The second “Skirmish & Scandal” novella is Don Jacobson’s The Longbourn Quarantine, now available on Amazon. This book goes hand in hand with the happenings in our world today and allows for some new insights into the much loved and the disliked characters of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
For the giveaway, there will be some eBooks of the novella, and a signed paperback, courtesy of the author. The giveaway details are later in the post.
Let’s read the back cover copy before we go any further.
The Longbourn Quarantine Back Cover Copy
“Papa handed Mama a brace of pistols. Her tears, Mr. Darcy, her tears: yet, all she did was nod when Papa looked at us and said, ‘You know what to do if they enter the icehouse.’”
Refugees flood the roads. A feared specter has escaped London’s grimy docklands and now threatens the wealthy districts. Amongst that ragged steam is a single carriage jostling its way toward Meryton. Inside are the Darcy siblings along with Charles and Caroline Bingley. They desperately seek the safety of Netherfield Park.
For all their riches, they could not evade the epidemic’s dark hand. Bingley’s leasehold had been reduced to rubble as roving bands raped, pillaged, and burned. The only sanctuary was Longbourn where, once installed, the Darcys and Bingleys were barred from leaving by a fortnight’s quarantine.
Events converge with disease in The Longbourn Quarantine. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy abandon old prejudices to face grief and mourning. Pride is set aside as Death hovers nearby. The couple forges ahead knowing that love unexplored is love lost: that words must be said lest they remain unspoken in the time of smallpox.
Don Jacobson, will you tell the readers something about your book and the post that follows?
Book launches are always fraught events…usually with an equal balance between excitement, anticipation, and angst. And now my good friends at Meryton Press are releasing the latest Skirmish and Scandal Series entry, my novella The Longbourn Quarantine, into the wild.
Novella writing is different from novel composition. Plot and characterizations need to be so much tighter. Those 50,000 extra words give you a lot of space in which to play.
With that in mind, I compressed The Longbourn Quarantine (38,000 words) into a two-week timeframe in early-April 1812. The characters—none new—must encounter one another and find resolutions to themes from the previous autumn when Bingley took Netherfield Park.
The plot rests upon the Bingley siblings flight from smallpox which is burning through London—and has struck close to home. Darcy has not traveled to Rosings because the illness drove him to remain with Georgiana. He accepts Bingley’s invitation to bring his sister to Netherfield (an homage to The Decameron) where the four plan to shelter in place.
However, Netherfield is uninhabitable. Meryton’s inns are closed. While the estates are taking in refugees, only Longbourn has any room. Forced by Sir William Lucas to quarantine for two weeks, the characters—all of the Bennets, the Darcys, and the Bingleys—are thrust together to reflect and grow as familiarity breeds not contempt but deeper understanding.
As Jennifer Redlarczyk, author of Darcy’s Melody, put it when assessing TLQ,
In this moving tale, our favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice face the prospect of death that forces them to confront troubling scenes from their past. The author crafts a beautifully told story of self-examination and reflection while embracing compassion and understanding under trying circumstances.
I hope that I live up to that high praise.
Writing in the Time of the Plague
There is an old saying that everything old becomes new again. For those of us as #Austenesque authors, there is always a question of whether we adhere closely to the Canonical timeframe or write a “modern.”
There are times when the themes driving stories are universal…whether they are human traits or historical forces. Many authors have successfully demonstrated that the eternal binary of Elizabeth and Darcy can readily be transplanted decades or centuries into their putative futures. Readers may then engage the couple in a familiar environment. Other writers bring race, class, and gender questions back into the Regency timeframe to offer new contexts into which they place Austen’s characters. #Austenesque lovers may then explore ODC shaped by a modern discursive light but within the gilt frame created by Jane Austen.
Much transpired between the time I finished the manuscript for In Plain Sight in late-February and when I began The Longbourn Quarantine in mid-April. Those six weeks brought the most profound changes to the fabric of American society in my lifetime. Images of the pain borne by those infected, the specter of a broken economy, and enduring questions always asked in times of trial became the common currency of daily life.
I cannot begin to suggest that I—and thus my writing—was not influenced by the weeks of self-isolation.
I have always viewed the first responsibility of authors to be commentators, to use their creative lens to translate and process the world about them. Readers, for their part, can be carried to a new level of understanding upon the shoulders of the prose and plot. This process begins with the writer grappling with larger themes and mobilizing the medium to allow readers to suspend disbelief.
As my hometown (Las Vegas) closed down in the face of the pandemic, I found myself reflecting on how life was changing. At the same time, I was still imbued with the afterglow (aftereffects?) of In Plain Sight. At the intersection of the 21st Century and the 19th, one can find my novella, The Longbourn Quarantine (TLQ).
‘Twas a simple process for me to slip back into the world of Jane Austen’s Hertfordshire. Disease was never very far away in pre-antibiotic Great Britain. Many children did not survive past their fifth birthdays. A trifling cold could quickly carry off a healthy young woman if it turned into pneumonia. Fevers swept back and forth across the countryside, killing rich and poor alike. The random nature of life and death behind focused all and sundry on living before dying.
My readings during March included The Decameron, Bocaccio’s remarkable collection of stories about Black Death (1348-54) Florence, a horror that the author witnessed first-hand. In a nutshell, the cast flees the city to escape the Plague and isolates themselves in a villa in the mountains. For entertainment, they told tales of life and love. This encouraged me to consider a pandemic story that broke the Canonical model. The characters, perforce, would be confined at Longbourn rather than being able to shift from Derbyshire to London or Kent. Then episodes could weave around one another in a Regency version of Bocaccio’s classic.
To force the issue, I created a smallpox outbreak that began in Liverpool and spread to London via a cargo vessel. The outbreak took hold in March 1812, thus foreclosing Darcy and Fitzwilliam’s Easter visit to Rosings as well as Elizabeth’s sojourn in Hunsford. The illness struck at the Hurst townhouse. This shattering of class boundaries—after all, the poor lived in squalor—drove Bingley from his fastness to Darcy House to beg his friend to safeguard his valuables in preparation for his flight to Netherfield. Charles’s terror inspired Darcy to join his friend. Two young women—Caroline Bingley and Georgiana Darcy—completed the passenger list.
As TLQ developed, I became excited by the dynamics of having all of P&P’s emotional power nodes jostling elbows for fourteen days. Canonical standards and death acted as plot cruxes to bring sense out of life in the time of an epidemic. How would Mrs. Bennet act? Would Jane and Bingley begin anew? Would Caroline continue her shrewish ways? Would Darcy stop tripping over his feet while looking down his nose at everyone around him? What would Elizabeth do? And, what of Georgiana? George Wickham will be present-and-accounted-for. However, he has a special role beyond being a fresh threat to Miss Darcy. Rather he will act as a human epistolary soliloquy that leads to the denouement.
I hope that you will enjoy this excerpt from The Longbourn Quarantine. I look forward to meeting each of you through the comments you make below and on other blog posts. Even in darkness, there are sparks of light and humor.
This excerpt ©2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any republication or use without the expressed written consent of the author or Meryton Press, Inc. is prohibited.
Longbourn Estate, April 3, 1812
The warring parties had separated themselves. The parlor’s expanse of carpet served as a cordon sanitaire echoing that which had been thrown up around Meryton. Mrs. Bennet had taken her post in an armchair by the hearth. Her lieutenants, Lydia and Kitty, flanked her on low stools, alternately fanning her flushed features and passing smelling salts beneath her flared nostrils. Mrs. Hill had bustled in earlier with a small dose of tonic to calm the good lady, aggravated by her sparring match with Netherfield’s hostess. Miss Bingley glowered at her nemesis from a lonely seat beneath the case clock that ticked its way through the hours since her brother and Darcy had departed to comb through the wreckage of what was to have been their refuge. Positioned between the two generals, protected by upholstered revetments, was a small clutch of young ladies. The two eldest Bennets—Jane and Elizabeth—were doing their best to calm a nervous Georgiana Darcy who flinched each time lightning split the sky. The pauses between rumbling crashes were filled by less-than-harmonious counterpoints from the pianoforte where the middle Bennet daughter, Miss Mary, exhibited her meager talents.
How Miss Bingley, the willowy ginger-haired daughter of trade, had ended up defending her sensibilities from Mrs. Bennet’s vaunted nerves was the traditional story of those tossed upon the seas of a populace terrified by smallpox’s harvest. The illness took three in every ten with fearsome scarring destroying the features of the survivors. The Bingley coach fleeing town had been the last equipage allowed to pass through toward Meryton before Mr. Angelo’s deputed constables had hauled two large hay wagons across the turnpike. The bridge over the Mimram also had been barricaded, cutting the town off from the rest of the Thames watershed.
Miss Bingley did not appreciate the irony of her position. She was relieved that the party would be allowed to take sanctuary in the market town because Bingley retained Netherfield’s lease. Barely six months ago, Caroline’s laments about being dragged into the wilds outside of town had been pointed. Her satisfaction at convincing her brother to abandon Hertfordshire—and a connection with the unfortunate Bennets—had been boundless. Then word came less than a sennight ago that one of the Hurst’s household servants had fallen before the grim reaper. Little did Miss Bingley know that this was one of the few times her brother was relieved that she insisted upon living with him in Grosvenor Square rather than at Louisa’s slightly less fashionable address.
Caroline had been euphoric in her belief that Netherfield would be their salvation from the desperate conditions in the capital. However, while they were halted at the roadblock, Angelo had confided to Bingley that his leased home had been attacked and looted two days earlier by roving bands of rioters. The cobbler assured him that none of the miscreants were from Meryton but rather hailed from further afield, probably Hertford and St. Albans. With a knowing look, the constable had beckoned the two gentlemen into a closed conference. He whispered that his survey of the damage showed the manor to be uninhabitable. The servants had scattered before the mob, many washing ashore at surrounding estates or returning to their families. Angelo further offered that several owners with larger manors had opened their homes to gentry displaced by the unrest. Longbourn, however, was the only one that, as of yet, had not taken in any refugees. As that holding was Netherfield’s closest neighbor, Bingley directed his coach to the white and grey gravel drive beyond which he and Darcy could safely leave the ladies while they made their reconnoiter.
Thus it was that Caroline Bingley found herself defending her position from waves of Mrs. Bennet’s exclamations and the insipid gabble of her two youngest daughters without any consolation from Mr. Darcy’s presence. Miss Bingley had pushed her chair as far back into the wainscoting as she could to place as much space between herself and the mistress’s effusions. If she could have passed through the wall behind her like the shade of a Bennet ancestor reputed to haunt Longbourn, she would have. Alas, her corporeal presence in the here and now prevented that as much as she might have wished for her own demise at the moment.
If pressed, Miss Bingley would have had to admit that she truly desired some sensible company. She was feeling lonely and worried the longer her brother and Mr. Darcy stayed away. For the past two days, rumors had been flowing throughout London, alleging that hundreds of bodies had begun dropping in the streets flowing up from the river. This morning’s missive from the Hurst town house had been terrifyingly terse yet offered news so dire that Charles had reacted completely out of character.
He refused to show Caroline the note, something he had never done.
Usually indecisive, Bingley first ordered his sister to take no more than two hours to pack their trunks for Netherfield. His eyes were so narrowed beneath beetled brows that her protestations about fleeing to Hertfordshire froze in her throat. He then emptied the safe of Caroline’s jewelry and stuffed sacks of coin and bundles of banknotes into his pockets and a leather satchel. He presented their butler with another hefty purse to distribute amongst the staff against difficult times until his return. Then Charles bundled himself and the silver pantry into his coach after telling Caroline that he was off to Darcy House and its well-fortified, iron-strapped safe. He promised that he would come for her as soon as their valuables were secured. When he did, Caroline was stunned to see the Darcy siblings also stepping into Bingley’s foyer. The party joined the long line of coaches seeking to escape the pestilential hell that was soon to become London in the time of the pox.
Now, she was homeless—a guest in polite terms—having figuratively appeared hat-in-hand on Longbourn’s doorstep, begging the Bennets’ hospitality. This was the last place on Earth she would have imagined herself to be when she awoke this morning. As much as she would have desired to further ingratiate herself with the young Miss Darcy, Caroline could not find the energy to drag herself closer to Mrs. Bennet. She smiled wryly, thinking how odd it was that she would consider enduring Miss Eliza’s impertinence if only to avoid sitting by herself on the room’s perimeter. However, being willing to do and doing was separated by a gulf as wide as the Channel. Miss Bingley would have to be content with keeping to herself until the men arrived to change the room’s balance to her taste.
This certainly puts Caroline Bingley in a different situation in a time of crisis. How do you think she will handle it? Will she be her usual self, or will circumstances make her worse or better? There are some interesting possibilities that Don has put before us. I loved this statement by the author, “Even in darkness, there are sparks of light and humor.” That is so true, and Don shows both in this thought provoking novella.
Are you ready for the giveaway? That’s always fun, isn’t it! Don Jacobson is giving away one signed paperback of The Longbourn Quarantine, US only, and one eBook, and the eBook is an international giveaway.
There are two more chances to win the eBook. Meryton Press is giving away two eBooks and the giveaway is worldwide. To be entered in both giveaways, leave a comment below. Share your thoughts about the excerpt and the book. Be sure to let us know if you are in the US and want to be entered to win the signed paperback that Don is giving away. Giveaway will end on the 27th of September at midnight.