Happy Monday, friends! As you may recall I read and reviewed the anthology all about bad boys, Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues, last month and I liked it just a teensy bit (okay, I absolutely adored it!) Today, I have one of the authors of that lovely anthology stopping by for a visit! Jenetta James has written some remarkable works (her Austen-Inspired story The Elizabeth Papers was one of my favorites for 2016!) and was thrilled to see her lovely story in Dangerous to Know!
Thank you Meredith, for having me back to Austenesque Reviews. It is always a pleasure and an honour to visit your lovely blog. This week, I am talking about my short story “The Lost Chapter in the Life of William Elliot” in the anthology Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues. Those who have read the story will know that Meredith is actually in it in recognition of her generous support for Hurricane Relief.
The idea of the anthology was to take each of one Austen’s baddies, (as my children would call them), and give them a back story. Readers will recall the fortune hunting, scheming, opportunist Elliot from Persuasion. He is a character who appears to pick up his relations when it is to his advantage and drop them without a care when it is not. Of the gallery of cads on offer, he struck me as among the least redeemable characters, and that is what appealed to me about him. I can’t say that my story redeems him, I don’t think it does. But I suppose that it is an attempt at explaining the man behind the roguery.
I have always loved theatre and since I see William Elliot as a man constantly putting on an act, I decided to give him a pre-Persuasion story in the world of the stage. During the Regency, there were three theatres in London with “letters patent” (that is to say that they could call themselves “Theatre Royal”). Amazingly, they were lit entirely by candlelight (until 1817 when gaslight started to be used) and were enormously popular. There were stars of the stage, just as there are now and a rich tradition of noblemen and wealthy patrons becoming romantically entangled with those stars. So, without further ado, here is an excerpt from my story, in which Mr William Elliot, gentleman and widower steps into the world of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane…
~ Excerpt ~
I was a young man of six and twenty and my wife had been dead for three months, when the path of my life was changed. The black band about my arm served as a reminder of my misfortune, but so few of my acquaintances appeared even to notice it. That evening was no different. The theatre at Drury Lane was overflowing for The Taming of the Shrew. All around were silken gowns on velvet seats, slippers shuffling across thick, carpeted floors, the collective hum of the ton at leisure. As was my practice, I occupied the box which, since my widowerhood, belonged to me. It was in the dress circle at the far right of the stage and for this reason, afforded an imperfect view. If I close my eyes now, I can still see it. Approximately half the action in any given performance was obscured. Had my father-in-law been in a position to buy a better one, he would have done so. Alas, he was not, having mere money where he lacked connection; and he settled for the best he could obtain. He could not be criticised for that, of course—for who in the world does not? For myself, I did not mind the position. It was the chief object of attending the theatre to be seen rather than to see the stage, and in any event, I found it oddly enjoyable to have a front row seat for some scenes and practically no view at all of others. Was it not thus in life generally? It was in such philosophies that I sat there, accompanied by my friends, Carnaby and Caruthers, young bloods both. The moan of tuning up in the darkened orchestra pit ceased and a perfect arc of sound announced the raising of the curtain. The stage flooded with busy bodies, with feet thumping here and there, and the exaggerated cries of the opening. I have subsequently come to believe that my eyes quickly fixed on her, that among the sea of performers, I found and focussed on Sarah Light, lifting her arms and declaiming.
In those days, she was referred to as a “rising star”, a young, promising actress who had been noticed, who haunted the coat-tails of the well-established. She had, of course, the fine face and tapering figure of the successful stage performer. That much was well documented. Those were features that she shared with just about every other young woman in her position. But upon that evening, leaning over the shelf of the box, into the darkness, I saw something else. I observed first her hands, small and fine, unadorned. Next, her face repaid close inspection. Her colouring was far from regular in England. Her hair, which was long, was notably dark, darker than any native girl I had ever met. And her eyes, when she looked up were a deep, liquid pool of wonder. Other parts of her were more ordinarily pretty: her dimpled cheeks, her slightly up turned nose. I found myself studying the very form of the woman before me. She moved to the front of the stage and spoke clearly, her voice singing above heads with ease.
A sharp jab came to my right side as Carnaby leaned in to address me.
“I say, man, do sit back. A fellow cannot see.”
Unaccustomed as I was to be ordered about by my own guests, I did as he suggested, realising that my admiration of the young woman might be a source of amusement to others. There was after all, never a moment at the London theatre where one was not being watched, measured, ascertained.
“Do not blame you for a moment, mind you. She is bloody fine, is she not?” In the half light, I saw his eye brows flick upwards as he asked and an unfamiliar sickness surged inside me. Unwilling to give the question the dignity of an answer, I remained silent. To the sound of strings and fine trained human voices, I sank back in my seat, luxuriating in the sight of her and the feeling of exhilaration that came with watching action on a stage. One could not expect any sort of appreciation from men such as Carnaby and Caruthers. They were young and rich and they lived for gaming and drinking. They were good fellows, in their way, but one could not expect to have a conversation about Shakespeare with them.
The drama drew on, the action rolling through various acts to its natural conclusion. I was never a gentleman who attended the theatre out of a sense of social obligation, I truly enjoyed it. The excessive colour, the sense of display enticed the respectable country boy in me. This fascination was long standing and reinforced what I had known for some time: that the ordinary, unremarkable life of the English country gentleman was not the life for me. Before the play was done, she turned again and her eyes met mine, just as though she had known I was there. I felt a flush of heat and sat forward. She had chosen me.
Jenetta James is a mother, lawyer, writer, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full-time as a barrister. Over the years, she has lived in France, Hungary, and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers as well as a contributing author to The Darcy Monologues and Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues.
Connect with Jenetta
~ GIVEAWAY TIME ~
There are two fantastic Grand Prizes being offered during this blog tour!!!
One giveaway is a prize pack of 15 paperback books from the authors of this anthology. One lucky winner will win this prize! To enter for this prize fill out the rafflecopter form below!
And the other giveaway is for a lovely collection of items called #RakesAndGentlemenRogues Pleasures Prize Pack, and this prize pack includes:
- Bingley’s Teas (Willoughby and The Colonel)
- ‘The Compleat Housewife’ Notecards set
- Jane Austen Playing Cards
- 6 Jane Austen Postcards
- A Pride and Prejudice Print autographed by Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle
To enter for this prize comment on this blog post and all other blog posts of Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s #RakesAndGentlemenRogues Blog Tour!!
- These giveaways are open worldwide.
- These giveaways end December 30th!
My gratitude and thanks to Christina Boyd and all the authors in this anthology for making this blog tour possible!