant in that part of the world. All the women laugh at the passage where Mr. Bennet says he will never see his daughter again if she marries Mr. Collins, and one of the participants says that she has lived the Mr. Collins scene. Coren is flabbergasted to realize that the 200 year gap which he thinks makes Austen irrelevant does not exist for these women.
  • Coren’s old friend, David Beddiel, writer and comedian, is a big Emma fan and is anxious to inform Coren of his mistakes. Coren believes that Austen only had six themes (in her six novels) and they’re all the same, while Beddiel believes she is more important than Shakespeare. The reason for that, Beddiel says, is that Austen single-handedly created the modern realist novel. Before Austen, there were novelists like Stern, Nash, and Smollet with their mad, direct to the reader explanations of everything that was going on. What Austen did was to let the reader see the world through her character (Emma, in Beddiel’s example), her thoughts and dialogue, and trust the reader to work out what was going on. Previous novelists didn’t know how to do that and just explicitly told the reader what was happening.
  • As Coren goes on to relate his reactions to Austen’s other works, he adds to what he has already related about Austen, some of which were quite surprising to me. I thought I was relatively well-informed about Austen, but I was taken aback by Austen biographer Paula Byrne’s argument that Jane Austen was not at all the romantic writer I thought her to be, that she’s actually subverting it. Her arguments make sense, but I confess I had never comprehended it before. Even in my writing, I considered that I was writing romances. Oh, well. I studied engineering at college, not English Literature. I had thought I had the subject covered, but now I’m not so sure.
  • By the end, Coren says he’s reached the final chapter and it was time to confess all to John Mullen, where his journey started. Mullen asks if Coren had talked to anyone who had changed his mind, and Coren says that several people had convinced him that Austen’s novels were not conventional romantic novels. In my own case, I hadn’t thought Austen’s works were conventional, but I had thought they were essentially romantic novels. So this program was educational to me.
  • Coren also admits that he has come to believe that we could not have got from Shakespeare, whom he admires (as do I) to today’s writers without Austen in between. He also confesses that his skepticism has collapsed and that her novels are actually brilliant.
  • This program may not be as informative to more perceptive readers than it was to me, but it set me back on my heels, jarring my confidence in my perceptions. I had previously considered her novels as brilliant but not in the way I do after watching “I Hate Jane Austen.” I recommend it wholeheartedly to serious readers, even those to whom it might not be as educational as it was to me.

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An excerpt from Chapter 8 of A Covenant of Marriage

She cried aloud with a great mourning cry for all that she had never known in this life and the agony of a bereavement unguessed till this moment.

— Marion Zimmer Bradley (1930–1999)
American science-fiction and fantasy author, The Mists of Avalon

Wednesday, December 23, 1812
Longbourn, Hertfordshire

The coming of Christmas did not presage the usual joy of the season since the fate of Miss Lydia Bennet was still the preferred subject of conversation about the neighbourhood. Hardly any gathering among the better families passed without an exhaustive review of what was known or speculated. Of course, since the Bennet family was never included in any of these gatherings, they were not able to comment on the accuracy of those conversations.

The arrival of the Gardiners provided the only relief to the general gloom at Longbourn, and Mrs. Gardiner continued her usual practice of distributing presents to all the girls. It made it seem, just for a moment, like any other Christmas season, but her discussion of the fashions in vogue in London was not received with the same attention as in previous years, for fashion was not a topic much discussed at Longbourn.

At least, the subject drew little attention until Mrs. Gardiner happened to mention Mr. Darcy’s name in passing when discussing the declining interest of long sleeves among the fashionable ladies.

“Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth said immediately. “How did you come to hear his opinion?”

“Why, did I not mention we have had occasion to meet Mr. Darcy?” Mrs. Gardiner said, trying to make her voice sound casual, for she had not intended to mention his name.

“No, you did not. Jane, did Aunt Gardiner talk of meeting Mr. Darcy in any of her letters to you?”

“I do not believe so. I cannot remember hearing of it until now.”

“Well, I thought I mentioned it,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “He dined once at our house, and he extended a like invitation before he returned to Derbyshire.”

“Mr. Darcy dined with our uncle?” Elizabeth said, almost angrily. “A man who makes a living in trade? I cannot believe it, Aunt. He would consider such an acquaintance a degradation. You must be making a joke of some kind.”

Mrs. Gardiner winced at the tone in Elizabeth’s voice. She was aware of her niece’s antipathy for the man, but her mood had become somewhat bitter. The rejection of her family by the neighbourhood seemed to affect her open and cheerful spirit more than it did her sisters.

“It is no jest,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “After what you related about that gentleman being so disagreeable, I was surprised to discover Mr. Darcy quite amiable. In light of the disappointments of the past year, I think you ought to give a person a chance to redeem himself.”

Elizabeth immediately realized her misstep and apologized. “You are right as usual. I suppose I am too disposed to be critical these days.”

Mrs. Gardiner was well aware of the gloom pervading Longbourn, which was not improved since her sister Bennet spent most days in her room, coming downstairs only rarely and then for not very long. “Well, we must invite you girls to visit us in town. A change in scenery might be just the thing to improve your outlook.”

All of the sisters except for Mary were exceedingly pleased by this proposal, and it was determined that Jane would visit first, followed by Elizabeth and then Kitty. With these decisions made, Mrs. Gardiner gathered her courage and departed upstairs to try to cheer her sister and persuade her to join the family.

The Gardiners stayed until a few days prior to the New Year before returning to town, taking Jane with them. Longbourn was a dreary place with Mr. Bennet ensconced in his library and his wife confining herself to her sitting room. No one visited save Mr. and Mrs. Philips.

With her aunt and uncle gone, taking her elder sister with her, Elizabeth returned to her long rambles when the weather allowed. She was not due to take Jane’s place until after the end of March, and she looked forward to it eagerly.

***

Friday, April 23, 1813
Covent Garden, London

Elizabeth’s turn to visit her aunt and uncle began in April, and she felt her spirits lighten as soon as she departed the environs of Longbourn. Her aunt had planned a number of engagements especially suited to Elizabeth’s lively nature, and one of the most appealing was a visit to the theatre.

On the scheduled evening, Elizabeth looked about her curiously as she descended from her uncle’s carriage in front of the Theatre Royal. She had not had many chances to attend the theatre since her father was not fond of London, and tonight’s excursion had been highly anticipated. A steady stream of people converged towards the entrance, all dressed in the latest fashions, many of which must have cost incredible sums of money. She and her aunt discussed which finery was in fashion and which ladies—and gentlemen—seemed not to know whether they looked well in the attire they had chosen for the night or not.

After being shown to their seats, Elizabeth saw much to engage and amuse her among the audience. She saw ladies walk slowly to their seat, conscious that many eyes followed them and enjoying the fact. Many a note was being passed to and from ladies who had already seated themselves. It seemed as though the drama executed by the audience might surpass the play soon to be performed on stage!

Mrs. Gardiner pointed out the two royal boxes. “As you know, relations between the king and his son were strained for years before the king became so mad he had to be restrained. There was an altercation here one evening in the Lower Rotunda between the two of them, and the papers were full of the sordid details for days. After this public display, the theatre would direct the King to the King’s side and the Prince Regent to the Prince’s side. I believe this theatre is the only one with that distinction, if it is correct to label such foolishness a distinction.”

Elizabeth found the story amusing and was looking around when she noticed a pair of opera glasses focused on her. Equally startled and flattered, she looked closer and was stunned to recognize the distinctive Darcy jaw.

At first, it seemed as though he might be looking at her aunt or uncle since they knew each other socially, but a second look made it clear he was looking directly at her. Such a fascination seemed exceedingly strange. After her unrestrained rejection of him in Kent, she knew Darcy would take pains to avoid any meeting between the two of them. And with the scandal attached to her family because of Lydia’s elopement, his aversion to any encounter would be even greater.

Yet it was undeniable that he was looking at her, and now Elizabeth wondered whether they would meet again. It was impossible that any interest remained on his part—his letter had made his disinclination unquestionable—but if they did meet during her visit, how would he act? Would he be as proud and haughty as he had been in Hertfordshire and Rosings, or would his behaviour be more in keeping with what her aunt had described? She could hardly guess, and Elizabeth wondered whether she should talk to her aunt to make sure they did not accept any invitations from Mr. Darcy during her visit.

As she was watching, she saw Darcy lower his glasses, and he fixed her with a familiar, intent gaze—the one she had so often misinterpreted. He gave a slow, grave nod of recognition, and Elizabeth was on the verge of returning the acknowledgement when she noticed Darcy was not alone in his box. Beside him was a young girl who had to be his sister, and next to her sat Mr. Bingley.

Neither Miss Darcy nor Mr. Bingley seemed to have noticed the path of Darcy’s gaze because they were involved in what was clearly an amiable and amusing conversation. Elizabeth was shocked to her core to witness the exact scene predicted by Caroline Bingley in her cruel letter to Jane upon quitting Netherfield. Instead of returning Darcy’s nod as she had intended, Elizabeth turned in her seat to face forward, her cheeks flushed red with anger and despair at the final extinction of any hope for her sister and Mr. Bingley.

She had much to think on during the performance, and it quite ruined any possibility of enjoying the play. At the interval, she steadfastly refused even to glance over her shoulder in the direction of the Darcy party, but she could no longer contain her curiosity when the play ended. In the process of rising to her feet and retrieving her shawl, she was able to cast a casual glance at Darcy’s box and found it empty.

She did not see him as she made her way out of the theatre. It was obvious Darcy had made his departure early, and Elizabeth was certain he had done so purposely to avoid any possibility of encountering her.

She did not know whether to feel relief or disappointment.

****

About A Covenant of Marriage

A Covenant of Marriage—legally binding, even for an unwilling bride!

Defined as a formal, solemn, and binding agreement or compact, a covenant is commonly used with regard to relations among nations or as part of a contract. But it can also apply to a marriage as Elizabeth Bennet learns when her father binds her in marriage to a man she dislikes. Against her protests that she cannot be bound against her will, the lady is informed that she lives under her father’s roof and, consequently, is under his control; she is a mere pawn in the proceedings.

With such an inauspicious beginning, how can two people so joined ever make a life together?

Buy on Amazon (U.S.) (U.K.)

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About the Author

C.P. Odom

By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics.

I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife’s beloved Jane Austen books after her passing. One thing led to another, and I now have four novels published: A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015), and Perilous Siege (2019). Two of my books are now audiobooks, Most Civil Proposal and Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets.

I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats. My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).

Connect with C.P. Odom on Facebook | Amazon Author Page | Goodreads | Meryton Press

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Giveaway

Meryton Press is generously offering 8 ebook copies of A Covenant of Marriage as part of the blog tour. You must enter through this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

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Thank you, Colin, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

Read Full Post »

I’m excited to welcome C.P. Odom to Diary of an Eccentric today to share an excerpt from his latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Perilous Siege. I’m intrigued by the idea of Pride and Prejudice in an alternate universe, and I hope you all are as well! Please give him a warm welcome!

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Good day, Anna. It’s a pleasure to be here at Diary of an Eccentric to share this excerpt from Perilous Siege with your readers. I hope your readers enjoy this scene between Jane and Elizabeth.

Thursday, November 28, 1811
Hertfordshire

Mrs. Bennet’s joy had begun to decline by the next day since she had already dragged Mary to see most of their friends. Since her two youngest daughters were more than desperate to escape from her presence, they expressed their inclination to walk to Meryton as they so often did in the mornings. Elizabeth was reluctant to go with them, despite her usual zest for exercise and sunshine, but Jane was most urgent in wishing her to come, and Elizabeth reluctantly relented.

Upon reaching the town, the group almost immediately met with Lieutenants Denny and Wickham, who greeted them warmly—or mostly so since Elizabeth noted his greeting to her was terser and less cordial than on previous occasions. However, since she was far more concerned with recovering from her encounter with Darcy, she paid his coolness little attention, especially since she knew he never could have had any intentions toward her because of her lack of money.

At her younger sisters’ insistence, Wickham joined their party when they went to their aunt’s house. When they arrived, Mrs. Philips was most enthusiastic about Mary’s good fortune. She was also cognizant of the events at the ball and slyly complimented both Jane and Elizabeth on their good fortune, even going so far as to wonder whether additional good news might not be forthcoming.

This latter statement was not received well by Wickham, who now carefully looked all about the room at everyone except Elizabeth. He realized why she had been so unresponsive on the first evening they met when he tried to spin his tale of Darcy’s malefactions toward himself. However, as a seasoned campaigner in the pursuit of the opposite sex, he put the topic from his mind. There were far more fish in the sea than Miss Elizabeth Bennet, even if she was one of the more delectable ones.

As Wickham and Denny walked back with them to Longbourn, the Netherfield ball remained the prime topic of conversation. Elizabeth noticed that Wickham continued to ignore her, seeming to pay more attention to her youngest sister, who was so flattered by the attention that she invited the two officers inside to introduce them to her father and mother.

Soon after their return, a letter arrived from Netherfield for Jane, who opened it immediately. Elizabeth saw her sister’s expression change as she read the sheet of paper covered on both sides with a fair, elegant hand. Though Jane collected herself and tried to join the conversation with her usual cheerfulness, Elizabeth knew her sister too well. She guessed the note came from Caroline Bingley, and her sisterly eye told her it contained news less than pleasant in nature. As soon as possible, even though Wickham and Denny had not yet departed, Elizabeth gave a nod of her head toward the stairs and both sisters went to Jane’s room.

There, Jane confirmed her suspicions. “This letter is from Caroline Bingley, and its contents have surprised me a good deal. It was written yesterday, and it says she and her sister have decided to follow their brother to London with none of them intending to return to Netherfield. Caroline does declare her only regret was being thus deprived of the society of me, her dearest friend.”

Despite the worries afflicting her, Elizabeth heard these high-flown expressions with her usual distrust of the writer’s sincerity. Yet, what she had heard so far did not explain the unhappiness she could see in her sister.

“While it is unlucky you did not have an opportunity to see your friends before they left the neighborhood, their leaving will not prevent Mr. Bingley from returning to Netherfield. In that case, the absence of your friends will be offset later by the greater happiness you will have as sisters.”

To this, Jane shook her head. “Caroline decidedly says none of their party will return into Hertfordshire this winter. She says her brother’s business in London will take more than the three or four days he imagined, and since he does not plan to return, she and her sister decided to follow him immediately so he would not be left alone without the company of family. She goes on to wish my Christmas in Hertfordshire would be joyous, and I would have so many beaux I would not feel the loss of their presence.”

Jane choked back a sob. “Do you not see, Lizzy? Caroline means Mr. Bingley will not come back this winter.”

“It is only evident Miss Bingley does not mean he should.”

“Why do you think so? It must be his decision since he is his own master. But there is more. Let me read you the most painful parts for me. I will keep nothing from you.”

Elizabeth could hear the pain in Jane’s voice as she read Caroline’s words singing the praises of Miss Georgiana Darcy and their hope that the affection she and Louisa held for Georgiana would soon be heightened by the three of them being sisters. She went on to talk of her brother’s great admiration for Georgiana, which she expected to deepen into a more serious association.

“Listen to what Caroline says: ‘With all these circumstances to favor an attachment, and nothing to prevent it, am I wrong, my dearest Jane, in indulging the hope of an event which will secure the happiness of so many?’

“What think you of this sentence, my dear Lizzy?” Jane said as she finished it. “Is it not clear enough? Does it not expressly declare Caroline neither expects nor wishes me to be her sister? That she is perfectly convinced of her brother’s indifference and, suspecting the nature of my feelings for him, means to most kindly put me on my guard? Can there be any other opinion on the subject?”

“Yes, there can, for mine is totally different. Dearest Jane, Miss Bingley knows her brother is in love with you while she and her sister wish him to marry Miss Darcy. As a result, the two of them followed their brother to town in the hope of keeping him there. Then she wrote you this despicable note to persuade you that he does not care about you.”

Jane shook her head.

“Indeed, Jane, you ought to believe me,” Elizabeth said urgently. “No one who has ever seen you and Mr. Bingley together can doubt his affection. Miss Bingley, I am sure, cannot. She is not such a simpleton. Could she have seen half as much love from Mr. Darcy for herself, she would have already ordered her wedding clothes.”

Jane looked doubtful since she had not seen Miss Bingley’s attentions to Darcy through the same eyes as Elizabeth.

“We are not rich enough or grand enough for her and her sister’s aspirations to rise in society, so Miss Bingley is anxious to attach Miss Darcy to her brother because it will aid in her goal of achieving a similar attachment for herself with Mr. Darcy. There is certainly some ingenuity in her plan since one marriage might well engender another.

“But you must not believe Miss Bingley when she tells you her brother greatly admires Miss Darcy since he never would have shown you the attentions I witnessed on Tuesday were it true. Miss Bingley is possibly mistaken in everything she writes, but it is far more likely she wrote with the object of deceiving you.”

“If we thought alike of Miss Bingley,” Jane replied, “what you say would make me feel quite easy. But your charges are not just. Caroline is incapable of willfully deceiving anyone. I simply hope she is deceived herself.”

“Believe that if you will not believe me. Believe her to be deceived, by all means. Now you have cleared your friend of my suspicions and must fret no longer.”

“But, my dear sister, can I be happy in accepting a man whose sisters and friends all wish him to marry elsewhere?”

“You must decide for yourself. If you find the misery of disobliging his two sisters too distressing in comparison to the happiness of being his wife, then I advise you to refuse him.”

Jane had to smile slightly at this comment. “You know better, Lizzy. I would be grieved at their disapprobation, but I could not hesitate.”

“I did not think you would.”

“But what if he returns no more this winter? If he does not return until summer? A thousand things may arise in six months!”

Elizabeth heaped scorn on the very idea of his returning no more. It appeared to be yet another of Caroline’s wishes. And how could such wishes influence a young man so independent and master of his own house and fortune?

She made this point as forcibly as possible and soon had the pleasure of seeing the growth of hope for Bingley’s return to Netherfield, which would answer every wish of Jane’s heart.

They were undecided on how much to tell their mother since they knew learning of the departure from Netherfield would alarm her. Since they could reach no decision, they decided simply to wait for further developments if they were to occur.

***

At twilight, Jane and Elizabeth’s worries about what to tell their mother were put to rest by the arrival of Mr. Darcy at Longbourn. Elizabeth easily recognized his figure as he turned his horse up the drive, and she quietly left the room and climbed the stairs to her chamber.

Darcy found all the ladies save Elizabeth in the parlor and greeted them in his usual, reserved fashion.

Turning to Jane, he said, “Mr. Bingley sent me a note today, asking me to inform you of his planned return to Netherfield in four or five days, which is longer than he had anticipated. My own party, including my sister and Major McDunn, will be returning to town before then since McDunn and I have business associated with our several enterprises.”

Mrs. Bennet received the news with a frown. She had not realized Bingley would be gone so long, but what concerned her more was Darcy’s sudden and unexpected departure. How would he make his declarations to Elizabeth if he did not return?

But Darcy saw the relief on Miss Bennet’s face, and he knew she had likely received some kind of distressing news, probably from Caroline Bingley.

I was right, Darcy thought to himself. Bingley’s note did not mention it, but it would be just like Caroline to try to throw Miss Bennet into despair by sending a nice, little, vicious note of some kind.

He was not surprised at Elizabeth’s absence. In light of their encounter, he had anticipated she would remove herself rather than meet him. From the intensity of her reaction and the totally unexpected passion she had revealed, there had been a remote possibility she might not truly comprehend the impossibility of a connection between them and could thus engage in a hopeless pursuit embarrassing to all parties.

He turned to Jane. “Please convey to your sister my most sincere felicitations and all hope she will have a joyous Christmas season—as I hope for all of your family. Farewell to you all, ladies.”

And so he departed, suddenly and precipitously, leaving Mrs. Bennet with an open mouth. She had been so involved with worrying about Elizabeth, she had not even had time to tell him of Mary’s impending marriage.

From the window of her room, Elizabeth watched the tall, handsome man mount his horse, and both her eyes and her heart followed his every movement. The grace and muscular power inherent in his performance of such a familiar action spoke to those parts of her that vainly loved and desired this unattainable man.

She was completely aware she might never see Darcy again, and she tried to memorize his every aspect as though it had to last her a lifetime. As he turned down the drive, she felt a stab of pain at how his head made not even the slightest movement to glance up at her window. It was apparent he was determined to abide by her parting words—that they should not meet again.

Her fingertips went to her cheek, only to find fresh tears there. At the moment, she was only cognizant of the desperate yearning in her heart for what could never be, and her tears became rasping sobs as her shoulders heaved with the grief derived from losing something incredibly dear.

Elizabeth felt a sudden impulse to dispel all propriety, to run down the stairs of Longbourn, and chase Darcy down the drive. Her words echoed in her mind as she called out to him, desperately begging him to pull her up behind him on his horse and carry her away to an unknown future with no regard for consequences.

But Elizabeth Bennet was a woman of her time, and thus, she did nothing. She could only watch as Darcy turned at the end of the drive and disappeared before she threw herself onto her bed and buried her head in her pillow.

What am I going to do? she wondered, her fist in her mouth to quell the sound of her sobs. How shall I ever get by?

***

Elizabeth was thankful it was almost a half-hour before she heard Jane’s footsteps in the hall, allowing her the time to get her emotions under regulation and to repair the evidence of her tears.

And Jane’s news did much to cheer her when Elizabeth learned the reason for Darcy’s visit.

“Did I not say as much, Jane?” Elizabeth said, forcing a laugh she believed to be unaffected. “I said Mr. Bingley would not be kept from Netherfield by his sisters’ departure! Do you not see his supposed attraction to Miss Darcy was entirely contrived by Caroline Bingley? I sat with Miss Darcy once when you were sick, and I discerned nothing on her part but polite attentiveness to Mr. Bingley.”

“Yes, you must be right. This is very difficult for me to understand, but Caroline must have written her note to deceive me. It is I who was deceived in thinking her a true friend.”

“There you see Miss Bingley’s skill in her polite and sophisticated ability to slip the knife of deceit into the back of another. No matter how attentive she and her sister were to you, I never trusted them—not at all. But let us not dwell on this! When she sees the failure of her efforts, I have no doubt her supposed friendship will make a sudden reappearance!”

“You are likely correct.” Jane was more than a little unhappy at being forced to this admission.

“That is because I love the sweetest and most unaffected sister.”

“And I love you, Lizzy,” Jane said then suddenly stepped forward and clasped Elizabeth’s arms when her sister would have turned away. “But I have to ask why your eyes are so red? Have you been crying on my behalf?”

Elizabeth made no response, and Jane went on. “That is the reason, is it not? You were distressed at the possibility of Bingley not returning to Netherfield, just as you always think of the happiness of others before your own.”

Jane did not get the response she expected since her sister would not meet her eyes and instead cast them downward.

“And why did you slip out of the room when Mr. Darcy arrived?” Jane asked slowly, her eyes on her sister. “I wondered that he did not ask for you. Instead, he sent his good wishes, but the words seemed more like a farewell than the usual pleasantry. And now I find you have been crying, and you never cry!”

Elizabeth hugged herself and turned to the window and the darkness beyond, which seemed to mirror the darkness she felt inside. At length, she said, “It was a farewell, Jane. I shall not see him again.”

“But how can it be?” Jane cried. “I saw the two of you at the ball, and my heart swelled for joy at how at ease both of you seemed, how well you appeared to be getting on. What has happened?”

To this, Elizabeth made no response at first. When she finally turned around, Jane was shocked to see tears flowing down her sister’s face.

“Whatever is the matter, Lizzy? What has distressed you so? Oh, now all my joy at Mr. Darcy’s news is gone!”

Elizabeth met her sister’s eyes. “I love him, Jane.”

At these shattering words, Jane simply collapsed onto the bed. “Mr. Darcy?” she said in shock. “You love Mr. Darcy?”

Elizabeth nodded, and her voice broke. “I do, Jane. I think I love him more than life itself.”

“How can this be?” Jane said in complete disbelief. “I know he danced with you, and I have heard the whispers our neighbors have made about you, but I never saw any indication of a particular regard!”

Elizabeth came over and sat beside her, taking one of her hands in both of hers and clasping it to her chest. “It just…happened. And I am ashamed to tell you, it did not even seem like love. Not at first. Not from the first night.”

“At the assembly?”

Elizabeth nodded. “From the first time I laid eyes on him. I felt a sudden surge of a most shocking and inexplicable attraction. It spread through my whole body. It was…disturbing.”

“Not love? I do not understand, Lizzy.”

“It was passion, Jane. The passion a woman feels for a man. The passion a wife feels for her wedded husband, which is supposed to be consummated in the marriage bed.

“I did not understand my feelings, at first. They were new and foreign—nothing I ever imagined. I tried to shove them away, pretend they did not exist, but I could not. They went too deep and…and they affected me in ways I could not explain.”

Jane could only stare at her dear sister as Elizabeth searched for words.

“Every time I met Mr. Darcy, every time our fingers touched when we danced, I could feel the attraction he had for me, and I was lost. He invaded my dreams—but I did not realize at first that it was Mr. Darcy who came into my bedroom in my dreams. Only slowly did I connect those dreams with him. And I was equally slow to put a name to what I felt—what had taken possession of me.”

Elizabeth went silent, staring into the night, until Jane asked softly, “And that was…?”

“It was passion, dear sister—physical passion for a man when I had no intimation such an attraction even existed.”

“Nor do I,” Jane said slowly.

“It is more than simple passion now, Jane. Much more. I knew it as soon as we danced together. I felt something I never imagined to feel with this man; I felt as though I belonged in his arms. And I am certain he felt something similar—an acceptance of me as a woman.”

Elizabeth was silent for a moment before going on. “But make no mistake, Jane. My passion for Mr. Darcy was real—is real. Do you remember how our mother warned of the misfortune of the marriage bed? And how we should just lie still since it would soon be over?”

Jane nodded, and Elizabeth continued. “Well, it seems some women—not our mother, I am sure—must take pleasure in the carnal side of marriage. They must desire it. As I desire it.”

Jane’s lack of understanding was clear to see, but she asked no questions, so Elizabeth could only continue. “Imagine how I felt after the assembly with unaccountable longings plaguing me. I could come to no other conclusion than I was wanton—a harlot in fact. A woman who seeks physical intimacy for her own gratification.”

“You cannot be wanton, Lizzy.”

“What other conclusion could I reach? I had no one to advise me. I thought once or twice that Aunt Gardiner might be able to help me since she is so much more levelheaded and sensible than our mother. But we see her so seldom.”

“But you keep talking about feeling passion for Mr. Darcy—”

Elizabeth nodded. “I wanted to feel his touch. And I wanted to touch him. It is shameful, I know, but I wanted it then, and I want it still.”

Elizabeth rose from the bed and went back to look out the window. “But as I said, now there is more. I love Mr. Darcy, as well as desire him, even though we both know I did not like him when I first met him. He had so many disagreeable traits—pride, haughtiness, selfishness, and a disdain for others. He still has those traits. It is the side of himself he shows the world.”

Elizabeth began to pace the room. “And with the realization of my feelings, something inside me changed since I saw the side of him you spoke of—how he is pleasant and amiable with those he knows well. He showed that side to me at the ball, and my joy overflowed when we went into supper with the way he smiled and talked easily with me. He wanted to be with me the way I wanted to be with him. He still has those faults I first saw, but he is more than those faults.”

Elizabeth stopped and looked out the window for a time before she spoke again. “The simple fact is: I love this very complicated man, and I want more than just passion from him. I want to be with him always. I want to love him and make him feel loved. I want him to make love to me, I want to bear his children and raise them. Most of all, I want to be his companion and grow old with him.”

She turned around, and Jane saw her tears had returned. “And it shall never be, Jane. Not ever. I saw everything change in just a few minutes. We were conversing as we never had before, and Mr. Darcy was smiling and laughing with a warmth I had never seen. I am convinced, at that moment, that he was entertaining the possibility I might bring him happiness.

“Then my mother destroyed everything,” she said, with flat, cold finality.

“How?”

“As she usually does—by her words. You were too far away to hear, but she crowed aloud about her good fortune. She would soon have one daughter well settled in Derbyshire and another at Netherfield Park. And the other girls would then be in company with other rich men. She did not say these things quietly, but announced them to all about her with Mr. Darcy and me sitting less than ten feet away!”

Jane closed her eyes in shared pain.

“Everything changed. Suddenly, Mr. Darcy was his haughty, prideful self, and all my dreams were less than mist—gone as though they never existed. Mr. Darcy reverted to the man I first met, a man of his class, a man who will choose a wife who can bring fortune or station to the marriage. I can bring nothing.”

“But Bingley—”

“—is not Darcy. Those things matter little to him. His fortune was earned in trade by his father. While our own father’s fortune may not match his, our family has been part of the gentry for generations. But Darcy is different. That is why he only gave a disguised farewell tonight. We agreed to as much at Netherfield.”

Elizabeth could say no more for she could not hold back her sobs any longer. Jane opened her arms to her, embracing her fiercely and pulling her down to the bed beside her while her brave and independent sister wept uncontrollably for a love that could never be.

Jane said nothing, for there was nothing to say. She just held Elizabeth close until her poor sister finally cried herself to sleep.

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About Perilous Siege

What is the Siege Perilous, and how does it affect the lives of everyone in the Regency universe of Pride & Prejudice?

When a man dressed in bizarre attire suddenly appears in a field on his Pemberley estate, Fitzwilliam Darcy has little inkling of the many and startling changes this man’s strange arrival will have on his life, his family’s lives, and indeed, his whole world.

Mysteriously sent to the Regency world of Pride and Prejudice, this refugee from a future Armageddon is befriended by Darcy. How will the presence of Major Edward McDunn influence the events of Jane Austen’s signature work, especially the tangled courtship between Darcy and the complex and endearing Elizabeth Bennet?

Buy on Amazon

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About the Author

C.P. Odom

By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the  Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics. I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife’s beloved Jane Austen books after her passing.  One thing led to another, and I now have three novels published:  A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), and Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015).  My fourth novel, Perilous Siege, was recently published in the second quarter of 2019.

I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats.  My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).

Connect with C.P. Odom: C.P. Odom’s Facebook Page | C.P. Odom’s Amazon Page | C.P. Odom’s Goodreads Page | C.P. Odom’s Meryton Press Page

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Giveaway

Meryton Press is offering eight eBooks copies of Perilous Siege. The giveaway runs until midnight, April 21, 2019. You must use this Rafflecopter link to enter. Good luck!

Terms and Conditions:

Readers may enter the drawing by tweeting once a day and daily commenting on a blog post or a review that has a giveaway attached for the tour. Entrants must provide the name of the blog where they commented. If an entrant does not do so, that entry will be disqualified.

One winner per contest. Each winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and the giveaway is international.

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April 8 / My Jane Austen Book Club / Guest Post

April 10 / My Vices and Weaknesses / Book Excerpt

April 12 / Austenesque Reviews / Character Interview

April 13 / Just Jane 1813 / Meet C.P. Odom

April 14 / Margie’s Must Reads / Book Review

April 15 / Babblings of a Bookworm / Book Excerpt

April 16 / From Pemberley to Milton / Vignette

April 17 / Diary of an Eccentric / Book Excerpt

April 18 / More Agreeably Engaged / Guest Post

A big thanks to C.P. Odom for being my guest today. Congratulations on your new book!

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pride, prejudice and secrets

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★★

Despite her light-headedness, she was stunned at the absence of his usual reserve and distant demeanour.  Gone was the stiff, wooden expression that she associated with him.  Instead, his face was suffused with obvious joy and warmth, especially when he looked at her.  Despite herself, she could not completely resist the gratification of being examined in such a manner.  In that state of mixed emotions and befuddled thoughts, she closed her eyes against the bright light and thus was unaware of Darcy leaping to catch her as she swooned.

(from Pride, Prejudice & Secrets)

Quick summary: Pride, Prejudice & Secrets, C.P. Odom’s latest variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, imagines what might have happened if Elizabeth Bennet fell ill while staying with Mr. and Mrs. Collins at Hunsford, and when Mr. Darcy proposes to her, albeit it in a nicer fashion, her foggy-headed response is taken as a yes.  Elizabeth still views him as the last man in the world she would ever marry, but as she regains her physical and mental strength, she realizes breaking the engagement may not be as easy as she’d hoped.  And as she observes Mr. Darcy more closely and gets to know his sister, she begins to think that maybe she had been too hasty in her harsh judgments.  Odom takes readers along for the ride as Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship grows, showing how the secrets they keep from each other change the lives of their family and friends.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been wanting to read more of Odom’s work, since I loved his last novel, Consequences, so much.

What I liked: Odom is a great storyteller, and I loved how he made the wars with France and America take on a greater role in this variation.  It gave more depth to a novel that remains, at its core, a love story.  And in that vein, I enjoyed how Odom heated things up between Elizabeth and Darcy without being too descriptive or stepping too far outside the bounds of propriety.  But most of all, I loved how Odom made Mr. Collins more likeable; took several characters down different paths, including Jane Bennet, Mr. Wickham, and Caroline Bingley; introduced another Darcy cousin, Captain Fitzwilliam; and even let Elizabeth and Darcy play matchmaker for Colonel Fitzwilliam.

What I disliked: The only think I disliked was that the story had to end, but a detailed epilogue provided a very satisfying conclusion.

Final thoughts: Pride, Prejudice & Secrets is the perfect Austen variation for readers who want a happily ever after for Darcy and Elizabeth but want something different when it comes to the secondary characters.  Odom is not afraid to take risks and shake things up in his Austen variations.  (His last one even made me cry!)  I’ve read a lot of sweet and enjoyable Pride and Prejudice variations, but this was the first one in a long time that really wowed me and made me stay up late to find out what would happen next.

Thanks to Leatherbound Reviews for having me on the tour for Pride, Prejudice & Secrets.  To learn more about the book and follow the tour, click the banner below.

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Disclosure: I received Pride, Prejudice & Secrets from Meryton Press for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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consequences

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★★

Elizabeth had once believed she would rather know a fact, even if it were unwelcome, rather than just speculate, but she wondered now if false hope was not better than no hope at all.

(from Consequences, page 98)

Consequences is a thought-provoking retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with two novellas joined together into a novel about the consequences of missed opportunities and how doing just one thing differently can turn everything around.  The first part imagines how Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s lives would have played out had she rejected his proposal at Hunsford and then missed running into him later on when she tours Pemberley with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.  The second part has Elizabeth, with the help of her best friend, Charlotte, taking a more practical approach to Mr. Darcy’s first proposal, accepting it as a means of saving her family in the event of her father’s death despite her fears of being trapped in an unhappy marriage.

I will not divulge any more of the plot because this is a novel that should be experienced the way I experienced it, not knowing how either journey would play out and going through a roller-coaster of emotions.  I even teared up at one point and had to explain to my husband why I was so sad.  I couldn’t believe an Austen-inspired novel made me cry, but that’s what I loved so much about it.  Odom’s tale felt almost too real at times, as some decisions lead people on a rocky path lined with tragedy, and a bittersweet ending is the most that can be hoped for.  But there also were times when I sighed with relief and cheered on the characters (scenes involving Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine immediately come to mind).

Odom’s take on Pride and Prejudice is thoughtful, emphasizes the complexity of the novel and the many different outcomes that could have occurred, and prompts readers to think about the characters’ motivations, decisions, and ultimate fates in the context of Austen’s time.  Having read a number of Pride and Prejudice retellings, I admire Odom’s courage in taking the characters on at least one journey that many Austen fans might find difficult to imagine for their beloved characters.  For readers who wonder about the proliferation of Austen fiction these days, Consequences really drives home the point that one seemingly small change in the plot can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the story and highlights why many people are fascinated by all the different ways it could have been told.

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Disclosure: I received Consequences from Meryton Press for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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