Happy Monday, friends! I hope you enjoyed a lovely and restful weekend! I’m excited to welcome a debut author to Austenesque Reviews today! If you haven’t already met her, Jayne Bamber is a new Austenesque author that just released a Pride and Prejudice variation – Happier in Her Friends Than Relations, which also includes some characters from Sense and Sensibility! Check out Jayne’s post where she shares the surprising fate for one of Jane Austen’s characters…
Use of Deadly Farce
By Jayne Bamber, Author of Happier in Her Friends Than Relations
I’m so excited to be here, and tell you all about my new release, Happier in Her Friends Than Relations. I should warn you, though, that this post will contain a few spoilers about the book, for those of you that haven’t read it yet. On the other hand, the spoilers are about an event that I think a lot of Austen fans would really enjoy, and there are boiled potatoes involved….
The excerpt I’ll be sharing with you today is one of my favorite scenes in the book, and it almost didn’t make it into the story because the whole time I was writing it, I was laughing maniacally and growing increasingly certain this chapter was entirely too preposterous for the serious, angsty book I wanted to write. As some of you may know, I was posting chapters weekly on A Happy Assembly as well as Archive of Our Own, and this particular chapter incited far more comments than I usually received, most of which were enthusiastic about the events that took place in this part of the story.
Oddly enough, it was the few comments that were negative that were most effective in reassuring me that writing this plot point in the way that I had was a good choice. I was accused of making the story too farcical – one reader even decided to wash her hands of the whole book because of it. At first, of course, I was upset over this. As a first-time writer, it was hard to hear that I had put anyone off that way. But then I realized something – I was not sorry. So I decided, if I’m writing a farce, then I guess I’m writing a farce!
I’ll not claim it’s never been done before in Austen fan-fiction, but it’s definitely not something we see a lot of, and I can acknowledge that over-the-top absurdity isn’t for everyone. But aren’t some of Jane Austen’s best characters fairly absurd? So, I decided to embrace it, and the second half of the book undoubtedly pushes the envelope in certain situations.
Though it wasn’t my original intention to write a farce, I embraced the fact that that was what I was doing. In a wonderful essay he wrote for The Guardian a couple years ago, John Cleese talks about the art of writing good farce, with the basic premise being that “absurd situations have to be made believable.” He goes on to say,
“The perfect farce script is like clockwork: the writer winds it up by carefully establishing certain credible premises, and then lets the whole thing unwind, with inevitable but startling logic.”
While I won’t say my use of deadly farce is anywhere near Cleese perfection, I do think there’s something to the notion of setting up a situation where, for the characters involved, the most absurd decision they could make is also the one they are most likely to make, and Mr. Collins’s very nature lends itself very easily to farcical behavior. As to how well I have executed it (pun very much intended!), I shall leave you, dear readers, to judge.
In the excerpt below, Lady Catherine comes to dinner at Longbourn while Elizabeth is visiting Pemberley, and things do not go well from Mr. Collins and his wife, Jane….
Mary was on the verge of speaking up, determined that she had to intervene in the face of so much unchristian behavior. However, even as she opened her mouth to speak, she was cut off by a sudden outburst from Mrs. Brandon.
“What is wrong with you all!” the young woman cried, aghast at such a scene being made in company. “I have never in my life witnessed such shocking behavior, and that is saying a lot!”
“Hold your tongue,” Lady Catherine spat, sending her a quelling look.
“Indeed I shall not!”
Mrs. Ferrars laid a hand on her sister’s arm, murmuring her to keep her temper in check, as Mr. Ferrars began to whisper that perhaps they had all best return to Netherfield.
Mrs. Jennings chuckled. “I can hardly countenance leaving at such a time, for I am quite delighted to see my sister by marriage receiving such a well-deserved set down. It is many years since I have been so vastly diverted. You forget, Cat, that Mr. Darcy is my nephew as well, and I have just as much say in the matter as you do. I think Lizzy is a fine match for him.”
Now Lady Catherine directed her wrath towards Mrs. Jennings. “I daresay you could have no objection to Miss Bennet sinking her tenterhooks into our nephew, just as your grasping brother did to my sister, but that is not the point. She is not fit to be a step-mother to my grandchild, and I will not be gainsaid in the matter. Mr. Collins, Mrs. Collins… If you will not take the trouble to curb your sister’s despicable attempts at seduction, I shall depart immediately to do so myself.”
“Seduction,” Mrs. Bennet cried with no little indignation.
“La, I daresay it shall be too late, Lady Catherine,” Lydia said, having the nerve to laugh in the dowager’s face at such a moment. “We expect Lizzy back presently, so there is nothing to be done but wait.”
At this, Kitty gazed between her younger sister and Lady Catherine in despair, and began to cry even louder than Jane. “How could you say such a thing, Lydia? It is a fine joke to you, to see all my hopes ruined, but I dearly wished to go to Kent with Lady Catherine. I do not know why everyone is behaving so abominably towards her, I happen to like Lady Catherine, and dearly wish to be her companion!”
Lady Catherine smiled viciously at Jane and Mr. Collins. “You see what you have done to your poor sister? Would you deny her the myriad benefits of my assistance, merely for the sake of an obstinate, headstrong strumpet? It is not to be borne! I remain firm in my decision, unless you make some attempt to remedy the disaster you have threatened my family with! After everything I have done for you, you owe me your loyalty!”
“We owe you nothing!” cried Mrs. Bennet.
“I should think you are owed nothing more than a swift kick out the door,” Mrs. Jennings laughed.
Jane glowered at her mother and Mrs. Jennings before turning her attention back to her guest. “Lady Catherine is correct, we owe her a great deal, for she has done so much for our family, and was willing to do more still. You are absolutely right; my husband and I are firmly in agreement in this matter, are we not Mr. Collins?”
“Oh, yes, quite, indeed,” Mr. Collins stammered, still attempting to shovel bites of food into his mouth as he spoke.
Though Mary had long held a great reverence for Mr. Collins, she felt her opinion of him, which had been dwindling since his return to Longbourn, now vanish entirely. She wished to say something sensible, but knew not how; she could only look on with horror as the situation deteriorated. She glanced desperately at Mr. and Mrs. Ferrars and Mrs. Brandon, who whispered amongst themselves. The Ferrarses wished to leave at once, and felt that they ought to have done so much sooner, but Mrs. Brandon quietly indicated that she wished to see how things played out, so that she might best warn Elizabeth of the situation. Mrs. Ferrars caught Mary’s eye, the trace of a smile forming on her lips, though she lowered her voice even more as they continued their private family conference at the far end of the table. Meanwhile, the heated argument continued.
Jane and Mr. Collins pledged their support of Lady Catherine’s wishes, and promised that they would do whatever she required of them, to restore their place in her good graces. “We must think of Kitty, now, Mamma,” Jane said. “Eliza has squandered every opportunity she has been given to make a suitable marriage. I have no doubt in my mind that she indeed intends to form some design upon one or both of Lady Catherine’s nephews, and as I have failed thus far to prevent it, I must now do everything in my power to make amends to her ladyship.”
“Quite right,” Mr. Collins gurgled, stuffing his mouth with boiled potatoes. “Only tell us what is to be done!”
“Oh hang Kitty,” cried Lydia, as the weeping of her sister intensified. “I daresay she would only bore Lady Catherine. Take me to Kent, Lady Catherine, I am sure I shall be far more popular with all the neighborhood gentlemen, and certainly a far more interesting companion for you, and nothing Lizzy does will change that!”
Lady Catherine sneered at her. “If you were left in my charge, Miss Lydia, you would be locked in your room for a twelvemonth, I am sure.”
Lydia grimaced at her and turned beseechingly toward her mother, who sputtered with outrage. “Lady Catherine, I insist you cease to insult my daughters, else I must ask you to leave this house at once!”
“This is my house,” Jane cried, catapulting a soup spoon across the table as she slammed her hand down upon it.
“I am not going anywhere until I have spoken personally with your second daughter, Mrs. Bennet, and as Mrs. Collins is indeed mistress of this house, and has far too much sense to turn me out of it, I must inform you that if you are in anyway displeased with this turn of events, perhaps you should leave.”
“Mother Bennet,” Mr. Collins wailed. “Consider what a dreadful position you are putting my wife and I in by insulting our very generous friend. Would you deny Kitty the very opportunities Eliza has foolishly squandered? Can you refute that she has disappointed your dearest hopes for her, by refusing to select a suitable husband?”
Mrs. Bennet looked taken aback, for as much as she wished to refute Lady Catherine, the matter of her daughters’ matrimonial prospects remained a firm sticking point for her, and she was clearly beginning to weigh her options.
“It is not fair,” Kitty groaned. “Lady Catherine, I am sure I should do better than Elizabeth! Whatever it is she has done, I swear I shall not!”
Lady Catherine glanced at Kitty, sparing her a condescending pat on the shoulder. “I am sure you mean well, my dear, and I certainly had wished to see what sort of companion you would make. There are several very appropriate options for you, by way of suitors, but it seems that your mother is determined to deny you every opportunity, in defense of your wicked elder sister. You must aid me in appealing to Mr. and Mrs. Collins, for it would seem your fate is in their hands.”
Mr. Collins leaned back in his chair, still stuffing food into his mouth. He appeared to be deep in consideration, or as much so as his limited intellect would allow. At last he held his hand up to silence the bickering, and addressed his wife. “Perhaps we ought to consider, sweetling. Kitty is a good girl, to be sure, but I have no notion of how she shall fare in Kent. I am of the opinion that she is not quite as comely as your sister Eliza. If Lady Catherine is correct in her belief that one of her nephews truly favors your sister, perhaps it might be more beneficial to simply allow Eliza to make such an advantageous marriage. Lady Catherine does us a great favor, indeed, by offering to take one of your sisters off our hands, but only think what favors might be within Mr. Darcy’s gift, or even that of Lord Hartley. If Eliza were to become a viscountess, she might put all your younger sisters in the way of the most elevated gentlemen.”
Jane’s eyes went wide with dismay, and Mary felt instinctively that her oldest sister could not like the idea of Elizabeth making such a fine marriage. Mrs. Bennet and her youngest daughters let out simultaneous shrieks of delight at Mr. Collins’s observation, and he smiled through a mouthful of boiled potatoes at his own avaricious new idea, oblivious to his wife’s discontent, as Jane began to protest. “Husband, think what you are saying!”
“How dare you defy me with your evil schemes, Mr. Collins, after all I have done for you,” Lady Catherine shouted, and actually leaned across the table to box his ear. Mr. Collins shuddered and coughed heavily as Lady Catherine struck him, and his face went from deep crimson to utterly purple as he let out a strange gasping sound. He clutched at his throat with one hand while flailing the other one wildly about.
There were cries of alarm from all around the table, and even Mrs. Brandon, who had never disguised her disdain of Mr. Collins, leapt from her chair to rush to his side. “Help, he is choking,” she cried.
“Get him some wine,” was Mrs. Jennings’s hasty rejoinder as she, too, leapt to her feet and rushed at the man.
Mr. Collins recoiled in alarm as Mrs. Jennings flew at him, and in his haste to reach for his cup, he knocked its contents over on the table.
“My fine linen,” Mrs. Bennet wailed, swatting at her youngest daughters as they giggled at Mr. Collins’s indecorous spasms.
Mr. Ferrars broke off his hushed conversation with his wife and also made haste to Mr. Collins’s side, patting him roughly on the back in an attempt to dislodge the food that was stuck in Mr. Collins’s throat. The man was now thrashing wildly, swinging his arms about at anyone who came near him, as he cast his eyes around the room with a frenzied look.
“Help, help!” Jane shrieked, looking as though she would swoon.
“Pull yourself together, you stupid man,” Lady Catherine yelled at him, pushing Mr. Ferrars and his sister out of the way as she grabbed Mr. Collins roughly by the collar.
Mary could bear to look no longer. She squeezed her eyes shut as she and Miss Dashwood latched on to one another, trembling, and it seemed that everyone else in the room was shrieking and shouting at once as Mr. Collins continued to sputter for a moment longer before falling eerily silent. The room was quiet for a moment, the silence broken only by a tremendous thud. Mary looked up, despite her better judgment, only to discover that Mr. Collins’s inert form had slumped forward, his face on the table, his body utterly still.
Jane sank from her chair onto the floor beside her husband, weeping loudly and calling his name. Mrs. Bennet rushed at Lady Catherine and forcibly accosted her. “You’ve killed him! You’ve killed him! Hill, Hill! Oh, what is to become of us all?”
Oh wow!! Poor Mr. Collins!! I’ve read a couple stories before where Mr. Collins meets his an unexpected and untimely end…it is always does seem to involve some humor and loss of dignity too! 😉 I’m so curious to see what sort of ripples this change produces in the story. Thanks so much for sharing, Jayne!!
Thanks for joining me on the fifth stop of my blog tour, and a special shout-out to those of you who have been following Happier since the days of posting on AHA and AO3!
As a thank-you for all the wonderful support I’ve received, I have started a giveaway, and will be selecting a winner after each post on the blog tour! See the full schedule for the blog tour below, and click here to follow me on Facebook for updates on the sequel, coming soon!
Jayne is giving away one ebook of Happier in Her Friends Than Relations in conjunction with her visit to Austenesque Reviews!
Commenting and entering through the rafflecopter widget on this blog enters you in a chance to win!
- This giveaway is open internationally. Thank you, Jayne!
- This giveaway will end January 22nd.