Guest Blog: Kathryn L. Nelson

PemberleyManor_QC.inddPemberly Manor by Kathryn L. Nelson

Caroline Bingley knows she’s down for the count, and Jane Austen leave us with the suggestion that her behavior materially improves once she has accepted her loss of Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet. I wonder…

Pemberley Manor was Reviewed by Natasha Zwick for JASNA SW:

“Lesson-wise, a primary theme comes from the mouth of Jane Bennet, but accurately reflects the philosophy of both Bennet sisters – and, I’d argue, all happy people; “Happiness,” she tells Caroline, “is a choice we make for ourselves.” Nelson shows us that even with the right man, a woman must daily choose happiness in order to secure it.

“I recommend that you choose happiness – by reading this book.”

Those of you who are fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will agree, I’m sure, that Caroline Bingley is a character you love to hate. She is everything a villainess should be – conniving, conceited, haughty and very smart. I freely admit that the obsession that led to me writing Pemberley Manor had initially to do with Fitzwilliam Darcy and his bride Elizabeth Bennett. But no self-respecting Jane Austen sequel should be without its malevolent foil, and Caroline Bingley serves the purpose.

Romance is about connections, bridges between people that seem unlikely at first sight. I envisioned Caroline Bingley’s role in my book as a study in comeuppances and wrong-headed intentions. After her diligence in rying to prevent her brother from marrying Jane Bennett, and her obvious and all too public expectation of snaring Darcy herself, Caroline was left by Jane Austen with a very bitter pill to swallow when both Bennett sisters got their men.

And so, in Pemberley Manor, when the Darcys needed some rest after a very tumultuous wedding  night. I turned to Caroline to see how she might be handling her frustration. With such a temperament as hers, I couldn’t imagine that she would allow herself any public display of disappointment. No, scathing wit must be her weapon. and when the opportunity presented itself, she would not be above a bit of malicious meddling.

I confess this is one of the things I love most about Jane Austen: characters like Caroline Bingley. Her treatment of even the most conniving and self-centered of them contains a kernel of benevolence. Her “bad” characters make themselves miserable enough with their own meanness or stupidity, and we are meant to offer them at least a crumb of pity. I ultimately allowed the Bennett sisters to play the forgiving angels – an easy role to imagine for them since Jane Austen had made them  the victors in their battle with Caroline – but not before Elizabeth has a little fun with her.

Caroline finds herself trapped in a carriage with the Darcys and decided to have a little sport. When she can’t get a rise out of Darcy, she turns her attention to Elizabeth:

“When do you go to London? I suppose you shall want to shop for the summer,” she said, with an amused glance at Mrs Darcy’s simple frock.

As Elizabeth leaned forward attentively, Darcy saw with amused anticipation that her keen sense of the ridiculous had been aroused… Lizzie addressed herself to Miss Bingley in a conspiratorial style.

“You know, I have so little experience of the delights of London, I confess I am a bit reluctant to venture into society there. I am afraid Mr Darcy’s friends will find me quite naive and countrified.” She added softly. “I am sensible that some may even see me as quite an unsuitable wife for a man in his position. I hope I will be able to avail myself of your kindness, for I am sure that an introduction from someone in your position would open doors that otherwise might be close to me.” She settled back against the bench wearing a smile of contentment, and Darcy found that he required the aide of a rather violent atack of coughing to control the laughter that was threatening to undo his composure.

Elizabeth finishes with a one-two punch:

“Mr Darcy has been kind enough not to criticise my wardrobe, and in fact I think at times he barely notices what I am wearing,” she said, patting his arm, “but I am sure you must appreciate that a woman in my position cannot be too careful about her attire. I fear that people are often all too willing to judge a person by their appearance.”

She paused, allowing Miss Bingley time to regret nearly every moment of the last few minutes, and loosed her final arrow: “Would it be too presumptuous of me to ask that you recommend me to your own tailor, Miss Bingley, for you are always so exquisitely dressed.”

Even Miss Bingley begins to understand that she has met her match. but ultimately, when a misguided plot of Caroline’s threatens to spin out of control, Elizabeth and Jane turn a tender and compassionate hand to her plight. The question then becomes, what effect will their kindness have on her behavior?

Forgiveness and the lack of it are at the core of Pemberley Manor. It’s relatively easy to work out the result with a fictional character, but real life is rarely as simple. Does forgiving necessarily involve forgetting? Is revenge what we really yearn for? Thanks for the invitation to ramble on – I look forward to hearing your comments.