The world of Jane Austen scholarship was shaken to the core by the recent discovery of a “lost” excerpt from Pride and Prejudice. Currently undergoing rigorous handwriting, paper, and ink analysis, the fragment reveals a daring stylistic experimentation that has already created fierce controversy in academic circles. The short scene depicts Jane Bennett, who, while waiting for Lizzie to return from Derbyshire, seeks outside help in rescuing Lydia from ruin. With the violent rejection of the classical style,what was Austen intending? One cannot help but wonder, had she pursued this course, how the introduction of a new character, a possible rival for either Bingley or Darcy, would have influenced the romantic element of the novel; and certainly it seems, in its revelation of the seamy underbelly of Meriton, to indicate a possible bloody gang shoot-out as the book’s climax.
It is with great pleasure and the deepest honor that the Risky Regencies Blog presents the world debut of this important addition to the Austen canon.
She’s cool as a cucumber, this Miss Bennett. Not what I expected, not after what I’d heard in the village about the family. She receives me in a drawing room furnished with old-world stuff–nothing fancy, old pieces, the whole set-up breathing respectability and solidity.
“Thank you for coming, sir.” She gestures to a chair, one of those spindly English things. The old dame who took my hat and gloves stays with us in the room, picking away at an embroidery frame to preserve the decencies, I guess.
When Miss Bennett leans to pour tea her gown slips up revealing a pretty good ankle. Not bad, not bad at all, but this is business, and I let her mess around with the teacups while keeping an eye on her. She’s too genteel to offer me a Scotch, but for the moment I’m playing on her terms.
“The weather has been quite remarkably good,” she offers, and the slight tremor in her hand reveals her agitation. “I think, however, we can expect some rain later this week.”
I decide to help her out. “Sure. Say, Miss Bennett, you didn’t call me here to talk about the weather.”
“You are correct, sir.” She produces a small, lace-edged handkerchief and gives a genteel sniffle. “I daresay you have heard…how could you not have…the disgrace that has fallen upon our family. Forgive me, it is dreadful indeed. My youngest sister, Lydia, has…has fallen into the hands of an adventurer and has been persuaded to elope. I think he does not intend to marry her. Sir, you must help us find them.”
“Wickham?” I ask. Things had gotten too hot for him in London, after he’d fallen out with the boys at White’s, and the whole set up stinks of him. He’d tried to set up a rival operation to Bingley and Darcy, but they were too clever for him, and they’d left town after they’d sucked the neighborhood dry. Even so, they’d forced Charlotte Lucas to throw in her lot with the de Bourgh Gang and last I’d heard she was engaged in a struggle for power with Collins.
“I fear so.” She plies the handkerchief, a picture of bewildered innocence. “My Papa and Mama are prostrated with grief, and I do not know to whom I can turn until Lizzie comes home.”
Right, her father operating some sort of scam from his study and her hophead of a mother high as a kite most of the time from all I’ve heard, continually sending her daughters into town to buy more of the stuff at that fake haberdasher’s. “Lizzie?”
“My sister. She will know what to do. She is in Derbyshire, and on her way home even as we speak.”
“Up north?” This stinks more and more. If the Wordsworth siblings, that cold-hearted team of killers, are part of the scheme, there’ll be blood all over this polite drawing-room before we’re finished.
“It is dreadful indeed.” She dabs at her eyes.
“You’re good, sister. Real good.”
“I beg your pardon?” She draws herself up and looks at me with disdain.
“You’re good, real good, all that fake innocence, but I’ve been made a sap of one too many times by dames like you. It’s time to come clean, dollface.”
“Sir!” She leaps to her feet, doing the heaving bosom thing. “I regret we will have no need of your services. Please leave this house immediately, Mr. Spade.”
So, does that mean she stole the Maltese Falcon, too? Did she hide it in the folds of her pelisse?
And is Kasper Gutman really Catherine deBourgh? And don’t tell us–Joel Cairo is a dead ringer for Mr. Collins.
Oh, poor Jane, going off to rot in prison for a crime she did commit.
“Don’t play games, Lizzie. You let me think it was Jane, but the whole time it was you. You had Darcy and all his dough twisted around your finger, but that wasn’t enough. You had Wickham following you around like a little puppy dog–until you got tired of him and threw him to your sister like an old bone. But that wasn’t enough, either. You had to get that pansy Bingley for Jane so you’d have your hooks in his fortune, too. You needed it all–the money, the big house, the respectability, but the kicks as well.”
“How can you think that, Sam?” Lizzie pleaded. “How can you say that, when I did it all for us?”
Tears were streaming down Lizzie’s face. She was so beautiful then that I almost couldn’t go through with it. Almost.
“It won’t work, doll face. I won’t play the sap for you. You’re taking the fall!”
You know, there are some pastiches that just don’t work very well when you transpose them into the Regency. For example:
DIRTY HARRY: I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire one shot, or zero?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a single-shot smoothbore with a hair trigger, the most powerful handgun in the world (which admittedly isn’t saying much), and would blow your head clean off, assuming that it didn’t misfire, or blow up in my hand, and assuming that I could hit the broad side of a barn with it at this range (unfortunately a dubious proposition), you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
(The PUNK runs off. DIRTY HARRY’s pistol fails to fire.)
DIRTY HARRY: Well, darn it, I guess he did feel lucky.