Hi readers! I am happy to welcome author Don Jacobson to Austenesque Reviews today. As you may have noticed, Mr. Jacobson has been hard at work publishing books in his The Bennet Wardrobe series. So far, there are 5 works in total for this series that spotlight secondary characters from Pride and Prejudice and include a bit of time travel (sounds interesting, doesn’t it?). I haven’t read any…yet, but I’ve heard a lot of great things from readers who have read this series. Mr. Jacobson is currently celebrating the release of The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn and I am excited to have him here today to share more about the creation of this series and a colorful excerpt from The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. We hope you enjoy!
From Whence Came The Bennet Wardrobe?
Guest post by Don Jacobson
I have been deeply involved in reading JAFF since the latter part of 2013. Over the past three-plus years, I have probably read over 400 Pride and Prejudice/Regency variations. To say that I have immersed myself in the genre would be quite accurate.
In late 2014, I was going through a very difficult time as my 88-year-old mother began to fail. During that “last trip to see Mom,” my family had flown to Connecticut to attend her at the nursing home. She was in and out of reality. She knew who we were—at times—and who the kids were—at times. There were moments, though, when she would look at our 27-year old son and call him by my name.
My mother, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote, was unstuck in time.
And, I think that disturbed me on a subconscious level.
Later that same night, my brain threw up something quite Austenesque. T’was a letter Caroline Bingley had written to her sister-in-law, Jane, in 1816 apologizing for all that she had done to impede Jane and Charles’ relationship. That her next step was to leave Britain for the United States demonstrated that Caroline was a woman finally taking agency over her own life.
That was the first appearance of the Bennet Wardrobe Universe…a place where secondary characters could realize their potentials after the double wedding. The Wardrobe—and its time-bending potential—did not exist as of yet. That came later after I began asking HOW the characters could move beyond the stereotypes that were so easy to retain because of the manner in which Austen wrote them.
I deeply wished to discover what sorts of persons they could become—even Mr. Bennet—if they could be allowed to act in their own best interests. The key problem, to me, was that they seem constrained by their timeline context. Might they find their path to fulfillment, both in and out of the accepted Regency timeline?
In mid-2015, the Bennet Wardrobe coalesced to allow those of the Bennet bloodline to move past the constraints imposed by the end of Pride and Prejudice. I found it suitable to suspend my own disbelief and start from the premise that the Bennet Wardrobe—and the temporal context created by Jane Austen—actually existed. To help readers join me on this trip, I composed a mock research article which can be found at the beginning of the first Volume of the Bennet Wardrobe: The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. I placed the Bennet Wardrobe within the context of other forms of British Magical Transport: J.K. Rowlings’ flue network, C.S. Lewis’ wardrobes, and Susanna Clarke’s King’s roads.
However, I recoiled from the accepted tropes of time travel that have wound their way into JAFF. Auto accidents, blows to the head, falls through an unknown portal, fever dreams/deliria, and mystical machines with no inner soul to moderate outcomes did not satisfy me. In fact, they smacked of artifices designed to allow a different telling of the same ODC story.
In the Wardrobe’s universe, characters from Pride and Prejudice are aware of the potentialities of the Wardrobe and chose to use the Wardrobe or not. They are also cognizant that the Wardrobe was not an omnibus. A Bennet cannot “hop aboard” the Wardrobe and insist on being taken to 1841 or 1941. Rather, the Wardrobe determines the true meaning of the Bennet’s needs and sends the individual to the point in time where they would learn that which they needed to learn.
Thus, seventeen-year-old Kitty Bennet, furious at her father’s determination that she was to be sent to school in Cornwall, slammed her hands onto the Wardrobe’s marquetry doors. Coursing through her mind was the directive thinking: I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall! Anywhere but here!
And, the Wardrobe sent her to 1886 when every member of her own generation was long gone. Well, almost every one…
Savvy readers will now say, “Ah-hah! There were accidental uses of the Wardrobe!” Yes, to be sure. However, I was secure in the knowledge that the Wardrobe would not send Lizzy, Kitty, or Lydia to a where/when that would not fulfill a need. In the process various Bennets—but, most importantly, the younger three Bennet daughters—become facilitators in the ultimate design of the Wardrobe.
Readers will discover historical persons as well as characters from other works of fiction moving through the books. That is because I subscribe to the idea that imagining characters and their foibles brings them into reality. This is known as solipsism, a technique used by Robert A. Heinlein, the speculative fiction master.
Miss Austen, through the act of writing Pride and Prejudice, called into existence the universe in which, I like to believe, all subsequent Regency/Napoleonic/Victorian are really portrayals of a real world. I like to believe that they lived in the same world as the Darcys, Bennets, and Bingleys, but since Miss Austen had not been properly introduced to them, the very proper lady would never have presumed to write about them.
The Bennet Wardrobe books are best read in the following order:
Excerpt from The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn
The servants doused their lanterns, and the bedazzled eyes of the audience adjusted to the descending dusk. Standing in the center of the platform instead of the Countess was the trickster: Harlequin.
He stood tall, head thrown back looking at the crowd down the long beak of his nose. His feet were shoulders-width apart with his left hand on his hip. In his right, instead of his traditional batte, i he held a drum major’s mace: a man-sized ebony shaft topped by a large metal diamond. His costume this night was in keeping with the dress demanded by Comte’s widow—black and white. Oversized black brocade diamonds covered his tightly fitted white topcoat and flowing pantaloons. He wore a stark midnight silk shirt and an intricately knotted white cravat that was covered in tiny black diamonds.
Everything about this individual was long. His lanky build accentuated all of his appendages that, even while he was standing motionless, seemed to flow like smoke swirling upon air currents disturbed by an opened door.
What struck the ball goers, though, was his head. Great plumes of orange hair rose from his crown like gouts of flame exploding from a suckling pig’s pyre as the fat dripped down below the spit. Every square inch of exposed skin above his collar was concealed by alabaster white greasepaint, the better to highlight the dusky diamonds painted around each eye. His lips were glossy as if he had kissed a freshly blacked andiron.
Only three bits of color outside of his coif relieved his tableau…a pair of sky-blue eyes and a wet pink tongue that flickered, serpent-like, from between those dim lips, reminding the audience that Harlequin, like the Garden’s reptile, was a crafty creature.
He scanned his kingdom…for in this world of the mute, the man who could speak ruled…before addressing his subjects in a sing-song, slightly off-key, voice, rolling the words in a sardonic manner, mutilating many, altering a few.
“How good of you to come.
“Tonight, I am the voice of your host…the Dowager Countess of Doe-ville. She, through me, bids you welcome and thanks you for joining our little dra-ma-tique.”
He swept his mace to the right and pointed to where Kitty had installed herself in an alcove. Two lanterns flashed their light, illuminating her diamonds, sending reflections cascading around the room. Then he centered his device, slamming its metaled base upon the riser beneath his feet launching a drum-like boom through the room that caused more than one reveler to flinch.
“You must remember Harlequin’s rules of the Twelfth Night Ball at Madras House.
“You may not speak within these sacred confines upon pain of expulsion from Eden.
“Gentlemen may request a lady’s hand for a set with a sim-ple…un-com-pli-ca-ted outstretched hand.
“A lady may reject her suitor without the usual stuffy bus-i-ness of being barred from dancing for the rest of the night.
“The King may dance only with his Queen.
“And, considering the tradition…since there is no King Cake…and so no bean…no pea…
“Harlequin will choose your monarchs for this night.”
Thus saying, he fairly leaped out into the center of the floor causing guests to scatter to the four winds. Sweeping his mace about him, he crouched like a pointer on a bird. He scuttled around, freezing many a masked lady or dominoed gentleman where they stood. His busy left hand fingered finery—never thoroughly inappropriate, but skirting tightly against the line—and his mace lifted gowns to see slippers or flipped open coat fronts to spy waistcoats.
None seemed satisfactory until he approached Wickham who had followed the Countess into her den. Harlequin pulled himself up straighter, his hair rocketing toward the nightscape roof over his head. Stepping close to Wickham, he sniffed the man, squeezed his biceps, peeked beneath his mask, and minutely inspected his dance pumps.
Abruptly he vaulted away, landing in a crouch that dropped to a full kowtow.
He shouted, “All hail, the King! Bow to your liege lord!”
He remained prostrate in front of Wickham until the rustling of curtseys and the grunts of corseted gentlemen performing their bows ceased.
Then he hoisted himself up.
He led Wickham to the riser where the two thrones were located.
Then he searched the room from where he stood. In a moment, shoulders slumped, a dejected Harlequin turned back to his liege. He penitentially shook his head from side-to-side, exaggerating every move.
Wickham, not knowing anything more than a Queen must be found, stamped his foot in apparent pique and swept Harlequin off into the room with a wave of his regal hand.
The jester sniffed around the room again without success.
He turned back to the King, seated on his throne across the room. Again he was waved off.
Then the silent zanni ii slammed his mace on the floor. He flew to the closed double doors. He reached into a tail pocket and removed a fistful of mica dust that he tossed into the air.
As the motes swirled around him he cried out an incantation.
“By the bright moon’s light
“On this darkling winter’s night,
“Come forth with grace to force
Us to bend our knee.
“From the halls of Thebes
“To the palaces of Mycenae
“Float upon your
“Your Oberon awaits.
“And we of your court
Wake to do your bidding.”
Then, with the mace, he struck the great doors once…twice…thrice.
They opened and through the creaking embrasure floated a vision in rose. The hem of her gown swept clean the expanse of floor beneath her feet; the residue of the faerie dust vanishing behind her as if unwilling to continue to exist after her passage. Harlequin bowed at the waist in awe of the great Lady and walked backwards away from her, his arms spread wide to form a pathway for the Queen. As she glided by, every one of her subjects made obeisance but never took their eyes from her figure.
Wickham was mesmerized by the woman who stood taller than most. Her gown and headdress were the only bursts of color throughout a room filled with people, relieving the monochromatic scheme that condemned the multitude to second-best. He could not discern the color of her slippers so perfectly the gown dropped from her shoulders to the floor: the result being that she seemed to float from the great doors toward the dais upon which he stood transfixed.
Her comely body, so lovingly embraced by the blush-colored silk, swayed so gently that every man in the room worshipped her and named her his heart’s queen.iii More than one woman coveted her, too, but the majority of the fairer sex silently gnashed their teeth as they recollected the earliest days of their own realization of the tigress power gifted to every Daughter of Eve.
George, although spellbound earlier, immediately uprooted himself to step down from the platform and hand her up to her throne. However, like a Queen, she did not sit, but rather situated herself to be viewed—head slightly turned away from the crowd, arms angled away from her sides, palms out in the eternal offertory pose of Venus, Isis, Ariadne, and Gaia.
Wickham did not come to her flank, thus acknowledging her goddess sway over this much more mortal Oberon. On the contrary, as if pulling a page from Harlequin’s book, the young officer saluted her, bowed deeply, and labeled himself her subject.
However, his ensorcellment was short-lived for he was soon urged into line by Harlequin to lead the first dance of the evening.
He held out his gloved hand to his Queen. She graciously clasped his palm, and, as she did so, a mighty frisson shook both of them.
ii A wily servant. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Harlequin-theatrical-character
iii Antonio Carlos Jobim and David Gledhill. Lyric from The Girl From Ipanema. (1964), BMG Rights Management LLC.
This excerpt from Chapter XXX of “The Exile: the Countess Visits Longbourn” is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson and is released for the expressed use by AustenesqueReviews.com. No reproduction—either in digital or print—is permitted.
Thank you so much for sharing your personal story with us, Don. I am so sorry to hear about your mom’s passing. I love that such a beautiful idea came to you at such a time though. How interesting that it began with Caroline Bingley! 😉 It sounds like you put quite a lot of thought into everything you write and I love hearing that Jane Austen’s characters meet up with historical figures and other fictional characters. Thank you so much for sharing and we wish you all the best with your new release, The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn!
Connect with Don
In conjunction with her lovely blog tour, Don Jacobson generously brings with him several prizes that readers can win! The prizes include 10 ebooks of The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn and 2 paperback copies of The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn!!
To enter this giveaway, leave a comment, question, or some love for Don! 😉 And fill out the rafflecopter form below.
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Don!
- This giveaway ends March 5th!
My sincere thanks to Don and Janet for putting this lovely tour together! To check out the rest of the tour, click the image below!