Having written the last several times about Jane Austen’s relationships with men–and the confusion about which relationships were real and which ones lacked supporting evidence–I am announcing today the launch of the last volume in my trilogy based on her life, “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen.” True to what is (actually) known about her life–and to the events of the turbulent Regency era–the series tells a compelling and believable story of a marriage during the “lost years” of her twenties before she retired to write.
Along with the announcement comes A GIVEAWAY FOR READERS–an eBook copy for the winner, selected from those who comment below. The giveaway ends at midnight EST on 3 December 2017. You may choose whichever volume in the trilogy you prefer.
“The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen” uses the iconic author to explore what life was like for women in the Regency period. Volume I is a charming courtship novel. Volume II is a deep psychological examination of marriage from the woman’s perspective. Volume III is the conclusion that tests Jane’s courage and moral convictions. The last volume is available for order now on Amazon.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 3, as Jane and her husband begin to confront the first of several crises, both personal and public, that dramatically affect their lives.
Finally, everything was done. It had taken several days but at last the baggage was unloaded and sorted for use in the big house or placed in storage; the latest contrivances that Ashton had collected were distributed to sometimes doubting employees; and the inhabitance had passed the white-gloved inspection by the butler, Mr. Hanrahan, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Lundeen.
Hants House thus secured and the baby napping, Jane made her brisk way up to the Greek temple from which she would have a clear view of the estate’s immediate environs. Her lifelong preference was to meander among the fields. She had been back to the top of the hill only a couple of times since their fateful confrontation there—an argument whose ferocity could only have led to marriage. Twenty months ago, it was: an eternity in terms of life lived and changes undergone. Today, for some reason, she needed elevation, as if by gaining the purer air of altitude she could rise above her sooty mood.
Her route took her through the hedgerows and the park, through deliberately casual arrangements of trees—each of which had the same unlikely combination of oak, birch, and ash—around the manmade lake, and up the rise to the Ionic temple. This fashionable folly was the work of Ashton’s parents, as leading Hampshire landholders were required to have at least one rustic ruin. Her husband would have planted trees with commercial value and used the lake to water them. Even now he spoke of how he might justify the expense of converting the temple into an astronomical observatory. She smiled to herself, though, knowing very well it would remain sacredly untouched as the place their life began together.
She did not sit inside on the stone slab, which always felt cold, but walked slowly around the building, taking in the lands and sky. Though below her by a hundred feet, Hants House itself sat on a small rise to the south of her position, fronted by the lawn, the brook, and the meadow. Their lane paralleled the brook in curling around several large irregular tree-covered mounds before angling down a sharp slope to the village. Behind the main building were the pond, the stables, and the usual out-buildings needed to support a country house and working farm. Because Hants had grown by acquisition over more than a hundred years, it had inherited rather than constructed many of its larger buildings. The dispersion of these—the oat, wheat, and barley barns, the fodder house, cart barn, and chicken houses—lent an air of disorganization in contrast to the neatness of a typical estate. This layout, however, meant that many buildings lay close to the fields and livestock, lessening the work for laborers. Beyond these, farmlands rolled east in soft undulations planted in grain and hay, and holding many varieties of livestock. To her left, many more fields stretched up the green valley northward. Some were worked by tenant or yeoman farmers, but this area also included their own lands-in-hand, on which grazed the many horses bred and trained for the Army.
Everywhere, men worked, as signified by the occasional shout or command, the heavy movement of wagons, or the ringing strike of the smith. Everywhere, fireplaces smoked, the women already preparing supper. There were the fresh, orderly strokes of green as spring thrust itself out of the tilled ground. Trees were in that state just beyond budding such that their leaves seemed less blooms than green vibrations in the air. The air smelled of the green of the season. In the distance, on both sides, she could just discern the sharp quick movements of newborn animals, and the jostling of the older animals as they tried to avoid the unpredictability of prance and buck. Somewhere came the startling sound—part whinny, part scream—of a horse that had lost sight of its favored companion.
From here she could also see the coal-gas manufactory, tucked behind a small outcropping that served as a shield against any inadvertent detonation. It sat in a bed of new wood chips that, fresh as a bird’s nest, softened the determined jaws of the building. It was this project that had decided the Dennises to relocate to Southampton with Jane’s family at the first of the year. Their removal had enabled the renovation of Hants House to incorporate the modern Rumford fireplaces and kitchen stoves, under Ashton’s edict that he would not sell what he himself did not use; and the installation of coal-gas lamps in place of candles, which required the manufactory close at hand.
Because only a handful of servants had been needed in Southampton, most of the staff had received temporary outdoor assignments with Mr. Fletcher, the steward, well away from the potential danger zone of the developing gas mechanisms. Jane was satisfied that the staff was put to good use, as her farm-girl eyes could discern subtle improvements in fencing, hay storage, and weed removal—the last of the many chores that are seldom fully completed over winter.
The Dennis entourage had returned after the difficult but ultimately safe delivery of Mary’s baby, a girl named Mary Jane. Worry lingers over every pregnancy and birth, but Jane had been particularly concerned about the wife of her brother Frank. Mary had been ill, sometimes violently, and suffered fainting spells all during her pregnancy; and her delivery, just a few months after Jane’s own, reminded Jane vividly of the complications she herself had suffered. Mary’s confinement had, in fact, been so difficult as to alarm them all extremely, her safety and that of her baby hanging in the balance. Like Jane, however, Mary made a rapid recovery. This somehow seemed to bode well as much for Jane as for her sister-in-law, and her spirits freshened with the breeze that drove away the clouds that had sulked over the Southampton port for weeks. Within a few days, they felt free to start for Hants.
The sun accompanied them on their journey north and had been shining ever since. Every corner of the house was now dry and warm, in contrast to the musty damp it exhaled after prolonged disuse of the previous rainy weeks. By the time she reached the top of the hill today, she felt that she had climbed completely out of her despondency.
And now, finally, she felt safe enough to address her fears about her baby. She could not believe there was anything wrong with George, who had filled out as plump and strong as a piglet; but simultaneously she could not fully dispute the indications, subtle and otherwise, that some things were not quite right with him either. … She had no definitive knowledge of the speed at which a baby developed, but she had the experience of a lifetime caring for the children of her relatives, as well as her own instincts as a mother. …
Jane could not consider the possibility of what might be wrong without initial consideration of the litany of things that were right. George was happy; he smiled and gurgled with pleasure whenever his mother or father played with him. He made the requisite smacking noises, though with less of the fullness of the mouth that would soon turn sound into vowels. His sense of touch was superb, and so was his sensitivity to pain. The slightest pinch brought a howl of protest. His taste was acute—he loved honey when she dabbed it on his tongue and pulled the most awful face when she experimented with something sour. His sight seemed fine—he lit up whenever he saw her, as if it were a game when she suddenly appeared. When they were together he stared so intently he might have been trying to penetrate her soul.
And yet …
I hope you will take a look at how life might have been for Jane Austen–and how, if the literary culture of her day had allowed, she might have written about the deepest matters of the heart. And what might have compelled her to declare that everybody had the right to marry once in their lives for love.