“…their lives were linked and interwoven in innumerable and often intimate ways and because this…land shaped all who lived along its rivers, by its swamps and on its islands and sandy hills, even as those who lived there shaped the land itself.”
Erskine Clarke, Dwelling Place
All-too-often we see Austen in terms of interiors: a ballroom, a drawing room, or a dining room. Yes, she uses exteriors as well and to great effect. However, again, they are stage-dressing, I think, a way to express a transition from one place to another. Yes, Elizabeth does walk the three miles to Netherfield, but things do not get interesting until the results of that trek are brought to the forefront: her filthy hem or her brightened eyes.
I have been struck at how clearly and cleverly Jane Austen used the idea of place to define her characters. There is a myriad of places used in the Canon—some to define persons, others dictate actions.
Consider how Darcy may have been shaped if he had hailed not from cold, forbidding, and wild Derbyshire, but rather from southern Dorset or Hampshire. Would he have so easily assumed his austere Master of Pemberley mien? Or might he have offered a different aspect? And Hertfordshire, located twenty-odd miles from the great capital, was still seen as rustic by comparison to the glittering metropolis, much as the towns scattered around the plains outside of Rome must have seemed quaintly backward 2,300 years ago.
The Hertfordshire estate of Longbourn offers a central place which sprang from the imagination of Jane Austen. Yet, another, which has shined brightly, is Oakham Mount. This bit of nature serves for Elizabeth Bennet much as the northern shire does for Darcy. Oakham both defines her—being her sanctuary—as it explains her to readers.
How unusual it must have been for Regency readers…those of the ton…to discover a character who ran in the fields, scaled “mountains,” and was generally everything a well-bred lady was not. It is unimportant for us to recall that Lizzy was not running away, but rather escaping. I draw that fine semantic point because we all can agree that Lydia would run away while her older sister merely sought some quiet in which she could examine her life and reflect upon her status.
That is why, although it is never clearly identified in the Canon as such, I consider Oakham to be part of the Longbourn property. While it is not tillable, the Mount offered early Bennets timber in exchange for their stewardship. Later, once logging had gone by the board (!), the Bennets allowed the hill to return to its wilder state—can you hear Mrs. Bennet?
I have been Inspired by Austen to contemplate place, to look more closely at the places that shape my characters and are, in turn, shaped by those same persons. A sense of place seems to have begun featuring—as much as the various concepts of love—itself within the lives of my characters whether on the lands around Longbourn, Derbyshire’s hilly fields, or the Mediterranean’s waters.
In The Sailor’s Rest, I found that a dusty Malta hillside stripped away all extraneous matter and allow the two couples to express themselves to one-another. Words were spoken and deep thoughts expressed.
Please enjoy the excerpt below from Chapter 41 of The Sailor’s Rest between Anne and Frederick where they discover the reason for their tribulations of the past two months.
Here is the link for The Sailor’s Rest.
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This excerpt from The Sailor’s Rest is ©2023 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction is prohibited.
An Excursion to Città Vecchia, Friday, April 21, 1815
The donkeys’ progress was uneven at best. The powdery track leading from Città Vecchia into the Bingemma Hills ascended through worn hummocks—only in the Thames Valley would they have been awarded the courtesy title of ‘mount’—toward Rabato. This ageless village surrounded even more ancient Phoenician tombs.
According to their guide, the beasts had never lost a paying customer when the party’s two gentlemen had voiced concerns. The grey and black fellows seemed more interested in returning to their stalls for dinner—that inspired sure-footedness.
As it was, only one couple—Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot—remained aboard their donkeys. Anne had overheard Elizabeth insist that she had been “cooped up in a boat the size of Longbourn’s rose garden” and that she needed “to burn off some of her nerves before the wedding lest she ignites some of Malta’s few remaining trees.”
Shortly after leaving the old town, Elizabeth pulled her donkey to the trail’s edge and leaped to the ground. Darcy was left to scramble off his steed, collect the reins to Elizabeth’s, and give them to the guide. Then he used his long legs to catch up to his beloved, already well past their chaperones. Within five minutes, the couple was out of sight: their voices echoed from one of the switchbacks higher up the hillside.
The captain’ gaiety showed his sailor’s talent to release months of pent-up emotions. He gripped his donkey’s flanks with his knees as his hands gesticulated his pleasure at the sights on either side. Anne’s face showed her determination not to be unseated by the donkey’s erratic movements, followed a comfortable twenty feet behind to avoid eating her fiancé’s dust. She was not unfamiliar with four-legged transportation, but her equine experience was limited to more stable platforms like Kellynch’s mares Athena and Circe.
Wentworth looked over his shoulder at Anne, a big grin splitting his handsome features. His quarterdeck roar—something they would have to temper lest he disturb their anticipated wee ones—split the afternoon air. “Annie: this reminds me of when I was a youngster back on Minerva. Croft can tell you that she was a sweet-sailing fifth-rate. I was one of the captain’s least favorite young gentlemen. I think he had been obliged by Bristol’s port captain who had a fondness for my father’s sermons to take me aboard in exchange for the premier spot on the provisioning pier!
“I vow I spent two watches out every ten up in the crosstrees for some infraction. This pitching back and forth sends me back twenty years when I would be one hundred feet above the deck swinging and swaying over sea and ship like I was on a binnacle’s compass gimbal.”
Anne signaled Frederick to wait for her. Now that Elizabeth and Darcy had moved up the trail, she could address the pachyderm that had taken rooms in their lives for two months. She was no Lizzy Bennet who would strike at the heart of the matter with her first words. Anne preferred to work her way in from the edges. His strong arms helped her down from her donkey, leaving Miss Elliot’s nose within inches of his shirtfront.
“I know we are supposed to be keeping an eye on Lizzy and Darcy, much as they are assumed to be chaperoning us. However, our weddings are only three days off. I cannot see what harm there is if we bend propriety.” She dipped her head and blushed but then forged onward, knowing they would share the ultimate intimacy Monday evening. No need to become missish. “It is not as if someone could anticipate their vows on this arid hill.”
Wentworth’s snort stopped her. “I think that with those two, the ship has already sailed. Or, to use a landsman’s metaphor: closing the barn door after the horse has run.”
Anne rolled her eyes. “Captain Wentworth: you forget yourself with your bawd-house manners. Humph: sailors will always find a salty way to tell their story. I do not know if I can ever dress you and take you to dinner.”
Wentworth archly shot back, “I do hope you will cease acting like your elder sister, fuming at the manners of anyone titled lower than viscount!”
Anne gave him a dazzling smile to remind him of which Elliot lady owned his heart. “Impertinent man: you are safe in my love for you, but please, Frederick, do not resort to the dreaded comparison to Miss Elliot. You will win no favors by reminding me of my elder sister.”
She quieted before adding, “Although I know you jest, I pray that if I ever treat people as my sister does, you will discipline me.
“No, do not look dumbfounded, sir. I am not suggesting that you would thrash me. You are too noble to abuse a lady. But, Frederick, I will be a discredit to you—and myself—if I begin presuming that I am somehow so much better than another of our fellow men.
“How soon would it be before some harpy whispers in her lordship’s husbandly ear that Captain Wentworth’s wife is just bad ton, acting as if she is a duke’s eldest daughter rather than the middle child of a rustic baronet?”
Wentworth enveloped her in his arms, forcing her to speak into his chest as she warmed to her subject. “No sir, all we have will be our good name and the good opinion of our friends. Yes, we will have money, but if we presume that wealth purchases character, we will both be dreadfully disappointed.
“And that is what frightens me, Frederick. This business with my cousin proves that prospects—his assumption of the baronetcy and Kellynch upon Papa’s death—cannot confer integrity. We know his depravity, but others do not. He will use that ignorance and his connections to continue his designs against you and me.”
Wentworth sobered even more. “This vile creature has no compunction about using his hoard of poisonous barbs to extort others for favors and money.”
“I could live with that because we could arrange our lives so we would never cross his path.” Anne continued. “But, dearest, that was our lives before…before…”
“Before he reached out and touched us,” Wentworth growled.
Anne shivered in his arms. “And now you are away yet again. You have Melpomène, and Alfred has said you will raise your broad pennant as commodore and lead a squadron with Persephone and a few sloops from the Maltese flotilla to interdict the Straits of Sicily.
“I am worried, Frederick. What are we to do? What little you and Darcy have told me of my cousin’s perfidy, I cannot see how we can be protected if you are not on the field.”
Wentworth gathered her in and stroked her hair. “Yes, my love. We are to be separated again.”
“Such is the lot of a navy wife.”
They fell into companionable silence, comforted in the security of each other’s arms.
Hot and dry, a tiny part of the scirocco swirled fine loess about them, obscuring the blue dome above them. Isolated as they were in a tiny universe, the same thought struck them simultaneously.
What does he want?
He wants you, Anne…me…and to get me, he needed to remove you, Frederick.
Wentworth shouted up the slope for Darcy.