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I’m delighted to welcome Don Jacobson back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of Lessers and Betters. Don is here today to talk about the novellas bundled in the book and share an excerpt. Please give him a warm welcome!

I have often pondered the appeal of novels like Pride and Prejudice to a 21st Century audience. Back in the Regency when Miss Austen wrote her masterpiece, her contemporaries (those who could, first, read and, second, afford to purchase her book) saw P&P as being about (loosely, I will admit) people like us…the gentry and the aristocracy.

Now, in more egalitarian times…although there will be those who point to the 1%/99% divide…the popularity of the book has vaulted it into the forefront of readers’ favorites. Yet, how many of us can actually identify with Elizabeth Bennet…the daughter of a family earning the 2018 equivalent of about $187,000 every year? Recall, too, that the Bennets owned Longbourn free and clear in an era of no income tax and no property tax. Likewise, while they would have had to pay a window tax and an annual carriage tax, the bulk of their moneys could be reserved for gowns and ribbons and trips to Town.

Perhaps that is the appeal…much like the lottery. Easy street. No worries. It also explains the terror Mrs. B felt when she considered the entail.

The less we think of Mr. Darcy’s $1 Million a year, the better.

Of course, this would explain Caroline Bingley’s $2 Million dowry…given her personality.

However, while t’is blissful to romanticize about teas, assemblies, sideboards groaning with food, and fine brandy, there are a group of characters found in all of the Canonical books who are virtually invisible. However, without these persons, none of the softly cushioned lifestyles written about could have existed.

I am, of course, speaking of the servants. Rarely are they seen at the far end of Miss Austen’s quill except to open doors, serve meals, or dash off to fetch smelling salts.

This has, over the course of my career writing #InspiredByAusten fiction, piqued my historian’s imagination. We are now in a post-modern era where social scientists are examining events, discourses, and narratives from a subaltern’s (sergeant’s) point-of-view. Rather than history composed around those who had the power to write it, we now examine those who lived in it, but who never merited the attention of those who sought to portray that which shaped the times.

That led to, first, the novella Of Fortune’s Reversal which examined the events of November 5, 1815 from the gentry’s point of view. This novella was followed by another, The Maid and The Footman, that explored the same sequence, but as seen and experienced by two members in service to the Cecil household where Kitty Bennet was employed as governess.

While the two stories were published about four months apart in 2016 with Of Fortune’s Reversal being first, I had never intended to create paired novellas approaching the same events from two different perspectives; or, to pay tribute to a classic, akin to Upstairs, Downstairs. Of Fortune’s Reversal was simply designed as a “Kitty” story as part of my process of building her book in The Bennet Wardrobe series.

However, in the rosy hue of post-publication, the contours of The Maid and The Footman started to rise from the freshly planted terrain. T’was a short step to apprehend that there was a reason that I first had Sergeant Henry Wilson and then, later, Annie Reynolds identify themselves in the course of the action that made up Of Fortune’s Reversal. Those who are familiar with my process know that I do not apply names to characters unless they will play a larger role than a soul who lights the fireplace or opens the door for The Quality.

I have decided to offer both books together under one cover because it is my belief that the experience of absorbing the two discourses—that of the betters followed by that of the lessers—will offer the most rewarding experience as a reader considers the themes flowing through Great Britain as its social structure metamorphosed. Moving directly from one to the other without an intervening gap of weeks or months will (hopefully) create a deeper inner dialogue over which readers can mull.

As a parting note, I would urge readers to consider the following thought:

Wealth confers no greater nobility on the “haves” and no less on the “have nots.” Humans experience the deepest emotions and seek out connections of love whether they drink the tea…or serve it.

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Please enjoy this excerpt from Lessers and Betters:

This excerpt is © 2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. No republication in any form—either electronic or print—without the expressed written consent of the author is permitted.

From Chapter VIII in The Maid and The Footman

Wilson stationed himself near where Miss Bennet would stop and rest when she was not dancing. From her heightened color and happy looks, he could tell that the lady was thoroughly enjoying herself. She rarely wanted for partners as one of the Cecil gentlemen always made a point of seeking her hand. Even the young Duke of Wilton was shooed over by his wife, the former Lady Emily Cecil, to invite her old friend to take a turn on the floor. The only time Miss Bennet’s countenance drooped was when one of the men of the ton, attracted by her blonde hair and shining china-blue eyes, would discover she was the Cecil governess and abruptly turn on his heel without another word.

Henry was not sure of the reason why he placed himself near Miss Bennet. There was his soldier’s sense of loyalty to his charge. His job during the daytime was to make sure that Miss Bennet and Miss Margaret were safe—not that the governess was in any danger

at the ball—although he had an uneasy feeling which had been nagging at him for the past few hours. Perhaps he wanted to be nearby in case she required him to run an errand, one that would necessitate his seeking out Miss Reynolds for Miss Bennet’s shawl. Whatever the case, Henry Wilson positioned himself about five feet behind her and to her left.

His eyes scanned the crowd of post-midnight revelers. Only a few of the more elderly had departed for their townhomes. The noise level had increased as the younger aristocracy began to feel the exuberance of a carefree existence that only uncountable wealth could bring. More people crowded onto the dance floor, leaving those on the sidelines conspicuous in their immobility.

Miss Bennet glanced back over her left shoulder at Henry, and with a smile to him, indicated that she wished a glass of champagne from his tray. He stepped forward and bowed slightly so that she could take her drink. Looking past, he saw a tall, slender, red headed woman making a beeline for Miss Bennet from across the room.

To Wilson’s eye, this woman was at least five and more likely ten years older than Miss Bennet. As she neared her quarry, he could see that her complexion was well rouged and powdered, probably in an effort to restore the luster of a youth that had fled some time before. More likely, all she accomplished was to hide some of the more obvious ravages of time. She was dressed as good Queen Bess, but the ridiculously accurate high collar coupled with her already long frame left an impression of a carnival actor navigating the room on stilts. Henry could see a steely glint in her hazel green eyes. Whoever she was, she bore not friendship, but rather disdain, for Miss Bennet.

“Miss Bennet. I am quite surprised to come across you here at the Cecil Masque,” the woman fluted between teeth clenched in a rictus that bespoke astonishment, “How did you ever secure such a coveted invitation? I doubt if it was through your connections in Cheapside.”

Miss Bennet’s face soured at the verbal assault, but she politely replied using an epee rather than a saber, “Why Miss Bingley…it is still Miss Bingley, is it not? What a pleasure it is to meet you again. Why it has to be nearly four years since we last saw you before you left Netherfield. I do hope you are faring well. Your note of condolence upon our father’s death was so comforting.”

Wilson stepped back to his earlier position, making sure to keep his face impassive.

I think I am about to see how ladies do battle. These two have no love lost whatsoever. I doubt if this Miss Bingley—how did she ever secure an invitation, I wonder—is aware that Miss Bennet spent the last few years by the side of a Cecil, and a future Duchess at that, learning the art of social war!

The faux-Elizabeth arched her eyebrows as she absorbed the slight about her marital status. Then she tried a flanking attack.

“Yes, my brother and sister and I were all so devastated that your father’s death forced dear Jane and Eliza into taking employment. But, I imagine even Mr. Darcy, the height of condescension, felt that this was the best they could expect thanks to your father’s

indolent ways. I had heard that your sisters relocated to the hinterlands away from the city. Was it Glasgow? Dublin? I imagine you were so distressed when your Uncle acted like a common tradesman and required them to leave his house in the midst of their grief.”

Wilson ground his teeth as he listened to Miss Bingley pile insults atop insults. He had heard Miss Bennet relate to Annie that her uncle had not demanded that any of his nieces find employment. On the contrary, her two elder sisters could not bear to be a burden on a household with four small children. Another sister—the middle one—had married a sea captain in the Gardiner line. His share of the profits would make the couple quite comfortable.

Miss Bennet maintained her composure and replied evenly, “Oh, Miss Bingley, you are mistaken. Both Jane and Elizabeth decided that their futures would be away from London. Honestly, I think they needed to be absent from Town and the poor memories associated with some areas like Mayfair. My aunt and uncle could not convince them to stay. It is true that my Papá did not plan for our security, but my uncle has more than enough resources to keep his two favorite nieces close at hand. Why, he asked after them just last week when he stopped by Cecil House to meet with Lord Tom and his brother.”

Thrust and parry.

Miss Bingley fired another shot, “I can give no credit to your account. I am surprised that Lord Thomas Cecil would be willing to meet with anyone from trade here at Cecil House. Why even my brother, for whom I am still hostess, has the delicacy to conduct those sorts of meetings away from home. And, when I am Mistress of Pemberley, I will force Mr. Darcy to cut any ties with those in trade. His man of business is good enough for that!

“Those in the trade have such inferior manners. But so do many of those in the gentility, especially if they hail from countrified regions like Hertfordshire. I recall how much you and your uncontrollable sister—what was her name—Lily? Lara?—danced like wild hoydens with all the soldiers at that wretched assembly my brother forced us to attend. But I doubt if you have had the opportunity to dance like that tonight…because you are Lord Thomas and Lady Mary’s governess.”

This last vitriolic salvo was delivered with the triumphant sneer so well known by familiars of that particular daughter of trade. She then sought to push her advantage home. Dropping all pretense of being polite, Miss Bingley reached out and grabbed Miss Bennet’s dance card that was dangling from her left wrist; the same hand in which she held her glass of champagne.

The remaining liquid splashed out onto the floor as Miss Bennet’s hand was yanked forward.

“I imagine that this card is blank, as it should be for an employee overstepping her bounds by presuming to be on the same level as members of the ton.”

Henry stepped forward to Miss Bennet’s side. He had already lifted the napkin draped over his arm and had dropped it atop the golden puddle before it spread to the hem

of her gown. Then he gently removed the glass from her hand, still held captive by the silk ribbon stretching from her wrist to Miss Bingley’s hand. He glanced at the governess’ face.

Oh, this Bingley woman has overcharged her musket like a raw recruit. Wonder if she left the ramrod in as well. There is going to be an interesting explosion in a moment. Just look at the arch of Miss Bennet’s eyebrow and the set of her lips!

Caroline snapped open the card. Then her face began to grow pale for the card was filled with names that could only have been improved if one had been the Prince Regent’s! Her eyes widened as she saw monikers that were familiar to her only from the columns in the Times.

Henry dipped to wipe the floor and remove the cloth. As he stepped back, the tableau of Queen Elizabeth facing Marie Antoinette across the centuries stuck in his mind.

Miss Bennet gently tugged her arm backward away from Miss Bingley. Miss Bingley released the dance card from numb fingers. She never moved; her widened eyes locked on Miss Bennet’s face.

Miss Bennet began her final assault.

“So, Miss Bingley, perhaps what truly is is not what you have wished it to be. Perhaps some of the ton are not so insensitive as to ignore a guest forced to sit out a dance because the social sensibilities of others would leave an unaccompanied lady without a partner.

“I happen to recall a particular gentleman from Derbyshire being called out by a young lady from Hertfordshire for exactly that same boorish behavior.

“Yes, it is true that I am governess to Miss Margaret Cecil. And, yes, it is also true that I receive wages for my services. But, Miss Bingley, you must know that I, too, have chosen to relieve the burden of my welfare from my uncle’s shoulders.

“Jane, Lizzy, and Mary could have remained in Meryton and lived with our Mama, Lydia—yes her name is Lydia—and me off of Mamá’s 5,000-pound portion. But can you imagine six women maintaining themselves on 150 pounds a year?

“My older sisters knew that they had to make their own way in the world. They refused to condemn all of us to poverty; and it would be a poverty not of the genteel kind about which the novelists so happily declaim as some sort of virtue.

“Mrs. Bennet may have been a foolish woman when you knew her, but Papá’s death changed her. With my three older sisters away from the family, Mama took some of her money to send Lydia and me to seminary.

“I have not heard from my sister these past few months, but I know she is healthy and happy because I feel it here.” At that she laid her gloved hand above her heart. “Just as I know that Lizzy, Jane, Mary, and Mamá are all well.

“Can you say the same about Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Hurst? I imagine not.

“So, I may be a governess, but I was happy this morning. I am happy tonight. And tomorrow, I will awake happy because I know that there are people who want me near and that those whom I love are they themselves happy.

“And tomorrow morning…what will you be, Miss Bingley?I

“Oh, you must excuse me. I see my next partner coming. Will yours know where to find you?”

Match to Miss Bennet with first blood. Perhaps Miss Bingley would like a glass of champagne? I think not. Likely she has had enough of that drink for the time being!

I This was inspired by Sir Winston Churchill’s famous exchange with Lady Astor from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/my-dear-you-are-ugly-but-tomorrow-i-shall-be-sober-and-you-will-still-be-ugly-winston-churchill-tops-8878622.html accessed 10/3/16

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About Lessers and Betters

Experience Love As It Blooms Upstairs and Downstairs

Lessers and Betters asserts that class is an imaginary distinction conferring no better manners on the haves and no lesser nobility on the have-nots and that the deepest human emotions are universal and ignore wealth or status.

Now for the first time under the same cover, discover the paired novellas that explore the remarkable events of November 5, 1815 when the Cecil Governess, Kitty Bennet, was grievously injured as she defended her charge. What rests behind the attack? Readers of Lessers and Betters will experience a unique literary approach that offers both gentry and servant perspectives presented in their own self-contained novellas.

Of Fortunes Reversal: A brisk Hyde Park morning is shattered by a child’s scream. How two gently-born adults react in those next few desperate moments sets the plot in motion that is a unique reconsideration of the traditional Pride and Prejudice memes. Of Fortune’s Reversal is a novella-length tale based upon an inversion of Mrs. Bennet’s exclamation that with one good marriage, the other girls would be thrown in front of rich men. What if the well-wed sister was neither Jane nor Elizabeth?

The Maid and The Footman: Explore the growing affection between a young lady’s maid, Annie Reynolds, and a retired sergeant, Henry Wilson: ultimately a love story as great as any written by the immortals. In the Jane Austen universe, the celebrated novels are written from the point-of-view of the landed gentry. Servants are rarely seen except to open doors, serve dinner, or fetch smelling salts. Follow Annie and Henry as they combine with General Sir Richard Fitzwilliam and Miss Bennet to defeat an awesome threat aimed at the heart of the British Empire.

The combined volume is approximately 82,000 words in length.

Buy Lessers and Betters on Amazon.

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About the Author

Don Jacobson

Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years.  His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio.  His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards.  He has previously published five books, all non-fiction.  In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe SeriesThe Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series.  Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”

 Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations.  As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.

He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound.  Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).

He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear.  Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.

His other passion is cycling.  Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills).  He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days).  Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).

Connect with Don: WebsiteAmazon Author Page | Goodreads Author Page | Twitter

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Giveaway

Don is generously offering an ebook copy of Lessers and Betters to one lucky reader! To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. We’d love to hear what you think of the excerpt! This giveaway will be open through Sunday, June 24, 2018. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Don, for being my guest today. It’s always a pleasure to share your books with my readers. Congratulations on your latest release!

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