Monday, February 22, 2010

William Cowper - A Winter Nosegay, and Willoughby's Return

It's snowing again today in Barnet; the sky is as grey as the plump breasts of the woodpigeons that strut about outside in the garden looking for their breakfast. Increasingly, I am reminded of Narnia, and C.S. Lewis's magical, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and wonder if winter will be here forever. There are signs that spring is on its way, however, - there are tiny green shoots pushing their way up through the earth, despite the cold weather. At last, the snowdrops have made an appearance - aptly named, their delicate heads nodding as the snow falls down from the heavens.

I was reminded of this poem by William Cowper, one of Jane Austen's favourite poets. I used a tiny portion of this poem in Willoughby's Return - Marianne is feeling rather vulnerable and lonely when she receives a gift of Cowper's poems. The volume falls open at this particular poem where she also finds a letter, which gives rise to feelings of mixed emotions.

Here is the poem in full - I think it is one of Cowper's most beautiful poems.

The Winter Nosegay

What Nature, alas! has deni'd
To the delicate growth of our isle,
Art has in a measure suppli'd,
And winter is deck'd with a smile.
See, Mary, what beauties I bring
From the shelter of that sunny shed,
Where the flowers have the charms of the spring,
Though abroad they are frozen and dead.

'Tis a bower of Arcadian sweets,
Where Flora is still in her prime;
A fortress to which she retreats,
From the cruel assaults of the clime.
While earth wears a mantle of snow,
These pinks are as fresh and as gay,
As the fairest and sweetest that blow
On the beautiful bosom of May.

See how they have safely surviv'd
The frowns of a sky so severe!
Such Mary's true love that has liv'd
Through many a turbulent year.
The charms of the late-blowing rose,
Seem grac'd with a livelier hue,
And the winter of sorrow best shows
The truth of a friend, such as you.

William Cowper


Daffodils at Chatsworth
Kate Greenaway
Jane Odiwe

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pictures and prints for inspiration: Lydia Bennet in Brighton!

I love using pictures and prints for inspiration. When I was writing Lydia Bennet's Story, I drew on many that I was able to find in museums and books. These prints of contemporary scenes in Brighton by the seaside helped me to write a scene where Lydia and her friend, Harriet Forster, are interrupted by the attentions of a certain gentleman.

The following afternoon found Harriet and Lydia taking a turn along the seafront. They were standing watching some ladies riding on donkeys when Lydia was startled by a voice in her ear which seemed to come from nowhere. “Mr Wickham,” she cried as she turned to face him, “whatever do you mean by pouncing on young women in such a manner?! You quite frightened the life out of me.”

“Forgive me, Mrs Forster, Miss Bennet, but you were so engrossed, I could not resist making you jump. I declare, Miss Bennet, that I never saw you in such studied contemplation since I saw you outside the milliner’s in Meryton!”

Lydia could not help herself; she struck him on the arm for his insolence. “As it happens, we are whiling away a pleasant afternoon by watching the fashionables on horseback. It is vastly entertaining. Look over there; that poor creature can hardly stand for the two comely dames he has on his back.”

“Ah, yes, that is most amusing, though for myself, there is nothing so delightful as a horseback ride for two in my opinion, especially if you can share a saddle. Now wouldn’t that be a prospect, Miss Bennet? I am sure you would enjoy a ride with me above all else!” Mr Wickham twirled his cane with a flick of his wrist. “However,” he went on, “press me not, I am unable to oblige today. I have important matters to attend, and in any case, I have promised Miss Westlake a turn in a donkey cart first.”

Lydia regarded Mr Wickham’s countenance, so smug and self-satisfied. He presumed too much if he thought that she would instantly say yes to his suggestion. She was most vexed to be considered only as an afterthought to Miss Westlake. He was full of his own importance, she decided, and determined right there and then that, if he ever should suggest they go out on horseback or in a donkey cart for two, she would refuse immediately. She was on the point of answering with a cutting retort when he started again, leaving her to gape with her mouth wide open.

“No, I must go,” he announced, clicking his heels. “I can spend no longer standing here in idle chatter; our Colonel awaits me! I look forward to tomorrow evening, and Miss Bennet, if you stop scowling and smile pleasantly at me, I shall engage you for the first two dances. Good day, Mrs Forster.” With a short bow he set off at a march along the promenade before Lydia had a chance to answer him. She left her friend in no doubt of what she thought of his behaviour.

“Well, of all the conceited, arrogant…good Lord! That man is the end! He thinks he has only to say the word and I shall jump. Well, I will not! I shall endeavour to dance all night with Denny and Chamberlayne or indeed anyone who might wish to partner me but Mr Wickham!”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentine Snippet from Willoughby's Return, a Sense and Sensibility Sequel

To celebrate Valentine's Day, here is a snippet from Willoughby's Return. I wanted this book to be as much Margaret's story as Marianne's and I thought it high time she started to enjoy herself by attending balls and meeting young men. Colonel Brandon's sister and family have recently returned to Whitwell and his nephew, Henry Lawrence, back home from university, is introduced to Margaret for the first time at a ball at the Brandon's home, Delaford.

The gong rang out, calling the weary dancers to rest awhile and replenish their energy. All the guests hurried off to the dining room, where tables were set, groaning under the weight of a magnificent spread. The musicians laid aside their instruments and dashed to the servant’s hall for a glass of negus and a bowl of soup. Colonel Brandon ushered his guests, Sir Edgar and Henry Lawrence, to his table, where much to her great delight, Margaret already sat, with her mother, the Middletons, and Mrs
Jennings. There was such a hubbub and frenzied bustle about the room as people found their chairs and struck up conversation.

Every little party was talking nineteen to the dozen, piling plates with cold meat and hot pies, sweets and sorbets, filling glasses with ice cold wine. Everyone had so much to say and wanted to say it all at once. The sound of chattering, braying, prattling, and screeching, punctuated by howling laughter or tittering giggles, added to the delirious atmosphere.

Henry took his seat next to Margaret. “This evening is surpassing all my expectations,” he whispered, smiling into her
eyes. “This is so much fun, do you not agree, Miss Dashwood?”

“I do, indeed, Mr Lawrence,” she replied. “I am enjoying myself very much, though I would more so if I felt we were not under so much scrutiny. Do not look now, but we are being observed.”

“Let me guess, Miss Dashwood,” he responded, “Lady Middleton and her sweet mother are watching us and, no doubt,
trying to catch the essence of our conversation. Hmm, let me see. I must give them something on which to ponder and discuss.”

He selected a dish of pink, heart-shaped marchpane and, taking one between thumb and forefinger, proffered it toward her,
proclaiming in an audible voice for all to hear, “Miss Dashwood, may I offer my heart? Pray, do not leave me in suspense, I beg
you. Do not break it, but take it and devour it whole!”

Margaret felt mortified, especially when she saw Lady Middleton exchange knowing glances with Mrs Jennings. Everyone laughed when Margaret refused to take the heart and even more so when Henry begged again and it was only when
Mrs Jennings spoke that the table fell silent.

“Colonel Brandon, where is your dear wife? Has she not come in to supper? I cannot think where she can be and for that matter, I cannot recall when I saw her last. I hope she is not ailing; she did look a trifle pale after the last dance. Bless my soul, but I must say it is probably wiser that she sit down more often.”

Margaret looked about the room and, in so doing, caught her sister Elinor’s solemn expression. They had each perceived
the hints that Mrs Jennings was making and knew their sister would be far from pleased. But apart from that neither of them
could see Marianne and both recognised the solicitous mien in the other.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A love of Costume - paintings from my sketchbook

This is very tenuously linked from my last post, but one of the exhibitions they had on at Chatsworth featured the costumes from 'The Duchess' which starred Keira Knightley and Dominic Cooper who we also know as Mr Willoughby, of course. I think this era and the Regency period have to be my favourite for costume - I'm not sure I would have enjoyed being trussed up in all that stuff on a daily basis, though when I was much younger, I did dress up in similar costumes for Fancy Dress parties. I've always loved dressing up!
The paintings I'm posting today came about after a trip to the Lakes. We visited Beatrix Potter's house at Hill Top and of course, I felt so inspired when I visited her husband's office where so many of her exquisite paintings are kept. Whilst I could never hope to aspire to Mrs Heelis's excellence with a brush, I hope you enjoy them. They are just a few of the paintings I did with a children's book in mind - never finished, but as with so many things, I probably got side-tracked!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lizzy and Darcy go to the Lakes!

As promised, a very small extract from my new book, Mr Darcy's Secret!

They were soon off again relieved to know that their destination was not far off. Little over an hour passed before they found themselves winding through an undulating road over low promontories and spacious bays, which gradually rose over the hills. From here Elizabeth grasped Fitzwilliam’s arm in excitement as Winandermere like a majestic river swept along in gentle beauty, the shores and hills as richly wooded as a pleasure ground. Here and there the land opened up through the landscape to the sight of some distant villa, a sign that society had even found its way to this remote corner of England. The weather was showery with sudden bursts of sunshine, the tops of distant mountains concealed in vapour ascending in grey columns. Hues of blue and purple enveloped the tops of hills, whilst lower down shades of olive and brown ranged over craggy heathland and wooded slopes, which appeared to fall into the water like soft, green velvet cushions.

Bellingham Hall came into view at last glimpsed through trees on a gentle eminence of the shore with the silver lake spreading before in all its translucent splendour, crowned beyond by the fells half obscured in clouds. An Elizabethan mansion built around a medieval tower sat in state like a Tudor queen with her richly embroidered skirts displayed on either side in folds of green gardens, both formal and wild, studded with the gold of daffodils. Imposing, but on a much smaller scale than Pemberley, Elizabeth knew immediately that she would feel at home here amongst the Jacobean furniture, the smell of polished oak and the magnificence of Spanish leather adorning the walls embossed with pomegranates, flowers and exotic birds. There seemed to be an endless confusion of winding passages, unexpected rooms, and at least two courtyards to navigate, as well as a breathtakingly beautiful Chinese drawing room hand-painted with peonies and butterflies.
Mrs Reynolds and some of her staff had arrived from Pemberley a couple of days before to ensure that everything was ready for the parties arriving. The house felt warm and comfortable with fires lit in the grates and bowlfuls of flowers filling the air with the scent of spring. In their bedchamber Elizabeth exclaimed with excitement at all she could see within the house and without.

“Are you happy, Mrs Darcy?” Fitzwilliam enquired, catching hold of her as she moved about the room looking into cupboards and drawers as animated as ever and showing no signs of fatigue from her journey.

Her expression told him all he needed to know as she allowed him to sweep her into his arms. The strength of his touch was most comforting and she allowed herself to sink into his embrace.

I've missed a little out here because it will give away too much of the plot - but here is how this little scene ends!

“I was just thinking how lucky I am to have a husband who brings me to witness the quiet delights of Westmorland instead of taking me to town. I am so very grateful to you, my darling; I could not have enjoyed myself half so much with all of London society, however diverting. To be here on our own, and with those we love is heaven, indeed. And to add to all of this, we have such beauty before us in every outlook.”
The views through their windows made her catch her breath with wonder. Veils of white mist hung over the lake and on the mountains yonder where the peaks iced with snow almost disappeared into the vapour. The rain had stopped and the day was turning fine; wisps of blue sky lit up by shafts of sunlight descending through the clouds were reflected in the water like an ethereal looking glass.

“I cannot wait to explore everywhere,” said Elizabeth. “Is it not a beautiful sight, Mr Darcy?”

“Indeed, I have rarely seen such beauty,” answered her husband, gazing into her eyes and planting another kiss on her lips.

“I am talking of the view,” she protested half-heartedly with a laugh as he pulled her yet closer.

“Oh, so am I, Mrs Darcy, so am I.”

The top picture is a print of Winandermere about 1810 - now known as Windermere, it is no longer such a quiet retreat as the Darcy's would have known.
The photo is a view from a bedroom at Brantwood, John Ruskin's house, overlooking Coniston Water.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Photos from my album! Chatsworth, Pride and Prejudice and Mr Darcy's Secret.

Here, for your delight is an extract from Pride and Prejudice with accompanying photos of Chatsworth! The weather was lovely up until the time I got the camera out - wouldn't you know. My sister and I visited Derbyshire last year all in pursuit of research - Mr Darcy's Secret is my next book which Sourcebooks are publishing next spring. We visited Bakewell and the surrounding area - I absolutely fell in love with Haddon Hall which became my inspiration for the house the Darcy's stay in on holiday in the Lake District. Oh, yes - Elizabeth had to see the Lakes at last! Anyway, here is Jane Austen's wonderful Pride and Prejudice - Lizzy is travelling with her aunt and uncle and sees Pemberley for the first time.

Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.

The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Monday, February 1, 2010

February 1st, a letter in Persuasion

I make no apology for reproducing this letter in full - it is a masterclass in Jane Austen wit and hilarity. It's February 1st today and here is the letter that Mary Musgrove sends to her sister Anne Elliot whilst she is in Bath on that day in 1815 in Jane Austen's wonderful novel Persuasion. It is the letter that gives Anne hope that perhaps not all is lost for a reconciliation between her and Captain Wentworth.
Jane Austen has captured Mary's character to perfection - she's never happy unless she is grumbling about something or someone and it is a missive full of contradictions. I think the comment about Mrs Harville being an odd mother to part with her children for so long a very funny one because we already know that Mary has no scruples about leaving her children to someone else's care at the drop of a hat, as she did when she first goes to meet Captain Wentworth with her husband leaving Anne to take care of her son who has a broken collar bone. Further on in her letter she says she is quite easy about leaving her children with her in-laws for six weeks or more! Amusing to read but I would think she'd be a trial to live with!

The photos were taken when I visited the gardens of the house Sheldon Manor(Uppercross) where they filmed Persuasion.

February 1st - .

"MY DEAR ANNE, - I make no apology for my silence, because I know how little people think of letters in such a place as Bath. You must be a great deal too happy to care for Uppercross, which, as you well know, affords little to write about. We have had a very dull Christmas; Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove have not had one dinner-party all the holidays. I do not reckon the Hayters as anybody. The holidays, however, are over at last: I believe no children ever had such long ones. I am sure I had not. The house was cleared yesterday, except of the little Harvilles; but you will be surprised to hear that they have never gone home. Mrs. Harville must be an odd mother to part with them so long. I do not understand it. They are not at all nice children, in my opinion; but Mrs. Musgrove seems to like them quite as well, if not better, than her grandchildren. What dreadful weather we have had! It may not be felt in Bath, with your nice pavements; but in the country it is of some consequence. I have not had a creature call on me since the second week in January, except Charles Hayter, who has been calling much oftener than was welcome. Between ourselves, I think it a great pity Henrietta did not remain at Lyme as long as Louisa; it would have kept her a little out of his way. The carriage is gone to-day, to bring Louisa and the Harvilles to-morrow. We are not asked to dine with them, however, till the day after, Mrs. Musgrove is so afraid of her being fatigued by the journey, which is not very likely, considering the care that will be taken of her; and it would be much more convenient to me to dine there to-morrow. I am glad you find Mr. Elliot so agreeable, and wish I could be acquainted with him too; but I have my usual luck: I am always out of the way when any thing desirable is going on; always the last of my family to be noticed. What an immense time Mrs. Clay has been staying with Elizabeth! Does she never mean to go away? But, perhaps, if she were to leave the room vacant, we might not be invited. Let me know what you think of this. I do not expect my children to be asked, you know. I can leave them at the Great House very well, for a month or six weeks. I have this moment heard that the Crofts are going to Bath almost immediately: they think the Admiral gouty. Charles heard it quite by chance: they have not had the civility to give me any notice, or offer to take anything. I do not think they improve at all as neighbours. We see nothing of them, and this is really an instance of gross inattention. Charles joins me in love, and every thing proper. -- Yours, affectionately,
"I am sorry to say that I am very far from well; and Jemima has just told me that the butcher says there is a bad sore throat very much about. I dare say I shall catch it; and my sore throats, you know, are always worse than anybody's."

So ended the first part, which had been afterwards put into an envelop, containing nearly as much more.

"I kept my letter open, that I might send you word how Louisa bore her journey, and now I am extremely glad I did, having a great deal to add. In the first place, I had a note from Mrs. Croft yesterday, offering to convey anything to you; a very kind, friendly note indeed, addressed to me, just as it ought; I shall therefore be able to make my letter as long as I like. The Admiral does not seem very ill, and I sincerely hope Bath will do him all the good he wants. I shall be truly glad to have them back again. Our neighbourhood cannot spare such a pleasant family. But now for Louisa. I have something to communicate that will astonish you not a little. She and the Harvilles came on Tuesday very safely, and in the evening we went to ask her how she did, when we were rather surprised not to find Captain Benwick of the party, for he had been invited as well as the Harvilles; and what do you think was the reason? Neither more nor less than his being in love with Louisa, and not choosing to venture to Uppercross till he had had an answer from Mr. Musgrove; for it was all settled between him and her before she came away, and he had written to her father by Captain Harville. True, upon my honour! Are not you astonished? I shall be surprised at least if you ever received a hint of it, for I never did. Mrs. Musgrove protests solemnly that she knew nothing of the matter. We are all very well pleased, however; for though it is not equal to her marrying Captain Wentworth, it is infinitely better than Charles Hayter; and Mr. Musgrove has written his consent, and Captain Benwick is expected to-day. Mrs. Harville says her husband feels a good deal on his poor sister's account; but, however, Louisa is a great favourite with both. Indeed, Mrs. Harville and I quite agree that we love her the better for having nursed her. Charles wonders what Captain Wentworth will say; but if you remember, I never thought him attached to Louisa; I never could see any thing of it. And this is the end, you see, of Captain Benwick's being supposed to be an admirer of yours. How Charles could take such a thing into his head was always incomprehensible to me. I hope he will be more agreeable now. Certainly not a great match for Louisa Musgrove, but a million times better than marrying among the Hayters."