Pride & Precedence: Make Do and Mend?

A continuing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove

Of all the irksome tasks allotted to a lady — and there are many, believe you me! — needlework is the most unfair.

Oh, the hours I have spent embroidering elaborate designs on something useless, such as that set of cushions for our parish church. And to what purpose? So that someone’s hind end will be more comfortable while he or she listens to a sermon? Please.

I would rather be doing something productive.  Like paging through the latest fashion periodical. Or taking a nap.

Now that I am a mother, I am expected to help with the mending. Me, darning stockings! Making repairs to torn breeches! Replacing lost buttons and frayed cuffs! Heavens.

Who says I ought to be the one to mend? Yes, I am a mother and the lady of the house. Does this mean that I must work like a serf?

As an Elliot of Kellynch Hall, I well understand the importance of clothes. See here, I cannot go about announcing my exalted ancestry always. I have beautiful clothing for that.

Yes, exquisite garments are society’s Town Crier, calling forth the best places at dinner parties and respectful service in the village shops. Nothing says Well Born quite as effectively as spotlessly clean, stylish attire.

But young boys make “clean” impossible to maintain!  My poor nerves. My sons climb trees and scramble across stiles, and they engage in rough-and-tumble play with my husband’s dogs. If I keep the boys with me in the house, they are never still. They spill strawberry jam on themselves at breakfast, and later they open my writing desk and upset the ink pot.

Am I a serf?

Then too, my sons are continually growing. It’s like a joke of cosmic proportions. Once their wardrobe needs are met, overnight they must shoot up two inches in height. And do not speak to me about their too-tight shoes!

Charles merely laughs and says growing families are like this, as if torn and stained garments are a joke. It costs good money to hire a needlewoman — and we need a fleet of them!

Therefore, I must make do without a new gown this month — again. Because the Young Squire’s sons cannot go about in rags, it seems that I am forced to do so.

I trust that your needlework obligations are more tolerable than mine.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross
Laura Hile (1)

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Walter Wednesday

Spring sprang yesterday, hence the change to a light floral motif on the blog.

I was watching a travel show about Napoleon’s contribution to the food culture of Poland, and here is a quote:

victory-belongs-to-the-most-persevering

I have to remind myself of this after not writing for a few days. But, back to the grindstone. I’m nearly 20k into a new project so I have been persevering.

My memory is crap these days so I had forgotten the exact Bony quote and went looking for it. One resource is always Brainy Quote. While looking for the one I wanted, I found another quote on perseverance. This led me down the Walter Wabbit … Rabbit trail.

This quote is by the esteemed Walter Elliot.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.”

This is a reasonable idea, well said. I’m sure Jane Austen could have penned it. That being the case, I’m sure she would have found it impossible to put it in the mouth of our small minded Sir Walter Elliot.

This is a quote not by SIR Walter Elliot, but Walter Elliot Elliot, MC, CH, FRS, FRSE, FRCP. His most important office was that of Secretary of State for Scotland. He’s a snap:

Walter_Elliot_in_1933

He could have easily played Sir Walter, I think. The two of them would have been at odds as the latter Elliot was a prominent Scottish Unionist Party politician. Being Scottish would have been enough, but a UNIONIST! Heaven forfend!  If you want to learn more, here’s his Wiki link.

Now, onto ANOTHER Walter Elliot! This is a more contemporary Walter Elliot who in 2015 found a previously unknown short story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his attic. Walter’s attic, not Conan Doyle’s. In 1908, the town of Selkirk, Scotland was in need of a bridge and Conan Doyle contributed a short story to an anthology called, Book o’ the Brig.

walter-elliot

I think that was kind of Conan Doyle. He had just brought Holmes back from the dead after huge public outcry. I’m not so sure I would have wanted to spend more time with Sherlock than I absolutely had to.

If you’re a Conan Doyle fan, the text of the 1,300 word short is available HERE.

I didn’t find any more Walter Elliots. I’m sure I could, but I have a story to write.

 

 

 

The Ides of March … and Christmas too?

Robin, Barbara, and I are celebrating today, together with our good friend, author Wendi Sotis.

Our A Very Austen Christmas anthology made Janet Taylor’s 2017 Favorites list at More Agreeably Engaged.

What a lovely surprise!

To be honest, everything about this book has been wonderful — from the designer’s beautiful cover and the quality of the stories (who knew?) to the enthusiastic reader responses.

We thought this book would only sell copies at Christmastime. We were wrong!

These favorites lists are the best way to discover some really good reads. Have a look: More Agreeably Engaged’s 2017 Favorites

 

 

A Gothic Persuasion

That’s not true, the new AMC series, The Terror has nothing to do with Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Except Ciaran Hinds, who played Captain Frederick Wentworth in the 1995 adaptation of the novel is starring as John Franklin. IMDB says he’s in all 10 episodes, but the questions is, will he be alive for all those episodes?

I’m not usually a fan of horror but I do have a thing for AMC’s, The Walking Dead, and I watched both seasons of Netflix’s The Frankenstein Chronicles a few weeks ago. (It’s bloody beyond reason, and Season One is FAR superior to Season two so be warned.) I’ll give The Terror a couple of episodes to persuade me of its worth.

The publicity photo below still has me laughing. I’m pushing away all sorts of unkind Frederick-in-the-future sorts of memes.

FW_and_friend_reduce

“I call him Walter. Don’t tell my wife.”

 

Set in 1847. A crew of a Royal Naval expedition is sent to find the Arctic’s treacherous Northwest Passage but instead discovers a monstrous predator, a cunning and vicious Gothic horror that stalks the ships in a desperate game of survival, the consequences of which could endanger the region and its native people forever. Written by AMC

Sir Walter Would NOT Approve

How could I forget such an auspicious occasion? March 1 was Persuasion’s Sir Walter’s birthday. Had he survived old age and decrepitude, he’d be 278! I think that’s the oxygen birthday. Yes, gallows humor all around!

In honor of the old boy, he’s a little retrospective of several of the men who have played him in adaptations:

 

Basil Dignam’s portrayal was the closest to the Sir Walter Austen wrote. He wasn’t overly foolish, and not so sharp-tongued as other performances. Unfortunately, the 1971 adaptation, while faithful to the book, is hampered by polyester and zippers. LOTS of polyester and zippers.

 

 

Corin Regrave gave a great performance of Sir Walter. The guy is so foolish as to think that giving up an estate for a townhouse in Bath is a step-up in the world. This humorous portrayal gave the character a lot of undeserved sympathy, but it was fun to watch.

 

 

 

 

Anthony Head’s performance was, in my opinion, what men with an overweening sense of importance are really like. He was harsh and intractable when countered, and when his mind is made up, all boats will be floating or all are going down with his ship. And with Walter at the tiller, man the lifeboats.

 

 

So, here’s to Sir Walter, the man who retrenched and thought it a good thing.

Happy 278th.

 

 

Tip My Hand Tuesday

While doing a writing sprint this morning, I read an article by James Scott Bell entitled, Garlic Breath for Writers (aka Bad First Pages). The article helps writers improve their first pages so no one shies away.

He points out that writers don’t have much time to attract an editor’s attention so don’t blow it by making your opening lines uninteresting. I think it’s a little unfair that we write books for the mythic editor, (or reader), that only gives you 13 seconds to WOW them. If they’re not transfixed by your characters, plot and setting in that time, you’re tossed aside like so much cold oatmeal. But, I also have ended my past policy of if-I-start-your-novel-I-finish-your-novel. I give a writer 50 pages. I don’t have to be transfixed by your book. I don’t even have to be in love. I just have to be interested enough to turn the page. Maybe like me, the only shocking thing is how many books fail to do even that!

IN the spirit of putting myself at risk, I’m putting the first few paragraphs of a new novel I’m working on. (Yeah, yeah, I know, “finish the ones you’ve got going now, Madam Can’t-finish-a-thing!)

The first segment is the original from the first draft I’m working on. The second is the reworked version. The segments include a title change, a short synopsis, and several paragraphs of narrative and dialogue.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Original:

THOUGH I HAD A SON

The stillborn son of the Elliots survived.  With a son, SW is worse than ever about precedence, money, rank, all of it. Though Lady Elliot survives past 1800, she is often “unwell” and must withdraw from society for short periods. During these times, SW is free to spend on their son at an alarming rate. This brings the retrenchment closer more quickly.

CHAPTER ONE

Anne Elliot took her place down the table from her father, Sir Walter. With the eldest Elizabeth on his left, and his son and heir, Young Walter on his right, it was always Anne’s duty to go lower. Her father was reading a letter that had her sister and brother’s rapt attention. She carefully eased her napkin from under the silver so as not to disrupt him.

The warm touch of her mother’s hand comforted her. Lady Elliot sat straight and still, still facing her husband, but her eyes shifted to Anne. She winked. A wisp of a smile followed and then she looked back to the head of the table.

There were no footmen to serve the family’s breakfast, so Anne served herself an egg and a bit of sausage. This was the one area in which Lady Elliot was supreme. She had grown up in a house with a lawyer for a father who left the ordering of the house to her mother who was raised on a farm. The household had moved through the seasons dictated by what the land needed at the moment. At no time of year was it acceptable to dawdle over meals. There was no ceremony about seating, who sat where sorted itself by who got to the table first. If the matter was left to Sir Walter, every meal would be a rigorous, proper affair that took far too much time. Before the children had been born, and she still had a hold over him, she had insisted that breakfast be a quiet, casual affair. It was still a battle to keep it such. Everything, whether household or estate was now being used to teach their son that, in the words of Sir Walter, “a baronet should be seen to live as a baronet.” Even if that meant the hard-won domestic preferences of my lady were dashed.

“… and so, Miss Elizabeth’s gown, and the suits of Sir Walter, and Young Walter Elliot are ready for a final fitting. If you would be so kind as to fix a date that would be convenient to you and your children. Madam and I are most anxious to travel to Kellynch and to see our creations in the very house they will grace.  M. Perry and co.”

The havoc a fitting would stir depressed Anne. Before the visit, her sister was sure to fly into fits. Problems with the materials, snagged lace, uneven stitching, and surely the colours will be nothing at all like the ones she chose a month ago. Her father would be as bad, if not worse. Young Walter would merely snipe about the Mr Perry’s broad accent, the couples being from Exeter, and not being a fine London tailor.

“I do think that is high-handed of Perry, Father—”

“Yes, it is, Father. And his wife is not even a seamstress. The only proper gowns I have are made in London—”

“—presumptuous to make himself and that silly little wife out to be the actual creators of anything. If it were not for us, he would have been doing nothing in his little shop sewing buttons, and hems, and nothing else.” Young Walter took a bite of potato. A bit dropped on his waistcoat. He then stabbed a bit of toast in some yoke to follow. “What?” with a full mouth he demanded of Anne.

“Nothing, Walter. I just—”

“You have no interest in this, sister. You chose to embarrass the family by having something made over by Mother’s maid rather than—”

“Enough, Walter,” Lady Elliot said.

Yes, indeed,” their father said, folding the note. “Anne’s choices are her own. The dress was your mother’s and fit for London a season ago, so I think it will be sufficient. Though,” he set the note aside, “I hope you will make more than a superficial appearance at the ball my dear.” He spoke to Lady Elliot. She was in one of her periods of societal withdrawal, as Sir Walter called them. “We are twenty-two years married and this is a great occasion.” He realized he was leaning forward and that his voice was brusque. After a deep breath, he softened his tone. “It is my fondest wish that you would rally yourself and be at my side throughout the evening.” He smiled and raised a finger to the children. They turned and smiled as well.

The reworked version:

ANNE ELLIOT’S MOST DEGRADING ALLIANCE

From the Baronetage: “Walter Elliot, Born March 1, 1760 … Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, Nov. 5, 1789 … ” In the Regency period, a son made all the difference in the world to a family. Particularly one with a title and estate. In this Persuasion retelling, the stillborn son of the Elliots survived. In this story, as in reality, a small change can make a startling difference.

CHAPTER ONE

Anne Elliot carefully eased her napkin from under the silver so as not to disrupt her father as he read a letter at the breakfast table. The warm touch of her mother’s hand comforted her. Lady Elliot’s eyes shifted to Anne. Her mother winked. A wisp of a smile followed and then she looked back to the head of the table.

Her mother’s posture was ramrod straight. The Baronet’s flagrant disregard for his wife’s opinion that dining table was a place for polite and appropriate conversations amongst the family was, once again, ignored. Meals had never been delightful family affairs, but lately, tension was always on the menu.

Unfortunately, tension was not restricted to the dining room. More often than not, walking into a room unannounced brought a halt to intense conversations between her parents. As a matter of course, Anne cleared her throat or dropped things to make her presence known. Her elder sister, Elizabeth, was beginning to take notice, and her younger brother, Young Walter, outright called her an oaf. These snatches of conversations, and oblique references to things only understood by her parents weighed heavily on her.

“… and so, Miss Elizabeth’s gown, and the suits of Sir Walter, and Young Walter Elliot are ready for a final fitting. If you would be so kind as to fix a date that would be convenient to you and your children. Madam and I are most anxious to travel to Kellynch and to see our creations in the very house they will grace.  M. Perry and co.”

The Elliots were celebrating their twenty-second wedding anniversary with a ball. Lady Elliot was notorious for limiting extravagant socialising, and this gave Anne’s father an excuse to open his purse and spend freely. This included new clothes for everyone. The occasion being what it was, her mother felt helpless to stop him

The tailor’s letter held Elizabeth and Young Walter in thrall. A fitting with the Perry’s would rain havoc on the household. Even before their arrival, Elizabeth would fly into fits about snagged lace, uneven stitching, and mismatched buttons. She suspected there would also be doubts that the colours or even the material itself will be the ones she chose a month ago. Her father would be as bad, adding irregular lapels, and breeches too loose or too tight, whichever made the least sense. Young Walter would not bother commenting on the possibilities about the clothing, but cruelly snipe about Mr Perry’s broad accent and how the couple residing in Exeter could not possibly be skilled as a fine London tailor.

“I do think that is high-handed of Perry, Father—” So began Young Walter’s bombast.

“Yes, so high-handed, Father. And his wife is not even a seamstress. The only proper gowns I have are made in London—”

“—presumptuous to make himself and that silly little wife out to be the actual creators of anything suitable. If it were not for us, he would have been doing nothing in his little shop sewing buttons, and hems, and nothing else.” Young Walter took a bite of potato. A bit dropped on his waistcoat. He then stabbed a bit of toast in some yoke to follow.

“In the past, they have proven very good—”

What?” with a full mouth he demanded of Anne.

“Nothing, Walter. I just—”

“You have no interest in this, sister. You chose to embarrass the family by having something made over by Mother’s maid rather than—”

“Enough, Walter,” Lady Elliot said.

“Yes, indeed, enough.” their father said, folding the note. “Anne’s choices are her own. The dress was your mother’s and fit for London a season ago, so I think it will be sufficient. Though,” he set the note aside, speaking to Lady Elliot. “I hope you will make more than a superficial appearance at the ball my dear.” She was in one of her periods of societal withdrawal, as Sir Walter called them. “We are twenty-two years married and this is a great occasion.” After a deep breath, he softened his tone. Was it possible that he realised he was leaning a bit too far forward and that his voice was little too brusque? “It is my fondest wish that you would rally yourself and be at my side throughout the evening.” He smiled and raised a finger to the children. They turned and smiled as well.

 

These are both portions of a work-in-progress and subject to change.

Caught by the Internet Quiz …

I am supposed to be writing, or doing laundry, or cleaning …

Instead here I am, caught by an Internet quiz.

How many of us have been derailed from truly important tasks — like loading the dishwasher or sweeping the floor — by an enticing headline? Such as …

Which Jane Austen Suitor Should You Date?

As a married woman, I should keep scrolling.

But that question … 

… Mr. Knightley? Oh, yay! As written by our Barbara Cornthwaite, the man is an absolute delight.

And wouldn’t you know it? Now I’m tempted to pull out Charity Envieth Not and start reading.

Go ahead, go get your man, m’dear. Take the quiz