When you finish a novel, do you ever wonder what happens next? Do you create scenarios in your mind? The journey might have ended in lovers meeting but then? I suppose we all do, it’s fun. But, unless you are the original author, I wish people wouldn’t write them down.
I am a great fan of Jane Austen, I love her works and am fascinated by the period when she lived and wrote. But she only wrote six novels (seven if you include Lady Susan), left two unfinished and a bundle of bits and bobs she wrote whilst training to be a writer. Unfortunately generations of writers have wanted to remedy this lack of material and have written hundreds of sequels and continuations of the novels. The majority of which I find dreadful. As you might guess I am one of those irritating people who spot anachronisms in films and books. They ruin my appreciation of the work, mainly because they tell me that the author just hasn’t done their research properly.
Another issue that arises with Jane Austen is that people are constantly trying to identify the ‘real’ Mr Darcy, or claim that Chatsworth is the inspiration for Pemberley. Despite the fact that Jane Austen herself said that her characters were all invention, and that she had too much respect for them to suggest they were based on real people.
The names she chose are another matter, authors will collect names for characters, my brother looks on gravestones for example, and if you look in Hampshire papers of the early nineteenth century you will find many of the names that appear in Jane Austen’s novels. Here is one I found a little while ago.
The steps where Louisa Musgrove fell
The Cobb in Lyme Regis, a remarkable ancient harbour, has a key role in Persuasion, Louisa Musgrove falls from steps on the Cobb, suffers severe concussion and changes her affections from one character to another. Alongside the steps, which it is almost certain Jane Austen meant in her description of the accident, is a plaque detailing repairs to the Cobb in 1793 by Captain D’Arcy! I suspect it has absolutely no connection whatsoever with the hero of Pride and Prejudice.
The inscription celebrating the work of Captain D’Arcy
Now where is this taking us? Well, at the end of Persuasion readers will recall that the villain, William Elliot, who is also the cousin of the heroine and heir to her father’s baronetcy, is revealed to have been involved in some shady financial dealings which ruined the husband of Anne Elliot’s friend, Mrs. Smith.
Now if you were to write a sequel to Persuasion, you might set it ten years later, when Sir Walter Elliot has died, leaving his title (and not much else) to Sir William. The new baronet is still having financial problems, and hasn’t paid his taxes. Under those circumstances one might imagine his agent receiving a letter like this.
Jedburgh 15th Dec 1826
I cannot retain Sir William Elliot of Stobs’ Receipts for Taxes without giving them over to our Collector of Arrears in Hawick unless they are paid on or before the 26th inst. I hope you will save Sir William the additional expense which must be incurred if this is not done.
Your most ob serv
Apart from the fact that the letter is real!
A little while ago I bought an early nineteenth century letter as material for a project I am working on provisionally entitled, “Picking Darcy’s Pocket”, of which more another time.
A complete coincidence, but, I think, a great one.