We love ridiculous characters, and Austen provides them in plenty! When I was looking for inspiration for my next story, I decided to focus on three of them–Mr. Collins, Caroline Bingley, and Mary Elliot (from Persuasion).
I tried to write every scene with one of these characters being silly, pompous, oblivious, etc., each in their own wonderful way. Even among these characters we love to laugh at, Mary Elliot was a standout. If anyone has seen the recent Persuasion movie, I have SERIOUS THOUGHTS about it, but Mary Elliot was perfection and that was part of my inspiration.
I originally titled the story, “Austen Unpleasantries” and soon Sir Walter Elliot was joining the party to show Lizzy and Darcy what vanity truly looks like, and Elizabeth Elliot was rivaling Caroline Bingley in matrimonial hints to Mr. Darcy.
It was hilarious fun to write, and a challenge as well–to make the real relationships develop in the midst of all the most difficult characters from both Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.
My newest story will be out April 25th, and you can enter the giveaway here at Always Austen for the chance to win a free paperback copy.
Starch and Strategy: A Persuasion /Pride and Prejudice Crossover
Chapter 3, page 34
In the drawing room at Netherfield, which was already becoming a testament to Miss Bingley’s taste for rich fabrics, the latest claw-foot tables, and poorly disguised sneers, Lizzy found herself chatting with Miss Mary Elliot.
She’d met them previously, and had the privilege of speaking to Sir Walter Elliot, baronet, but the youngest daughter had not come much in her way.
Miss Mary seemed to open her eyes only at intervals, between great yawns and protestations of exhaustion.
Lizzy began to enjoy testing what would make Mary perk up. “Do you miss Kellynch?”
To this, she got merely a languid hand tilt. “It is dreary in the winter; I am happy to be elsewhere. I’d prefer London, however.”
“I heard you were at school in Bath for some years.”
“Yes, very dull.” She leaned her head back. “The wind in Bath is quite severe; I do not know how many sore throats I suffered during my years there.”
“Does winter often affect you so? You look as if you might have a delicate constitution.”
Mary sat up abruptly. “Yes, and it is the most provoking thing. For my sister Elizabeth will only say that I might be well if I chose, and that she feels perfectly fine!”
Lizzy smiled. Mary reminded her more than a little of her mother. “Do your nerves bother you also?”
“Well, not precisely, but even if they did, it was odious of Elizabeth to say that I am too young for them! As if nerves only grow as you get older.”
“That would be a strange feat of biology, certainly,” Lizzy agreed.
“Yes. But for me it is often these terrible colds, and a fatigue that makes my body ache miserably. No one will come near me for days except Anne.”
“Ah, is she the caretaker in your family?”
Mary wrinkled her nose. “I suppose, though Anne is almost worse, for she always recommends that I should feel better with some exertion. If I am in bed, she wants me out of it. If I am in my dressing gown, she wants me dressed. If I am sitting in the drawing room, she wants me to walk.”
“She says it is all for my good, and that I will feel more cheerful after, but she is wrong. To be fair, she does bring me soup and build my fire and read to me for hours, but still. Perhaps to be up and doing makes her more cheerful, but how can she know how I feel?”
“’Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one can share its joy,’” Lizzy quoted.
Mary furrowed her brow. “Is that Shakespeare?”
“A proverb, I think. My father likes to quote it.”
“I don’t care for proverbs; they’re so smug and self-righteous.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Darcy.
Both Caroline and the eldest Miss Elliot moved slightly to make space for him. Caroline scooted to the left on the new divan of deep blue velvet; Miss Elliot languidly made space on the floral settee.
Lizzy grinned. Miss Bingley and Miss Elliot were very well-matched as competitors. She watched Mr. Darcy as well, though his stoic face gave little away. He looked rather as if he regretted entering the room.
He bowed and greeted the guests, took up a newspaper, and sat in one of the Queen Anne chairs near the fireplace.
When the room had settled from his intrusion, and Mary had truly fallen asleep, he looked over his paper to Lizzy. “Your hint on Sunday was understood; I apologize for my words at the assembly. I ought to have kept my thoughts to myself.”
This was not an apology of merit, but Lizzy liked him too little to care. She was merely relieved that he no longer thought her on the catch for him. “Noted, thank you, sir.”
She didn’t want to dwell on his rudeness, and she was of too lively a temperament to sit here in silence while Mary slept. “You seem to gravitate towards fireplaces, Mr. Darcy. Are you often cold?”
He returned his eyes to his paper. “No.”
“And I see that is the same paper you were reading at my house only yesterday. Is it still so interesting?”
He hesitated. “I’ve not yet finished this article on the proposed corn laws.”
“My father says the tariffs on foreign grain will help large farmers here in England, but they will drive costs up in the meantime. I agree with those who propose a graduated introduction of tariffs to help ease the process.”
Darcy stared at her. “You have opinions on the grain tariffs?”
“Yes, but I forgot you have not yet finished the article. It is rude of me to discuss it when you can’t have formed an opinion yet.”
He folded the paper. “Of course I have formed an opinion; this is hardly the first time it’s been proposed. The corn laws will drive up costs in the short term, but they’ll never get approval before the war is done. The Whigs and Tories will argue for at least a few more years before we see the tariffs levied.”
“You are severe upon Parliament.”
Darcy shrugged. “They do a job I would rather not do, but they do it worse than I would. My gratitude is limited.”
“You are confident in your abilities.”
“I am a proud man; I don’t deny it. But where there is real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”
“Are you certain of that?” Her gaze went to Sir Walter Elliot.
Sir Walter was even then checking his reflection in one of the mirrors. “Anne has let herself go terribly,” he said, “and even our friend Lady Russel shows her age ill. I do not at all understand the problem.” He smoothed his hands over his torso. “It is not so hard to maintain a trim figure, yet I see so many men nearly as wide as they are tall, fit to rival the Prince Regent.”
Mr. Darcy almost smiled, and it almost improved his face. “A contrary example that proves my point,” he said quietly.
He had leaned toward her, so as not to be overheard, and she had leaned forward to hear.
This could not be borne by some ladies of the household. Lizzy leaned back and smiled when Caroline joined them.
“Ugh, it is far too hot by the fire, Mr. Darcy. You will be scorched! Miss Lizzy will not mind changing places with you, for her dress is so thin.”
“Certainly,” Lizzy said, abandoning him to the hunt. “I was just noting that he need not sit by the fire. In fact, you are looking rather flushed, sir, you ought to go to the other side of the room. It is much cooler by the windows.”
He looked, if possible, slightly betrayed. He left the paper on the chair and went.
Thanks for reading!! Wishing you all a lovely Thursday,