It is a truth universally acknowledged that an abundance of Austenesque novels is based on Pride and Prejudice. Bloggers ask authors to write variations on Jane Austen’s other books, but few of us take the plunge. I recently found a group who desires to assist us with ideas. The following is an account of a quarterly meeting of misfits who call themselves The League of Unfortunate Austen Characters.
ELTON: (bangs gavel) Order! Order! The League of Unfortunate Austen Characters will now commence. Let us rise and repeat our pledge.
ALL: (rise and raise right hands) We, the League of Unfortunate Austen Characters, hereby pledge:
We may be silly or mean
And some of us like to preen;
We may be selfish or greedy
And some of us downright seedy;
Some may play the fool
And some are beginning to drool,
But we’re creations of Jane Austen
And we should be written about quite often!
ELTON: Mrs. Dashwood, will you read the minutes of the last meeting?
FANNY DASHWOOD: (clears her throat) I am prepared, Mr. Elton.
JOHN THORPE: (huge groan) The minutes are more boring than your sermons, Elton. I move we dispense with rehashing the misery.
ELTON: Rehashing? What a curious word, Mr. Thorpe. A motion has been made. Do I hear a second?
MISS BATES: (titters) Uh, I…I suppose I could second the motion. It sounds like a lovely motion, and even though I enjoy hearing the minutes read, I do so hate to have a motion hanging about without a second. So…uh…
ELTON: The motion has been seconded. All those in favor of dispensing with the reading of the minutes from the last meeting say aye. (the motion carries) So ordered.
FANNY DASHWOOD: Well! And after all the preparation I made!
ELTON: We will now have a brief accounting of new business before I introduce our guest for today. Does anyone have anything of interest to report?
MISS BATES: (titters) I…uh…I have a new letter from Jane Fairfax! (collective groan from assembly)
ELTON: Perhaps later, Miss Bates, if we have time. Our concerns today are publication of new books in which we are included. Miss Elliot, if I recall, you had hopes of becoming betrothed in such a book. Do you have progress to report?
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: (sighs) Unfortunately, I do not.
JOHN THORPE: (chuckles) What a surprise.
MRS. ELTON: You’re a fine one to talk, John Thorpe! In what novel have you won the hand of an heiress? You’re just as unfortunate as the rest of us.
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: Miss Austen’s books have made our plight pitiful compared to the characters she favors such as my sister Anne. Of all people! Anne is nothing. Yet who in Persuasion gets a handsome sea captain for a husband? Anne!
COLLINS: You are to be greatly pitied, Miss Elliot, greatly pitied, and as a clergyman I feel it my duty to extend my deepest condolences to you.
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: That’s rich coming from you! I’ll have none of your condescension, Mr. Collins. You may be included in Austenesque books but only to be ridiculed.
JOHN THORPE: That’s because these female writers swoon over Darcy! They don’t want some toad like Collins. They all want to wilt Darcy’s stiff collar.
ANNE STEELE: (sniffs) My sister Lucy could wilt Mr. Darcy’s stiff collar as well as Eliza Bennet any day. Everyone says she’s monstrous pretty.
FANNY DASHWOOD: Don’t even speak of Lucy Steele, that little minx!
ELTON: (clears his throat) Let us leave wilted collars and little minxes behind. Allow me to introduce our special guest. She’s in almost every Pride and Prejudice variation or sequel. I give you the famous Miss Caroline Bingley. (lackluster applause)
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: (aside to FANNY DASHWOOD) Oh, fudge! I was hoping it would be that wicked Mr. Wickham.
FANNY DASHWOOD: I had anticipated the naughty Mr. Willoughby. I tell you, Eliza, I had hot flashes every time he and I appeared in the same chapter in Sense and Sensibility. To think but a few pages lay between us! (begins to fan vigorously)
ANNE STEELE: Lucy had a great many beaux before she married.
FANNY DASHWOOD: Didn’t I tell you not to mention Lucy Steele?
MRS. ELTON: I, too, had numerous beaux before I married.
ANNE STEELE: La, did they dress smart and behave civilly? I can’t bear to see them all nasty and dirty!
FANNY DASHWOOD: (looks aghast) And to think I’m related to this person by marriage!
MRS. ELTON: I assure you, Miss Steele, my beaux were true gentlemen without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vast dislike of puppies―quite a horror of them! They were never tolerated at Maple Grove.
ELTON: (clears his throat again) So, Miss Bingley, tell us how you attract the attention of Austenesque writers so that we may enjoy the attention that you do?
MISS BINGLEY: (attempts to look humble) You are too kind, Mr. Elton. I cannot account for my popularity other than my esteemed accomplishments, a certain something in my air and manner of walking, the tone of my voice―
MRS. ELTON: (aside to her husband) Yet she wears a shocking lack of satin.
MISS BINGLEY: (frowns at MRS. ELTON) My address and expressions―
JOHN THORPE: And still ol’ Darcy dumped you for Lizzy Bennet who tramps around in the mud and wears petticoats six inches deep in dirt.
COLLINS: I don’t think it proper to speak of my cousin’s…ahem…petticoats.
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: Well, for all her airs and accomplishments, I haven’t read one variation wherein Miss Bingley secured the affections of Mr. Darcy.
MISS BINGLEY: (flustered) Not yet, perhaps, but I have not lost hope. There is still time…
JOHN THORPE: I don’t know, Caro. You’re getting a bit long in the tooth.
ELTON: Whether Miss Bingley wins Mr. Darcy or not, the point is she is actively employed in authors’ novels. What is your secret, Miss Bingley?
FANNY DASHWOOD: Her secret is she’s not picky. She’s doesn’t mind playing the fool in these books. If more of us lowerd our standards, we might be similarly employed.
COLLINS: Oh my, I hesitate to lower my standards. After all, I am a clergyman and I’m not sure my patroness, the distinguished Lady Catherine―
JOHN THORPE: Collins, your standards can’t get any lower. Every book you’re in makes you into a buffoon.
MISS BATES: Buffoon? (titters) I’m…well…you know, I believe I could play that role. I told Mother―
FANNY DASHWOOD: You have to be an interesting buffoon, Miss Bates. You can’t just say three very dull things.
MISS BATES: I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan’t I?
JOHN THORPE: Always on your toes, aren’t you, Batesy?
MISS BATES: My toes? What…what do you mean…my toes?
EDMUND BERTRAM: I fail to see that we must play fools. After all, I’m the romantic lead in Mansfield Park. Why is my story not retold?
JOHN THORPE: Because you’re boring as all get out, Eddie! Poking around with sermons and marrying that insipid Fanny Price. What writer could make you interesting? You need a little spice or vice to liven up things.
FANNY DASHWOOD: As I recall, Mr. Bertram found Miss Crawford rather full of spice. It didn’t make him interesting, just inconstant to poor Miss Price.
ANNE STEELE: I don’t know. I was monstrous glad to read of Mr. Bertram’s dalliance with Miss Crawford. That’s the only part of the book I read.
JOHN THORPE: Hey, Annie, you may finally be on to something! Why don’t we make up our own plots about the kind of stories we’d read where we’re the principal characters?
MRS. ELTON: (claps hands) Oh, I do like that idea! We can establish a literary club and meet weekly. Mr. E and I will host the first meeting. We’ll have tea and little cakes, and I’ll send Mr. E to Donwell Abbey to beg some strawberries from his good friend Knightly. Is the donkey still available?
ELTON: (looks aghast) He’s off his feed.
MISS BATES: (titters) This sounds lovely, lovely!
EDMUND BERTRAM: Since I’m the only handsome man here, I’ll play the hero as long as we write a suitable plot for a clergyman. Nothing like Lovers’ Vows.
COLLINS: I agree with Mr. Bertram. We must maintain our dignity. And I should portray the senior vicar or even a cardinal. I should dearly love to wear the cardinal’s robe. And Mrs. Dashwood…(snicker)…you could be my Lady Catherine!
FANNY DASHWOOD: I beg your pardon! I will not be your anything! And I’m not old enough to portray that old bag de Bourgh. That part should go to Miss Bates.
MISS BATES: (titters) Oh…Lady Catherine! Such an important lady…and not dull at all.
JOHN THORPE: Wait a ding dong minute! We’re not writing a plot about some dreary clergyman and an old lady. No one will read it. We need a story about young bucks like me chasing hot, rich girls eager for love. That’s what readers want.
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: For once I agree with Mr. Thorpe, and I offer to sacrifice myself and play the hot, rich girl―well, I’m no longer rich―but I’m eager! (breathes fast)
MR ELTON: Excuse me, but I take exception to your description of clergymen as dreary. Three of our members are vicars!
JOHN THORPE: (rolls his eyes) Why do you think our league is called unfortunate?
MISS BINGLEY: As the guest expert, allow me to say Mr. Thorpe is correct when he says romance sells. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I can’t imagine any of you in a love story.
MRS. ELTON: I’ll have you know my cara sposa and I are quite romantic. (collective “Eww!” from all)
FANNY DASHWOOD: I fear this is a hopeless task.
EDMUND BERTRAM: Let us not give up, friends. I propose that before our next meeting we think of a stirring but virtuous plot about a young man searching for a wealthy young bride.
JOHN THORPE: I’ve been thinking about that for two hundred years…minus the virtuous part.
ELTON: Excellent proposal, Mr. Bertram! (bangs gavel) Meeting adjourned.
(Everyone leaves except Elizabeth Elliot, who remains seated, staring off in space)
FANNY DASHWOOD: Are you coming, Miss Elliot? You appear preoccupied. Of what are you thinking, dear?
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: I’m thinking our league needs to branch out.
FANNY DASHWOOD: Were we not discussing that very topic?
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: No, I mean branch out from Austenesque books. Fanny, have you ever heard of E. L. James?
FANNY DASHWOOD: (shocked) You mean the one that wrote Fifty Shades of Grey? Eliza, surely you do not read such books!
ELIZABETH ELLIOT: I wonder if Ms. James could use a new heroine―say, the daughter of a distinguished but spendthrift baronet who’s been forced to retrench to Bath? She’s in need of rescue by a disgraced duke or a virile viscount! The movie opens on Valentine’s Day. Shall we go together?
FANNY DASHWOOD: Really, Elizabeth! Let us repair to Norland Park, for you are in need of a strong cup of tea, and I need to think about this. (looks around to make certain they are alone) Valentine’s Day you say. Hmm…
(With apologies to all clergymen and anyone who loves Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price.)