Good Afternoon dear readers,
Today is the first day of the conference Jane Austen Superstar where I will be speaking about Jane Austen Fan Fiction, so I though it would be befitting to share with you a guest post by Don Jacobson, who has released in the last couple of years very different and intriguing JAFF works which not only are not canon, but also feature secondary characters. Don Jacobson is the perfect example that JAFF is not the same story being told all over again, it is a genre with many sub-genres that appeals to a vast audience who loves Jane Austen’s characters above all ,and who has standards that authors must meet to be accepted in the community.
Creativity has no limits in JAFF and Don Jacobson is here to prove it. I hope you all enjoy reading about The Bennet Wardrobe series 🙂
By Don Jacobson
I must tell you that I am an adherent of the concept of solipcism that was used by the great master of speculative fiction, Robert A. Heinlein. Solipcism avers that the act of writing fiction creates the reality about which it is written.
Thus, the moment that Jane Austen finished writing Pride and Prejudice, the universe in which it existed was created. ODSC’s Hyde Park is now as real as our Hyde Park. Lest you think I am thoroughly fey when I refer to the existence of the Bennet family as if they were real individuals living in a real world, interacting with real world (and also period-appropriate fictional) characters, that is how I see them. Doing so gives me the freedom to paint their portraits without forcing my readers to consciously suspend disbelief.
As a result, I am able to create, as Weber said, webs of significance that inform the characters’ actions. I am able to establish ancestries and core experiences—traumatic and otherwise—that shape both primary and secondary characters.
I do tend to hew closely to the Canonical description of the Bennets as a hinge point around which both the past and future revolve.
Yet, those images established by Ms Austen are relatively thin…tending to offer the reader an immediate image of the characters in a slice of time.
Mr. Bennet is an indolent father. Mrs. Bennet is a nervous twit. Elizabeth is, well, precocious and impertinent. Darcy, a creature of his social class, is reserved to the point of being anti-social. Wickham, on the other hand, is the absolute antithesis of Darcy in every aspect: easy in company, seeking physical pleasure in all ways—sort of an adrenaline junkie. Yet, in all cases here, Ms Austen offers little explanation of why they—the actual person—were formed in this manner.
As for the secondary characters: Jane is the sweetest young woman to ever walk the face of the earth. Her soul mate, Bingley, is perfectly shaped for her in that he acts as “the new man,” happily and merrily enjoying the wonders of the new industrial age. On the other hand, his sister, Caroline, adheres so closely to rules and class-consciousness that she loses sight of her humanity. William Collins is a caricature (as is Lady C) of the moribund 17th and 18th Century English social structure that is in the process of dying in 1811.
Back to the younger Bennet sisters—nearly invisible most of the time: Mary moralizes and scolds. Kitty coughs. Lydia is, charitably, a flirt. Each sits and glowers, hides in the shadows, or flounces across the stage whenever the author needs her to do so. Then they are dispatched back to Austen’s toolbox against the next time they are needed.
As an historian, I have been trained to look for the discourse underlying the motivations of the actors making up our world. One often is better served to look at the individuals with whom the key players surround themselves.
In other words…while Winston Churchill’s words are important, students of Churchill gain a better understanding of the man by looking at the nature of those who allowed him to act upon his inner impulses. The same goes for ODC. Lizzy and Fitzwilliam could not move through Regency England as they did without others.
For those “others,” I immediately gravitated to Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and, eventually, Thomas.
I first started by asking myself: Why are they acting the way that they are in this twelve month window we see in P&P—roughly 1810-11? Was Mary emotionally abused as a child because she was less attractive than Jane or Lizzy? What terrified Kitty so much that she feared ever taking control of her life? Was Lydia so spoiled by her mother that she was irretrievably broken? Why did Thomas turn away from his responsibilities to the estate and his family in spite of the entail?
That naturally led to another question: What happens to Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Thomas after the double weddings? Is Mary destined to live the remaining fifty-odd years of her life as a moralizing prude? Will Lydia turn into a pathetic woman of a particular age still trying to act as if she is seven-and-ten? Will Kitty be a non-entity, always in the shadow of others as “the girl who coughs?” Will Thomas ever become the pater familias or will he always avoid parenting?
Having written professionally for forty-plus years…and having become an avid consumer of JAFF by 2014…things began to turn creatively in my mind. Maybe it was the intersection of my youthful fascination with speculative fiction and my mature appreciation of Austen and 19th Century fiction—that threw the idea of the Wardrobe up in front of me. Now my protagonists could be immersed in different timeframes beyond the Regency to learn that which they needed to learn in order to realize their potentials and, in the process, carry the eternal story of love and change forward to even the 21st Century.
The Bennet Wardrobe acts as something that is instrumental to create the circumstances for the entire scheme of things. What this does is give the Wardrobe itself agency—a form of control that determines where Bennets must go to discover what they must. This also, therefore, confers a sort of intelligence upon the Wardrobe. In a way, the Wardrobe becomes a character, although not one that is often seen. And, as with characters, that implies that the Wardrobe has a deeper purpose for being present…something that we will discover if we continue to research it, the travels of its users, and their destinies that they themselves chart.
The Bennet Wardrobe Series is a collection of novels, novellas and stories exploring how the Wardrobe impacted the lives of all members of the Bennet blood line growing out of the “wilds” of Hertfordshire.
The entire series will encompass six master novels, two of which have been published thus far. The books ought to be read sequentially as one story tends to grow from the next. Likewise, some characters appear in the foreground in one book with the same scene being presented in another book from a different point-of-view that will have them now moving through the background. There will be additional novellas as the need dictates. Here are the novels of The Bennet Wardrobe Series as they have been published/projected.
The tentative publication schedule for the balance of the books is
The Exile (pt. 2): The Countess Visits Longbourn (12/17)
The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament (6/18)
The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and the Soldier’s Portion (12/18)
Let us take a look at each of the four books currently available in the order in which they were published.
The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey
Volume 1 of The Bennet Wardrobe (2016/17)
The Keeper begins with an exploration of the origins of the Bennet Wardrobe in 1690 allowing readers to understand the roots of the Bennet Wardrobe Universe.
With both Jane and Lizzy married, The Keeper follows Mary Bennet as she emerges from her cocoon after December 1811. Yet, even as she overcomes her troubled teenage years and Canonical prosy nature, she is challenged by her sudden and total love for a man who mysteriously appears on the night of a great calamity.
The Keeper follows the life of Mary Bennet as she matures from the caricature familiar to JAFF readers into a confident young woman looking to make her mark in the rapidly changing world of the Industrial Revolution. Novel of 110,000 words in both print and e-book.
Henry Fitzwilliam’s War
Volume 1.5 of The Bennet Wardrobe (2016/17)
Time is bent once again in 1883 as Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam uses the Bennet Wardrobe to seek his manhood. He travels over 30 years into his future to the middle of the most awful conflict in human history. His brief time at the Front teaches him that there is no longer any room on the battlefield for heroic combat. It is his two weeks spent recuperating at the Beach House in Deauville where he encounters an incredible woman, one who will define his near 10-year search for the love of his life after he returns to his own time.
This brief Pride and Prejudice Variation grew from the author’s efforts to sketch the events that shaped the personality of Henry Fitzwilliam. The young Viscount becomes a central character in The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque. Novella of 20,500 words in e-book only.
Volume 2 (pt. 1) of The Bennet Wardrobe (2017)
Longbourn, December 1811. The day after Jane and Lizzy marry sees young Kitty Bennet called to Papa’s bookroom. She is faced with a resolute Mr. Bennet intending to punish her complicity in her sister’s elopement. She will be sent packing to a seminary in far-off Cornwall.
She reacts like any teenager—she throws a tantrum. In her fury, she slams her hands against the doors of The Bennet Wardrobe.
Her heart’s desire?
I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall! Anywhere but here!
London, May 1886. Kitty Bennet tumbles out of The Wardrobe at Matlock House to come face-to-face with the austere Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam. Henry still fights his feelings for another woman, lost to him nearly thirty years in his future. And Miss Bennet must decide between exile to the remote wastelands of Cornwall or making a new life for herself in Victorian Britain and Belle Époque France.
The Exile (pt. 1) is an 86,000-word novel detailing Kitty’s life from the age of seventeen to twenty-two.
Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess
Volume 2.1 of The Bennet Wardrobe (2017)
June 1801: The Bennet Wardrobe’s door to the future was opened in the bookroom at Longbourn. This time the most impertinent Bennet of them all, Elizabeth, tumbled through the gateway. Except she left as a ten-year-old girl who had been playing a simple game of hide-and-seek.
Which Where/When was her destination? What needs could a young girl have that could be answered only by the Wardrobe? Or were the requirements of another Bennet, one who began as younger, but had aged into a beautiful, confident leader of Society, the prime movers behind Lizzy’s journey?
After Lizzy is transported back to 1801, Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess moves forward to 1816 to what may be considered the greatest writers’ workshop in history. T’was at the legendary Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva that Lord Byron gathered Mary Godwin, and Percy Bysshe Shelley for a vacation. Oh, Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth, were also present to act as catalysts that would transform vague ideas into timeless storytelling.
Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess considers brief window of time between the end of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque in 1892 and the beginning of Henry Fitzwilliam’s War in 1915. Novella of 41,000 words available in print and e-book.
Don Jacobson would like to offer to one of my readers the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe series, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. The international giveaway is for an ebook copy and is open until the 16th of December. To enter it, all you have to do is comment on this post and share your opinion of the series with us. I’m looking forward to read your opinion 🙂
Good luck everyone!