Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Unexpurgated Austen

by Bill Kirton


Excellent news coinciding with the recent 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice revealed that hitherto unseen fragments of alternative narrative departures had been found in the papers of a private collector in Boston. Perhaps the most startling was one revealing the author’s original account of the wooing of Elizabeth. The full text is appended below.


The gentlemen had joined the ladies and the card-tables had been placed but Darcy, whose countenance betrayed quite openly the displeasure he would feel at being compelled to tolerate conversation which he was certain would be superlatively stupid, made his way into the withdrawing room where he was agreeably surprised to find Miss Bennet seated at an escritoire.
     ‘Why, Miss Bennet, to be sure,’ he said. ‘I wonder that I find you here absorbed in reclusive meditation at a moment when the company is preparing to initiate the evening’s entertainments.’
     Elizabeth had heard his arrival and, aware of the fact that his inclination was ever to deliver his sentiments in a manner which did little to recommend them, was nonetheless reassured to note that his countenance was less forbidding and disagreeable than was his wont and, emboldened thereby, she replied ‘But sir, you too are equally guilty of absenting yourself from the imminent merriment.’
     Darcy waved a dismissive hand and said ‘I am rarely in the requisite humour to give consequence to those who prefer the tedium of quadrille or cassino to the infinitely more delicate delights of personal discourse.’ He then paused before adding, ‘I would suggest, too, that such discourse holds even greater charms if it is of an amatory nature.’
     Elizabeth felt a little chill of alarm at his words. Over the past few weeks, the knowledge she would soon be obliged to impart to him had been a heavy burden. Only prudence had stilled her tongue for so long.
     ‘I must confess,’ she said, ‘that my spirits of late have inclined little towards post-prandial diversions. I regret to say that there is some tumult in my mind.’
     ‘Then you must unburden yourself, dear lady. Mysteries held in the mind must surely become injurious encumbrances unless they be shared.’
     ‘Oh, it is no mystery. That is too grandiloquent a word. It is a mere discomposure of my spirits and yet I find that it cannot easily be overcome.’
     Her words served momentarily to discompose Darcy himself.
     ‘Then, perhaps a stroll through…’
     To his extreme surprise, Elizabeth raised her hand and pressed her fingers against his lips to stop his words.
     ‘Ah, Mr Darcy,’ she said. ‘I beg that you should not ask that I walk again with you in the garden for our exertions of yesterday evening have quite wearied me.’
     She withdrew her hand and a silence grew between them until, disconcerted by its prolongation, Darcy felt obliged to break it.
     ‘In truth,’ he said, ‘I must confess to some fatigue myself. And yet I own that I much prefer those after-dinner pastimes to retiring for whist at your Aunt’s table.’
     ‘Oh indeed, indeed, Mr Darcy,’ Elizabeth hastened to reassure him before her voice became almost a whisper and she added ‘But I fear that their consequences may be other than those you have led me to anticipate.’
     ‘Why, my dear Miss Bennet, whatever is it that ails you?’
     Elizabeth sighed deeply. The moment had arrived.
     ‘Alas, I know not,’ she said, ‘save that of late I have experienced much difficulty in tolerating breakfast and have oft had occasion to withdraw to the closet beyond the withdrawing room, there to disgorge in a most helpless and piteous manner all that I have partaken of at table.’
     The dreadful silence returned as Darcy absorbed the import of her declaration. At last, he had composed himself sufficiently to reply, in broken, barely articulate utterances.
‘Oh my goodness! My dear Miss Bennet. How disconcerting. I never heard any thing so abominable.’
     ‘I am exceedingly gratified by your concern,’ said Elizabeth. ‘It is indeed a most disagreeable pursuit, and, moreover, the unpleasantness is exacerbated to almost intolerable proportions by a wholly incomprehensible deterioration in the efficacity of the lumbar regions of my anatomical dispositions so that forbearance from the audible bemoaning of my ill fortune is not easy of maintenance.’
     Darcy nodded, then asked ‘What?’
     ‘I get backache,’ said Elizabeth.
     Darcy, apparently lost in thought, raised his hand to his face and drew his fingers down the line of his left cheek. At last his countenance cleared and the ghost of a smile formed at the corners of his lips.
     ‘Is it then perhaps that the moon has run to its last quarter and that that affliction by which all young ladies are with such tiresome regularity beset is upon you?’
     Elizabeth gave a little shake of her head.
     ‘I think not, Mr Darcy. For it is now some thirteen weeks since I last suffered that indignity.’
     Having at last begun to ease the burden she had been carrying, Elizabeth felt a lightness permeate her being. It seemed to her only just that the weight of this specific knowledge should be distributed between those responsible for its inception. Darcy, however, appeared to be resistant to its import.
     ‘Thirteen weeks?’ he cried. ‘But this can only signify gestation and work for the apothecary.’
     ‘I fear your observations may be only too pertinent.’
     Darcy walked slowly across to the window and looked out over the lawns.
     ‘I am nonetheless perplexed,’ he began, without turning to look at her, ‘as to how such a situation could have come to pass, for I have, each evening, without fail, made use of that cylindrical configuration of finely-wrought India-rubber which is intended to be the receptacle for the consequences of such pastimes.’
     Elizabeth felt her cheeks begin to burn at this implication that her woeful condition might have been occasioned by some other dalliance. She stood and confronted him.
     ‘Mr Darcy, I have been graced by no visitors from the Lord and awakened by no angelic Gabriels. There is precious little of the immaculate about this conception. I thought you a man of honour. I hope I was not mistaken.’
     Darcy looked at her frowning face, felt the fire in her eyes, and sensed the power which filled her impassioned frame. He also recalled those moments they had spent in the garden which had led to the present discomforting situation and began to opine that betrothal and subsequent marriage would make available to him after-dinner pursuits far preferable to tuneless songs, piano recitals during which notes were struck in apparently random sequences, and the repetitive flutter of playing cards across baize. He took her hands in his.
     ‘My dear Elizabeth,’ he said. ‘It is a cliché acknowledged by many that a single man in possession of a good fortune and an estate in Derbyshire must be in want of an heir. Much as I loathe the aphorisms engendered by such convoluted elucubrations, I confess that I find such a fancy reasonable, sensible and not entirely unattractive. Shall we perambulate in the gardens to discuss our future?’
     ‘Cool,’ said Elizabeth.

15 comments:

Chris Longmuir said...

Being one of those strange creatures who dislike Jane Austen (shock, horror), I very nearly didn't read this until I caught Bill's name at the top. Ah! I said to myself, is this the dastardly Kirton up to his tricks again? So, all I can say is, if this is a sample of Austen's writing, I may decide to partake of her books! On the other hand, I might be better reading some more of Kirton's books - only one problem, I've read them all. Get writing Kirton!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Love it! Maybe Bill and Valerie should get together and rework Mansfield Park. I love Austen, but that's probably my least favourite.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks Chris and Catherine. It's bizarre but I didn't read Austen until I was in my thirties. I've no idea why I delayed but I must have had some preconceptions about it being girly or overly romantic or something because, very few pages into my first, Northanger Abbey, her sly humour, the fun she poked at precisely the type of novel I suppose I suspected she wrote, and the brilliance of her evocation of moods and places grabbed me and I read the lot. The way she wraps things up in words and elegance is a joy in itself.

CallyPhillips said...

Oh Chris, I wasn't going to comment because I'm with you on the J.A.disappreciation front and I didn't like to say so in a public forum for fear of reprisals.

My comment is I HATE JANE AUSTEN AND I'M GLAD THAT ELIZABETH IS PREGNANT. SHE'S A TROLLOP (not a Trollope)

For 3 years when teaching A level English we used to trade texts and I always tried to avoid Jane Austen. I taught any weird and wonderful thing to avoid teaching Austen. But one year I got caught out and HAD to teach Mansfield Park. I confess I will admit that Austen writes well - it's just I've no interest in the world she writes about. Which is fine. I hear she's not a great fan of mine either. All down to taste eh? (Like Chris and me have got it and...) dons hard hat and retires from the forum...

Maggie Craig said...

La, sirrah, your verbal convolutions are prodigious amusing. I am vastly fond of Miss Austen's writings myself but fail to understand why so many of the female gender in our own modern times find Mr Darcy attractive. He is the most awful snob, I think, and seems to me to be highly lacking in the personality department. I extend my most sincere gratitude for the laugh, and remain, your most humble and obedient servant & etc, etc.

Jan Needle said...

miss craig, has it never occurred to you that his attraction for a certain section of the femalely gendered may perchance have something to do with the possibility of an heroic endowment - nay, even an over-endowment - in the front of breeches department? as a male struggler with austen, i always found him a bit of a dick.

and while we're all in confessional mode - i've tried three times to read wuthering heights, and failed. where i come from, nelly dean is someone we used to fantasise about in the old mill by the stream.

brilliant piece, bill. consider it as part of a modern version, and you might just end up very rich. the best thing about janey, is perhaps that she's out of copyright! i want more.

Diane Nelson said...

I adore Jane Austen (adaptations by skilled screenwriters who distill fanciful and gratuitous to easily understood sound bites)and I adore Mr Darcy (of the Matthew Macfadyen interpretation) so when I saw this my poor nerves went all atingle with anticipation.
Mr Kirton doth not disappoint.
Cool, indeed.

Mary Smith said...

Brilliant, Bill, loved it and it cheered me up no end on a miserable day.

Bill Kirton said...

I am content, bringing joy to some, despair to others. What more can a writer ask? Your mention of Wuthering Heights, though, Jan, reminds me that I felt the same way about it until I made myself read it just a couple of years ago. In the end it was the story within a story within a story etc. and the succession of narrators that intrigued me. Around the same time I read Ivanhoe, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Woman in White and Treasure Island and each time I was struck by the fact that the reason I hadn’t read them before was that telly or film versions or my own preconceptions had given me false impressions of what to expect. I’m not saying I liked them all, but they were all interesting and, mostly, enjoyable reads.

annestenhousenovelist said...

Very naughty, Bill.
Will there be any more?
Anne

Bill Kirton said...

Hmmm, it would mean researching the 1812 equivalent of Pampers, etc., Anne. Anyway, I think Valerie's already way ahead of me in this area. Have to confess it's tempting, though, to see how Darcy would be with an au pair.

Lydia Bennet said...

haha Bill, great scene, terrific, I'm only surprised my alter ego Lydia Bennet didn't clock Lizzy's condition! Great chance for crowing and blackmail in the matter of new bonnets and shoes... My own experience of toying with updating austen in Lydia Bennet's Blog is that now there are so many breathless fanfic fantasies about darcy's wet shirt & the contents of his breeches,your book gets lost in the squishy bog of wish-fulfillment. If Cally and other Austen haters could tell me how to reach the breed, they might well enjoy my take on P&P and Bill's too! Bill and I await with eagerness the link to the 'jane austen haters club' website so that our coffers might swell like Lizzy's abdomen!

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks Valerie. I knew I was trespassing on your territory but, being myself refined and fastidious, had I known it was in fact a 'squishy bog of wish-fulfilment', I might have thought twice about it. On the other hand, my refinement withers at the sound of a cash register so I'm with you on getting access to the JAHC.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I love Wuthering Heights (well you know that, don't you?) and Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll, though my Stevenson favourites are Kidnapped and Catriona. And Hogg's Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (single most frightening book I think I have ever read). And the Silver Darlings. And just about all Jane Austen. I sometimes think I could quite happily keep recycling the classics but then I wouldn't find the new goodies, would I? I was watching a FB thread the other day where a bunch of guys were discussing 'the great Scottish novel' and they didn't mention a single woman writer. Not one. I wondered if I should join in, but in the end I just let them rabbit on.

Jenny Harper said...

Brill, Bill! There's money to be made in mining this genre. On the other hand, you could just continue to amuse us.