Happy Valentine’s Day! On this day devoted to love, we can rejoice in the many stories written about our favorite literary couple, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. In the Austenesque world we readers and writers alike immerse ourselves in this timeless and great love story. Regardless of how Darcy, and sometimes Lizzy, is tortured, we relish reading about their misunderstandings knowing that the “getting together” will be worth the angst. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on and celebrate the deep and abiding love of Jane Austen’s Darcy and Lizzy.
Today is also the day that the eighth and final novel in the Bennet Wardrobe series, The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy, is released. This novel is not only Elizabeth’s story, but also Darcy’s. He has some things to learn from the wardrobe. In the learning and growing, their love becomes even more meaningful and complete.
The author of this brilliant series, Don Jacobson, will brief us on the writing of the last novel; then share an excerpt. Enjoy!
Celebrating the Greatest Love Story
Today is Valentine’s Day 2022. Today is also the release day for the final novel in the Bennet Wardrobe story arc. The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy ties together the threads spun by the Old One beginning with Christopher Bennet’s commissioning of the Wardrobe in the late seventeenth century.
In a nutshell, this is where the final education of the key characters is undertaken to rescue the greatest love story ever told in any here/now or where/when.
As the story opened itself before me, I discovered that beginning the tale after the Darcys had been married for nearly twenty-five years allowed me to explore questions of the influence of aging on spiritual, physical, and emotional love. No longer was ODC the frisky youngsters who sparred across the pages of the magisterial novel. Instead, we see both as mature adults dealing with the implications of their maturity and the questions that naturally arise as all persons become older.
While many of my friends have pointed to my characterization of Thomas Bennet in the sixth volume as being deeply rooted in my inner self, this leading man, this Darcy, is more personal to me—as is the Elizabeth to the woman in my life. That is not intended to suggest that my wife Pam is the former Miss Bennet or that the master of Pemberley could easily reside in present-day Nevada. However, observations of myself and my wife have informed these characters as they move through the decades after the last strokes of Austen’s quill.
The eighth volume of a saga set across multiple centuries could never have dropped into the expected window of 1810-11 with a convenient epilogue. On the contrary, the great scheme of the Old One reaching out from behind the Wardrobe’s marquetry doors needed to be acted out on the great stage built upon the foundations laid by the previous seven volumes. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter Nine of The Grail.
An excerpt from Chapter Nine (November 1835)
Elizabeth has taken Darcy to a picnic deep in Selkirk’s woods to break through his growing reserve. After unburdening his soul, Darcy had left her to tend to natural business (wine can have its way with a man). Upon returning, he discovers Elizabeth gone.
Darcy moved through aisles between towering oak buttresses, cathedral-like as if made of cut stone, eons old. Gothic fingers laced together to create an illusory roof. Derbyshire’s autumnal sky—its cerulean richness beyond the capability of human painters—peeped through open spaces. Under this arboreal ceiling, a solemnity pervaded. No extraneous sound profaned the sober expanse. Darcy’s footsteps fell silently upon the loam. Every few moments, he caught sight of a distant Elizabeth floating through mote-filled shafts of gold searing between gnarled branches.
He did not look back. That path led only to a world without Elizabeth. Only forward—to her—would bring him surcease.
Beyond a line of hawthorns—an oddity so deep in the forest—Darcy came upon something extraordinary. There before him was a small expanse, naked of trees and open to the sky. In its center rose a hump that resonated with ancient power. Two rough-cut steles poked from the turf. A remnant of the island’s earliest inhabitants, these lichen-clad monoliths were sentinels guarding the priestess who stood atop the barrow.
Darcy blinked. As his vision cleared, he saw Elizabeth beckoning him forward. She was clad in her usual garb, not Druid robes. Shaking his head to clear fey afterimages, he stepped into the clearing and crossed the leveled pitch. The topography shifted from flat to gradient without preamble. Small depressions surrounded the base of the mound. These chalk-filled dents silently barred trespass, protecting the temple. Elizabeth said nothing even though he was within twenty feet of her. Rather, she watched as he moved clockwise, slowly circling the hillock, never crossing the broken white demarcation. As he came abreast of the left-hand pillar—later he would learn it was the one marking the midsummer sun—the pockmarks shot off to the right and up the hillock. They formed an alley through which worshippers must pass.
Four quick strides took Darcy to Elizabeth. Pausing as he crossed the platform’s lip, he doffed his hat and made his obeisance. Elizabeth wordlessly granted permission for his approach.
Stopping within a hair’s breadth of her bonnet’s brim, Darcy caught a whiff of her scent. Redolent of summer’s lavender, it was a fragrance that juddered his being as it always had. Her gasp told him that she, too, was similarly affected.
His hands hung by his sides.
A beat. Then another.
With the agility of a gazelle, Elizabeth leaped forward, tipped her face upward, and clamped his cheeks between her gloved hands. She kissed him soundly, pushing apart his lips with a hungry tongue.
Momentarily stunned, Darcy did not have to think. Any remaining barriers he had built around his heart were swept away in the maelstrom unleashed by her fervent embrace. Unlike his lips, both of his hands were unrestrained, and he now used them to untie the ribbons of her bonnet. The other grabbed the chapeau by its crown and pulled it clear of her head, snagging pins and undoing her coiffure. Their labors finished, his hands slid around her sides and dropped to her hips to cup her firm bottom. He lifted her, leaning back until her feet no longer touched the ground. He never broke the kiss.
Her pleasant weight was no burden. Both breathed with increasing intensity as they explored each other, reminiscent of the earliest days of their passion. Time, already slowed in its unending passage, meant little to the lovers captured in a pose immortalized by poets and sculptors alike.
At some point, Darcy felt the toes of Elizabeth’s half-boots tapping the creases of his pant legs. The cloth snapped back and forth. He came up for air but did not free his delightful captive.
“When you insist that you need to ‘mull,’ the outcome is usually pleasant,” he said.
Elizabeth regarded him with an impertinent twinkle illuminating her chocolate eyes. “Enjoyed that, did you? I wanted to remind you of what you have been missing. Given your response to my forward behavior, I do not believe you have forgotten the paths we have trod through travail and joy.”
Darcy growled with ardor. “Impertinent minx! You may discover that my memory of just what can make you cry out is clearer than you wish.” His mock outrage softened at her chuckle. “You, Elizabeth, were trailing your coat during that passage through Selkirk’s woods, were you not? Look at what is entangled in your net if you dare.”
The bulge pushing against her thigh told Elizabeth that her tempting ramble had had the desired effect. She squirmed a little in his hold to tell him that she needed to be lowered to stand on her own two feet.
Feeling a soft unevenness beneath her soles, Elizabeth looked down to see the lambswool throw. She stooped and lifted the coverlet in her hands, spearing Darcy with a raised eyebrow. His innocent look told her that the man-boy she loved well had returned from the far country.
He gently pulled the blanket free. “I was unsure whether we would put this to our traditional use. However, I was determined to be prepared.” As she watched, eyes wide at the unvarnished meaning behind his statement, Darcy snapped the throw in the brisk afternoon air and settled it atop the knoll. His hand reached out to hers and he led her—unresisting, anticipation roiling her innards—onto the velvety bower.
There, unseen by any but the birds overhead, the Darcys found their old felicity. Hobgoblins of the mind were vanquished in the fires of their love. Beneath the heavenly sphere, the couple gamboled and soared, straining to touch the sun as it slowly trekked toward its nightly home behind the Peak.
We would love to hear your thoughts – about love, about Darcy and Elizabeth, about the Bennet Wardrobe series. Share with us on this Valentine’s Day, 2022.
The novels in the Bennet Wardrobe series are best read in order. Audiobooks are available for all except the last novel, and it will be available in the near future.