Authors: Rebecca Ann Collins
Tags: #Historical, #Romance
The Pemberley Chronicles The Women of Pemberley Netherfield Park Revisited Mr Darcy's Daughter
My Cousin Caroline Postscript from Pemberley Recollections of Rosings A Woman of Influence The Legacy of Pemberley
Copyright (c) 2008 by Rebecca Ann Collins
Cover and internal design (c) 2008 by Sourcebooks, Inc. Cover photo (c) Fine Art Photographic Library
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Collins, Rebecca Ann.
The ladies of Longbourn : a companion volume to Jane Austen's Pride and prejudice /
devised and compiled by Rebecca Ann Collins.
1. England--Social life and customs--19th century--Fiction. 2. Domestic fiction. I.
Austen, Jane, 1775-1817. Pride and prejudice. II. Title.
The characters "borrowed" from Jane Austen and those that Rebecca Ann Collins has created have all come some way since the days of
Pride and Prejudice.
In such a period during which England has undergone a dynamic transformation in industrial, political, and social terms, it would have been incredible that these men and women would have remained like petrified statues, untouched by the turbulence that swirled around them.
Nor is it possible to accept that they continue to be engaged only in matters of romance, gossip, and intrigue, while the forces that shaped Victorian England, reflected in the work of the Brontes and Charles Dickens, passed them by. That would be unrealistic and unfair to the intelligent and compassionate characters that Jane Austen created and certainly not believable of the men and women devised by Ms Collins.
The Ladies of Longbourn
, the myth of the conventional Victorian marriage is explored, revealing that women, however well brought up, were not immune from making serious errors of judgment that jeopardized their chances of happiness. That women must and did always accept a bland, passive role in return for material security is neither acceptable nor true.
How young Anne-Marie Bingley confronts and overcomes the trauma of such a situation, and its effect upon her family and friends, is seen against the background of a society where the pressures are increasing upon individuals and their families. It is a difficult and complex period, when old standards are being questioned and individual integrity is tested. It is, nevertheless, an era when certain basic values of decency and decorum may yet be applied to the conduct of men and women, whose worth may not be judged by wealth or beauty alone.
Jane Austen may not have been altogether comfortable in the world that was mid-Victorian England, but her characters would have had the stamina and wit to deal with its challenges. Ms Collins certainly believes this to be true and, while the original Austen characters provide the framework of accepted values in this story, those of the next generation such as Jonathan Bingley and his daughter Anne-Marie make their own choices and must live with them. The importance that Jane Austen placed upon personal responsibility is endorsed and reflected throughout as the characters are observed with both humor and affection.
Many of these characters will be familiar to readers of the earlier Pemberley novels, but inevitably, there are new faces and names. For those who need an aide-memoire, a list of the main characters is provided in the Appendix.
INGLEY HEARD THE
news, delivered by express post from Harwood House, she was at first so numb with shock that she could not move for several minutes from the chair in which she was seated.
Afterwards, she rose and went to find Mr Bingley and tell him that John Bradshaw, the husband of their granddaughter Anne-Marie, was dead of a sudden seizure, the result of a completely unforeseen heart condition, which had caused him to collapse unconscious in the vestry after Evensong on Sunday.
It appeared from the letter, written hastily and despatched by Anne-Marie's friend Eliza Harwood, that only the verger, Mr Thatcher, had been with him at the time and despite his best efforts to render what assistance he could, poor Mr Bradshaw had passed away before the doctor could even be summoned. Mr Bingley, when he had recovered from the shock, had ordered that the carriage be brought round immediately and they had set off for Pemberley to take the news to Darcy and Elizabeth.
On arriving at Pemberley, they were spared the need to break the bad news, by virtue of the fact that a message sent by Anne-Marie's father, Jonathan Bingley, via the electric telegraph, had reached Pemberley barely half an hour earlier. Elizabeth was at the entrance to greet her sister as she alighted. It was clear from Elizabeth's countenance that she knew already.
Now, there was need only to speak of the terrible sadness of it all. Mr Bradshaw was still a young man, being not yet thirty, and though not a particularly inspiring preacher, he got on well enough with everyone, and of course, here was Anne-Marie, married no more than fifteen months, a young widow.
Then, there was the need to prepare for the funeral. Mr Darcy had said his manager would attend to all the arrangements and they could travel down together. Jane was particularly happy about that. She liked having Lizzie beside her on these difficult occasions.
The letter had said the funeral would be at the parish church in Harwood Park; both the Bingleys and Darcys had houses in town, and preparations were soon in train to leave for London on the morrow.
When the Bingleys were leaving Pemberley, Elizabeth said softly, "It is difficult to believe that Mr Bradshaw is dead; they were dining with us at Portman Square only last month, together with Caroline and Fitzwilliam. We were such a merry party, too, were we not, Darcy?"
Her husband agreed, "Yes, indeed, and Bradshaw looked perfectly well." They were all a little uncomfortable in the face of the sudden departure of someone they'd had little time to get to know and so could not mourn with any real conviction, except as the husband of Anne-Marie, for whom they all had great affection and sympathy.
At Harwood Park, where, in a small churchyard amidst many old graves, an assorted collection of relatives, acquaintances, and parishioners had gathered to bid farewell to the Reverend John Bradshaw, many could only sigh and wonder at the suddenness of his death. Jane still seemed stunned by it all. Her granddaughter Anne-Marie, veiled and clothed in deepest mourning, her small, pale face moist with tears, clung to her grandmother, accepting her comforting embrace even though Jane had no words of consolation for her.
Afterwards, there had been a very simple gathering at Harwood House, where Mr and Mrs Harwood mingled with the mourners, but Anne-Marie retired upstairs until it was time to leave. Then she said her farewells and kissed, embraced, and thanked them all before leaving with her father, his wife, and their family in a closed carriage, bound for Netherfield Park in Hertfordshire, some twenty-five miles away.
Returning to Derbyshire, other members of the family were staying overnight in Oxford, at a favourite hostelry not far from St John's College.
When the ladies withdrew after dinner, Jane, who had remained silent for most of the meal, approached her sister.
"Lizzie, this has been a time for funerals, has it not? There was our sister Mary, then the Prince Consort, and now poor Mr Bradshaw."
Elizabeth nodded; she knew Jane was feeling very depressed.
"Yes indeed, Jane, though I am quite confident that if our sister Mary could speak at this moment, she would surely point out that 'these things are sent to try us' and they usually come in threes."
Elizabeth was not being flippant or facetious, merely noting their late sister Mary Bennet's propensity to produce an aphorism for every occasion, whether happy or catastrophic, thereby reducing everything to a level of banality above which it was virtually impossible to rise. Jane, however, was not amused.
"Oh, Lizzie, how could you say such a thing! Do be serious; I was thinking of our poor young Anne-Marie and how this wretched business has blighted her life," she cried.
"So was I," said Elizabeth. "It must be a dreadful blow, but as for blighting her life, look at it this way, Jane. She is still young, not yet twenty-three, still very beautiful, and well provided for by her father. No doubt she will inherit something from her husband as well. With no young children, she will have very little to trouble her, and when she has recovered from this terrible shock, I am quite certain she will not remain a widow for very long."
Jane was aghast. "Lizzie, how can you say that, with poor Mr Bradshaw barely cold in his grave? Anne-Marie will be very cross with you."
"I am sure she would, so I shall not be saying any such thing to her," replied Elizabeth, adding, "of course she must mourn her husband. I mean only to reassure you, dear Jane, that life has certainly not ended for young Anne-Marie. I am confident there will be a better future for her."
Entering the room at that moment, Elizabeth's daughter, Cassandra Gardiner, heard her mother's words and, on being applied to for an opinion, agreed with alacrity.
"If you really want my opinion, Mama, Anne-Marie was wasted on Mr Bradshaw. Neither Richard nor I could ever understand why she married him and in such haste, too," and seeing her Aunt Jane's outraged expression, Cassandra