Hi friends! I am so happy to welcome author Maria Grace to Austenesque Reviews today! As some of you know Maria has been dealing with Hurricane Harvey these past few weeks and it is amazing that she released her new book, A Less Agreeable Man at the same time! Major applause to Maria for that – she is Wonder Woman with capital W! Anyways, I am thrilled to share Maria’s post about secondary characters and a very beleaguered Colonel Fitwilliam!!
Writing Secondary Characters
Jane Austen gave us some amazingly memorable characters throughout all her books, characters we cannot get enough of. Darcy and Elizabeth make the most frequent appearance in adaptations of Austen for very good reason. But there’s something about the secondary characters that I find very compelling, as well.
A Less Agreeable Man is the fourth book I’ve written around secondary characters, and I’ve done almost as many short stories. There are just so many wonderful possibilities with these characters they are hard to resist.
Don’t get me wrong, they can be pretty challenging as well. Some of them show up as either bland or ridiculous in Austen’s works, unraveling the puzzle of what makes them so is a fascinating process that can result in a surprising, three dimensional character.
Lydia Bennet is a ridiculous, self-centered little flirt. Mary Bennet is bland and sermonizing. Harriet Smith (of Emma) is a ditzy little follower who does not think for herself. Elizabeth Elliot—or where to begin with that piece of work! The list goes on. But the delicious question is why are they that way? Is it possible that we have been presented with an unreliable narrator and only see them through the eyes of that opinion? What is going on underneath the surface of that character?
If one takes the perspective that there is a solid reason why a character is the way they are—or at least perceived that way—then finding that reason becomes a fantastic challenge for a writerly muse to tackle. But how?
For me, the process starts with looking at the situation of the character. This includes looking at their place in their family, the family dynamics, their financial situation, their education, the culture of the regency era and the experiences that Austen suggests they have had.
All of this gives a direction for the formation of a solid character. Then I try to crawl into that character’s head, see the world through his/her eyes, listen to them say some of their (in)famous lines and seek out why did they say that and what were they really trying to communicate?
Perhaps Mary Bennet is an overlooked middle child. No one listens when she speaks except to find fault in her. She’s not as pretty or vivacious as her sisters so no one looks at her at all, much less sees any strengths in her. What strengths and talents lie within if someone takes the time to look?
And what about Colonel Fitzwilliam? How has being the ‘spare’ son affected him? What about doing military service during the brutal Napoleonic War? That’s got to leave a mark on one’s soul.
All of these considerations make for some potentially deep and interesting characters that my muse just can’t resist. Add to that a few original Austen-adaptation plot twists, and it’s hard to ignore the story waiting to be told.
A Less Agreeable Man, the third and final book of the Queen of Rosings Park, explores the lives of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mary Bennet through their own eyes and hearts after Fitzwilliam unexpectedly inherits Rosings Park. Here’s a little peek at Colonel Fitzwilliam. I’d love to know what you think!
Early the next morning, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, formerly of His Majesty’s Army, navigated the treacherously steep servants’ stairway that smelt of old stone and damp. Half the steps were too narrow to accommodate his foot. They creaked with each step, threatening to reveal him to the enemy. Cobwebs dangled from the walls, reaching for him and clinging to his navy blue wool coat as he passed.
Did the servants not clean these passages? Probably not—who would have noticed or cared until now?
The mysterious dark passage had been fun to explore as a child. How often had he and Darcy startled servants as they scurried on their errands, thinking themselves sequestered from the family? Their surprised looks had been mightily entertaining, then.
Now they were irritating.
Irritating and embarrassing.
The master of a house should not be hiding like a rat in the walls, avoiding a cat—or in his case, a mad dowager. Yet that was exactly what he was doing.
He had faced cannon fire and sabers, taken a musket ball to the shoulder and another to the thigh, stood against Napoleon and lived to tell of it. Never once had he hidden nor run. But Aunt Catherine—she had him scurrying into dark corners like despicable vermin.
Had she been on Napoleon’s side, he would have won.
Which was why they had run out of port last month. Now the stores of brandy were growing low as well. If things did not change soon, he would have to turn to gin.
He shouldered open the door to his office, but it resisted. Another shove and it gave way just enough to slip through. He stumbled and tripped, catching himself on the hall chair stacked with ledgers that he had left in front of it yesterday. Too damn drunk to remember to leave his own escape route clear.
Bloody hell, how had it come to this? He dragged his fist across his prickly chin. Drink had always been a pleasure, never a necessity. When had that changed?
Yes, the unexpected inheritance was astonishing, and he was grateful. Finally he was a proper gentleman in the eyes of society with an estate and connections that would make him welcome in nearly any company.
But it was also ruining him.
He fell into the generous armchair behind his desk. Bright sunlight streaming through two tall windows revealed every book and paper out of place, every piece of furniture than had been uprooted as he searched for papers he had mislaid. He scrubbed his face with his palms.
The new butler—blast it all, what was his name? He was of average height, average looks, average everything. There was not a single distinguishing thing about him, right down to the average color of his suit. How dare he be so unexceptional. Dash it all, he would be Tom from here on out—Small Tom, though, as he bore little resemblance to Long Tom whom he replaced—entered and waited until Fitzwilliam cast an irritated nod his direction. “Sir, Mr. Michaels has arrived. Are you at home to him?”
“Am I at home? What does it look like? I am drowning in a sea of documents and in need of a man who can swim. Damn it, yes! I am at home.”
Small Tom bowed a very average bow and shuffled off.
A moment later, Michaels strode in, a portfolio under one arm and a bag in the other. He navigated around the piles of books and other debris on the floor and sat on the leather wingback near the desk—the only seat in the room not covered in detritus.
“What news have you for me? It had best not be all bad, or I shall surely run mad with my aunt. Wait, wait, shall I retrieve the brandy before or after you open that portfolio of disaster you keep always by your side?” He laughed, mostly to control his nerves. It sounded hollow even in his own ears.
Michaels rifled through his case. “The news is mixed, sir. Regardless, these are matters best approached with a clear head.”
“You mean a clear headache.” Fitzwilliam rubbed his temples. “If you are going to deny me liquid comfort, give me good news to console me.”
Michaels pulled papers and journals from his bag. Dear God, how much could such a small bag hold?
“To sum it up, I have negotiated with all the known creditors. Needless to say they are unhappy, but they understand they are more likely to be paid back if no one ends up in debtors’ prison.”
Aunt Catherine would probably prefer Bedlam to debtors’ prison in any case.
“To that end, I have drafted a plan of economy. An extensive plan.” He tapped a folio and laid it on the desk. “I suggest we review in detail. My proposal is comprehensive and will require a vast array of changes to all aspects of life at Rosings.”
Fitzwilliam muttered under his breath. While change was not anathema to him, the same could not be said of Aunt Catherine.
“Though it may be—challenging—for some time, I am confident that the strategy will allow the debts to be repaid in the foreseeable future.”
“Foreseeable? Just how long is a ‘foreseeable’? It is not on a unit of time with which I am familiar.”
Thank God he had a sense of humor.
“The debts should be cleared in ten years, or less depending on what you are willing to tolerate. The heaviest burden, though, is in the first three. Then there is another break after five, and then after seven.” Michaels shoved a sheet of paper at him.
“So, you say we will live like paupers on the streets begging for three years, then rent an attic room in a fourth rate town house after that?”
“If you wish, sir. That would pay off your debts several years earlier. I can add that as an option if you so choose. I simply began with the belief that you would prefer to have a roof overhead for the entire period.”
Fitzwilliam threw his head back and laughed. “Yes, indeed that is probably a better plan. Or I could simply marry an heiress and avoid all this unpleasantness altogether.”
“I draw the line at arranging marriages. For that you will have to consult your mother, the countess.”
He was right. Mother would only be too happy to be given such a charge. Far too happy.
“If you are amenable, there are a number of articles in the latest Agricultural Review that would help explain my recommendations for the eastern fields, the ones prone to flooding.” Michaels skirted around the desk to the bookcase behind him, every movement brisk and efficient. Did the man ever relax or enjoy himself?
Even his choice of bride was efficient. The plainest, hardest working of the Bennet sisters, she had little remarkable about her, save how unremarkable she was. Just the kind of wife for a man who specialized in retrenching estates and repaying debts.
What else would such a man do? He would not want a woman of great passion and fire. One who could enflame him like a courtesan, and comfort him among sheets of silk. No, a quiet woman who would be a mother to his brood of well-mannered children and mistress of his efficient house would be his preference.
If only one could find passionate fire in a practical woman, now that would be a treasure indeed. Would there be such a woman who would also tolerate the domestic situation at Rosings?
Fitzwilliam frowned, chewing his lower lip. “There is one other matter I would bring up with you, though. Mrs. Jenkinson is simply not up to the task of serving as my aunt’s companion. I was wondering if Miss Bennet and perhaps Mrs. Collins might be willing to help me find an appropriate companion for her.”
“Not up to the task, or has Mrs. Jenkinson given you notice she wishes to leave Rosings at the end of the quarter?”
Fitzwilliam grumbled under his breath. He should never play cards with Michaels. “Assuming Mrs. Jenkinson does not change her mind—and I see little possibility of that happening—then yes, Aunt Catherine will be without a companion at the end of the quarter. Perhaps sooner if she displays another bad spell of temper. I shudder to think what will become of the household if this continues. We are losing staff at an alarming rate. Even Parkes, the housekeeper, is at sixes and sevens. She may be making plans to leave as well.”
“Perhaps in addition to helping you find a companion for Lady Catherine, Miss Bennet might be able to offer you some suggestions on living with her more peaceably, too. She does have a remarkable way with her ladyship. Dealing with ones in your aunt’s condition is not, after all, a skill expected from His Majesty’s officers.”
True enough, but take advice from the unremarkable Miss Bennet? “I suppose it cannot hurt. Tomorrow, after we have dealt with the real work at hand.” Fitzwilliam picked up the nearest sheet of paper. “So tell me about this campaign of economy.”
Oh wow! It looks like Colonel Fitzwilliam has his share of weighty responsibilities on his shoulders. Even with becoming Lady Catherine’s heir! I wonder how she got into so much debt? And I wonder about Colonel Fitzwilliam’s relationship with Mary… It is great to see his sense of humor is still intact though! 😉
Thank you so much for sharing, Maria! I love reading story about secondary characters and seeing how authors flesh out their history and personalities. Like you said in your post, there are so many options and directions to choose!
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