reviewed here yesterday. I posed a question to Monica and I'm very curious to see her answer...
Thank you for inviting me to join you here on History Undressed. It’s really a pleasure to join the ranks of all the fascinating writers you have showcased here.
You asked me: When people normally think of Austen, they don’t normally think of America. What made you choose to introduce Americans into the story?
The American branch of the Darcys was born as the result of a unexpected discovery I made about Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. As I was reading Pride and Prejudice, it occurred to me that we learn quite a lot about Darcy’s mother’s relations – Lady Anne’s – since we meet the infamous Lady Catherine and her daughter as well as Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s maternal cousin. But we know nothing at all about his father’s family. Did he have no Darcy uncles or aunts at all? The fact that Darcy shared guardianship of his sister with Colonel Fitzwilliam seems to reinforce the fact that there was no one alive on his father’s side. Why chose a guardian not much older than the18-year-old Darcy if there were any other alternatives?
The unhappy conclusion I reached, given the absence of any other family members, was that the Darcy stock must be either unhealthy or unlucky, particularly since Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father only survived until his son reached the age of eighteen. A sad thing to contemplate, since now all hopes rested on Mr. Darcy to carry the family name. His family – old and noble as it was – was under threat of extinction. Its fate depended on his siring a son with Elizabeth.
The prospect was decidedly gloomy.
That is when my writer’s imagination filled in the gap.
The Darcys were not nearing extinction. There was, in fact, another branch of the Darcy family still in existence. The reason we had not heard of them was that they did not live in England. An uncle – a rather rebellious, adventurous type – had gone to “the colonies” as a naval officer, and had decided to settle in Boston.
Having lived in Boston for some time myself, I was intrigued when I read somewhere that, at the turn of the nineteenth century, an America gentleman differed very little in speech or manners from an English gentleman. This surprised me, as I would have expected that following the boycott of everything British during and after the American Revolution, the Boston patriots, particularly the more established families in Boston, would have severed their ties completely with Britain. But a look at newspapers of the time revealed that Bostonians still reported the news from British newspapers – though it arrived two or three months late -- and that fashionable society in Boston still looked to England for their fashions and dose of “culture”.
Given that change in those days occurred much slower than it does now, particularly linguistic change, I could only suppose, then, that the “educated” speech and manners of the more “elite” settlers was maintained by those later labelled as the Boston Brahmins. Add to this the fact that Bostonians – and New England in general – had a complex reaction to the Anglo-American War of 1812 (New England did not support the war, and many merchants continued to trade with Britain despite the war) the reality of Boston’s relations with Britain, despite the earlier fervour of the Boston Tea Party, emerges as less clearly definable than I would have thought, particularly since trade connections were strong.
This sense was reinforced when I read England in 1815 As Seen By a Young Boston Merchant, a travel journal written by Joseph Ballard. Ballard remarks on some minor differences between the two cultures, but overall is remarkably unsurprised by anything about the behavior of the British. Still, it was impossible to think, manners apart, that an American republican could resemble his British aristocratic counterpart very closely.
One advantage of being a writer is that I can always put my theories to the test. It was clearly a story waiting to be told.
Why not thrust my American Darcy into the company of someone bred into the upper echelons of British society -- someone who was a stickler for correct behavior – and see what would happen?
This person was of course predetermined. I already knew I would be writing about Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice, and I knew no one could raise her hackles as much as a gentleman who claimed to be a Darcy but was clearly (in her eyes) a far cry from being one. I chuckled at the thought of the battles that would ensue.
Once I invented Mr. Robert Darcy, a merchant from Boston (already an insult to the family name, which is far above trade), then I had to invent a family for him. With a father who rebelled against his British background, one could not expect the younger Darcys to be anything but rebels themselves. And Mr. Robert does not disappoint, nor does his sister Clarissa, who enters Lady Catherine’s den, Rosings Park, and makes it shake like a blancmange.
I will leave it to you to determine who will emerge as winner in The Other Mr Darcy and The Darcy Cousins.
A young lady in disgrace should at least strive to behave with decorum…
Dispatched from America to England under a cloud of scandal, Mr. Darcy’s incorrigible American cousin, Clarissa Darcy, manages to provoke Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, and the parishioners of Hunsford all in one morning!
And there are more surprises in store for that bastion of tradition, Rosings Park, when the family gathers for their annual Easter visit. Georgiana Darcy, generally a shy model of propriety, decides to take a few lessons from her unconventional cousin, to the delight of a neighboring gentleman. Anne de Bourgh, encouraged to escape her “keeper” Mrs. Jenkinson, simply…vanishes. But the trouble really starts when Clarissa and Georgiana both set out to win the heart of the same young man…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Literature professor Monica Fairview loves teaching students the joys of reading. But after years of postponing the urge, she finally realized that what she really wanted to do was write. The author of The Other Mr. Darcy and An Improper Suitor, the American-born Ms. Fairview currently resides in London. For more information, please visit www.monicafairview.com.
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