Hi friends! Not too long ago I interviewed the lovely Riana Everly as she was celebrating her debut release, Teaching Eliza! Today Riana has kindly stopped by again for a visit as she is yet again celebrating another book release – The Assistant. I’m so excited to learn more about this tale as it centers upon the Gardiners!! I hope you enjoy this lovely post Riana put together!
Edward Gardiner – who is he, and how did he become the man he is?
Thank you, Meredith, for hosting me today. I am particularly thrilled to stop by Austenesque Reviews today, because this is the release day for my new novel, The Assistant: Before Pride and Prejudice. (Insert huge grin here!)
I love all the Lizzy and Darcy stories —who doesn’t, after all—but I also love the stories that feature other members of the extended Bennet family and their friends. I have read some lovely continuations, or variations that focus on Lizzy’s sisters or her friend Charlotte. There are also stories that recount life in the Darcy household after the couple marry, and I’ve read some wonderful tales that propose some alternate histories for Mr. Bennet and his two eldest daughters. What there is not a lot of, however, is JAFF about Lizzy’s favourite aunt and uncle. I can only think of one other such offering: The Courtship of Edward Gardiner, by the amazingly talented Nicole Clarkston. (As a disclaimer, I first wrote The Assistant before she published her novel, so any similarities between these tales are purely coincidental!)
Well, as the saying goes, Edward Gardiner needs some love! In Pride and Prejudice, although Caroline Bingley disparages the Bennets’ London relations as “such low connections, when Mr. Darcy sees them at Pemberley, Elizabeth notes that “he takes them now for people of fashion,” and is relieved that “she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush.” She goes on to listen to her uncle, whose every sentence “marked his intelligence, his taste, or his good manners.”
The question that came to me was how this sensible and intelligent man, successful at his business, with the appearance of a gentleman, could possibly be related to the silly and fretful Mrs. Bennet. And who is the elegant and caring lady who is his wife? As I mulled over this, a story began swirling in my mind, and The Assistant is the result.
Something that might surprise some readers is that part of the story takes place in Nova Scotia which at the time was a separate colony, but is now a province of Canada. In my imaginings, Edward Gardiner is a man who stands between worlds, with one foot in the merchant class, but who can hold his own in genteel society. If Mr. Darcy takes him and his wife as people of fashion, he must be comfortable straddling that social divide with ease. Thus, it seemed natural to have him come into his adulthood in a land that straddled two worlds as well.
In 1800, shortly after the emergence of the United States of America as an independent country, Nova Scotia stood as a bridge between that nation and his homeland of Britain. Nova Scotia was the neutral fourteenth colony, part of but separate from the polities that broke from Britain to become the United States. Both American and British, home to former American colonists still loyal to the crown while being an integral part of the British Empire, it echoes Edward’s own position as a man belonging to two worlds.
But the main reason I chose Nova Scotia as the setting for the second part of the novel is that it’s a beautiful place! I’ve spend several summers (and yes, a couple of winters) travelling there, and I love it. I love the scenery, I love the people, I love the history. Halifax is now a modern city, but its historic past lies close to the surface, and the centre of town is still the massive British fortifications on Citadel Hill (the current fortifications date from 1856, but there have been structures there since 1749), overlooking the docklands near the Historic Properties that date as far back as the 1750s. For Europeans, this must seem modern. For North America, it is ancient indeed! And as such, it was little challenge to imagine the city as it was back at the turn of the nineteenth century, young and green, but ready for greatness. Rather like Edward Gardiner!
Excerpt from The Assistant
The strong wind had moved the ship more quickly across the Atlantic than expected, and they arrived in Halifax four and a half weeks after departing London, only days after Matthew’s ship was thought to have arrived. As they sailed into the harbour, Edward was once again awed by the natural resource the British had been so fortunate as to claim. The narrow opening was well protected on all sides by a series of batteries and fortifications, but once passed that critical point, the waters opened up again into a massive natural harbour, large enough to house most of the Royal Navy.
The town of Halifax itself was small and stretched out along the shore of the harbour beneath a large hill, crowned with an impressive military citadel. Small though it was, the town was clearly bustling. The recent revolt by the lower thirteen American colonies, along with the threat posed by the Corsican upstart Bonaparte, had led Britain to increase its formidable navy, and much of that work was being done here in the harbour. A huge naval dockyards had been established, and timber from both Nova Scotia and the neighbouring colony of New Brunswick supplied the wood for much of the Empire’s fleet.
Edward could see evidence of the increased activity in the town itself. An impressive new building was being constructed, which the men would later learn was to be the new Government House, and other instances of new construction could be found in every direction. The place had, indeed, changed quite remarkably even in the few short years since Edward’s last sight of it.
What sort of town would Edward have seen upon returning to Halifax in 1800? Some of the landmarks I mention in the book were only under construction at the time of his arrival, but others were standing then, as they stand today. Here is a brief tour of Halifax at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
This is the year the town was founded. What the drawing does not show well is the fairly steep rise of land, leading to the citadel on the hill directly behind the town site.
This is from ten years later. You can see the four-storey Government House, an expansion of the town site into the distance, and a strong military presence in the streets. Stuff was starting to happen!
Here is a another view from the same year, this time looking down onto the town from Citadel Hill. The sketch shows at the northern (left) extreme, the Great Pontack Inn (Pontac House) at the corner of Duke and Water Streets, and extends as far south as the current site of Government House on Barrington Street.
This is the image on my book’s cover. For some reason, I fell in love with this image. You can see that this is not a sleepy place any longer. The dockyards were bustling with activity. There are some fairly impressive buildings in place, and this image clearly shows the hills that rise up behind the town, which were fortified for defence.
The clock was a gift to the city by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, before his return to England in 1800, in an effort to keep the garrison punctual. The clock itself was not built until 1801, and did not start keeping time until 1803. Here you can see how much the land rises above the shoreline and the harbour. And this is at the base Citadel Hill!
These are a set of warehouses on the Halifax Boardwalk. Most date to the Napoleonic Wars, but a couple are earlier. Pontac House was built as an inn in the 1750s, but was partially destroyed by fire in the 1830s. Privateer Warehouse was built around the year 1790.
The congregation was founded in 1749, the year the town was established, and the church building started in 1750. In my tale, this is where the Gardiners got married.
As they sail into town, Edward notices the construction of a large stone building. This is Government House, the replacement for the older structure that Lady Wentworth (the governor’s wife) deemed too small for one of her importance! The cornerstone was laid in 1800 and construction was still underway when the family moved in in 1805. The building’s overall style is Georgian with hints of Adam, elements of the main and rear facades having been taken from a book of house plans published in 1795 by George Richardson.
The current magnificent star-shaped fortification was not built until 1856, but there have been fortifications upon Citadel Hill since 1749. In 1800, the third citadel was standing. It designed in 1794 and completed in 1800, and was officially named Fort George, by General Orders of October 20, 1798, after King George III.
The current citadel is the fourth set of fortifications on citadel hill. This massive complex, with its iconic star-shape, was built in 1756. You can see the Town Clock at the base of the hill.
Very interesting, Riana! Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve never been to Nova Scotia so I’m very excited to experience a story that takes place there! I loved the virtual tour you took us on of Halifax and that you carefully researched the city to know what Edward Gardiner would have encountered there!
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Today Riana is generously giving away five lovely ebooks of The Assistant in conjunction with her blog tour!! Woot woot!
To enter this giveaway, leave a question, a comment, or some love for Riana below!
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Riana!
- This giveaway ends March 29th!