Christmas 1811: Cover Reveal and a Vote!

It probably comes as no surprise, I love the holiday season.  This year has been a doozy and just managed to throw one more unexpected wrench at us–a huge as in ‘what in the world do you do with THAT’ sized wrench–which is all the more reason to find some way to really celebrate the season. And what better way than to celebrate with a new Christmas book? Well, how about two?

Yep, this year absolutely calls for not just one Christmas book, but two! And here’s a peek at the first: Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811. Have you ever wondered what happened after Darcy disappeared with Bingley to London, leaving the Bennets with the militia in Meryton? Take a peek behind the scenes on what might have happened to our beloved characters during the last Christmastide before Darcy and Elizabeth married.

The cover is ALMOST ready, but I need some input from you guys.  What do you think? The cover with Darcy on the left or on the right?  Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like a peek inside, take a look at  Crossed in Love which  started posting last week. It is Elizabeth’s half of the story–my (early) Christmas gift to you.

Rising Waters: Hide from the wind, run from the water

There’s a saying in the gulf coast: Hide from the wind, run from the water. Hurricane Harvey took that to a totally new place.


In case you missed earlier segments:

 Rising Waters, part 1

Risings Waters Part 2

Rising Waters Part 3

Rising Waters Part 4


 

 Just before bed, I checked the water levels—touching the edge of our driveway now. The fifth house on the street—now empty—is poised with water at the front step. It won’t be long now. The couple in the fourth house took refuge at the two-story across the street just before sundown as water began pouring in. Half the houses on the street had now taken on water.  On that unsettling note, we called it a night.

The game room before we added the dog kennel and a few other things from downstairs.

Youngest son and our five cats settled into his room. Our neighbor and her cats and dogs retreated into the guest room. Hubby and I tucked the dog into her kennel, now stationed behind the game room sofa and pulled out the sleeper sofa. I’m sure we’ve never slept on it, but unless we want to sleep on the floor—literally every other piece of sleepable furniture is tetrised into the middle one’s room—there’s no choice.

Lesson #9 Sleeping through a hurricane is grounds for justifiable homicide.

We lay down, both still in our clothes, and in under two minutes he started that deep breathing, not quite snoring thing that shouted ‘I’m asleep and you’re not.’ I can see some of you nodding–you know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, hubs is truly a fantastic human being and an awesome husband, but in that moment, smothering him with a pillow crossed my mind as a viable option.

No judge or jury would convict me—sleeping through a hurricane–especially this one–is a reason for justifiable homicide. Really.

As he snoozed though wave after wave of pounding rain, I tried not to toss and turn too much. The sleeper sofa creaked and bounced too much, and at least one of us ought to sleep. (Or so my rational mind argued.) During those moments the rain slowed, I sort-of kind-of dozed, only to be jolted into wakefulness when the AC kicked on—it sounded so much like rain—or more rain bands slammed into us. Occasionally I would remember something that had not made it upstairs, but should have. My grandmother’s amethyst combs, handwritten notebooks of half-finished stories—I made the trek downstairs to find them—and check on the water. It was over the front curb, then a yard into the front lawn.

Just a few more hours until dawn. The water wasn’t rising that fast. We might make it out before the water reached the front door.

Lesson #10 Don’t be the punchline of a bad joke.

The view from my front door.

 Dawn came and everyone and everything began moving. The animals got fed, but I doubt any two footed creature could actually stomach food. The water was half way up the drive way and at least three feet deep in the street.

By 7AM hubby was able to get enough wi-fi signal to use the phone as a hotspot. A few minutes later he called up data on the nearby river, the one making a visit in my front yard at the moment. According to what he saw, we were just a couple of hours from the rivers cresting—they were only a couple of feet from projected crest—if of course ‘they’ were right. So maybe, just maybe, we would escape without flooding.

On the other hand, the weather reports were divided—one model had the storm heading to Louisiana, the other said it would go back into the Gulf for a repeat performance and two to three more feet of rain. (We were approaching three feet at this point.)

I took a moment to jump in the shower. By the time I got out, there were boats mooring in the trees in my front yard (just to the left of the picture above.) Read that sentence again. Boats were moored in my front yard! Not a sentence I ever thought I would write, nope not ever.

We headed out to talk with the boaters. One of the bass boats was manned by one of my son’s HS wrestling coaches from last year. He tells us they are starting evacuations several blocks behind us where there are dozens of homes already with feet of water in them—children and the elderly needed rescue.

The view from my front door toward the bottom of the street.

I checked the water levels against a clump of grass in the driveway cracks and it seems like it hadn’t risen in the last hour. Was it possible?

Hubby started to talk about continuing to shelter in place. All his data pointed to the rivers having crested now. But if there is more rain—and it is starting to pour again—all bets are off.

Moreover, we have someone else’s adult-child with us. We had to think about her as well. With all the animals, evacuating, especially in a smaller boat, was not without risk. If a critter panicked and a crate or travel bag went into the water, we’d have a tragedy.

So what to do? The potential consequences were overwhelming on all sides.

A knock on the door. A large, uniformed Parks and Recreation officer with a large, stable boat, also moored in my yard, asked for me by name. We were on his evacuation list.

That settled it.

There’s an old joke about a guy in a flood who prays for rescue. He turns away a truck, a boat and a helicopter, then drowns and complains to God for not having rescued him.

Yeah, we weren’t about to be the punchline to that joke. They had a couple of evacuations before us—people with water already in the house took priority. So we had a few minutes to get ready. Crate creatures, pack bags, wrap computers in plastic trash bags. They won’t survive plunging overboard, but hopefully the bags would keep off the rain well enough.

Lesson 11: Cats are heavier when wet.

With twelve animals: nine cats in travel cases, two dog crates with three dogs—four people and eight bags (is this sounding like a trip to St. Ives yet?) we cannot all travel together. Two trips are necessary. I can’t begin to describe how much I didn’t like being separated, but like so many other things, there is no choice.

Youngest son and I, all nine cats and our one dog are on the first boat out, along with two bags.

This was taken later; this truck was underwater when we evacuated.

I try not to look back as we go. It’s just too hard. The boat has to steer around a sprayer truck that to stranded in the center of the road. Only a couple of inches remain visible. The water is over 8’ deep in the street.

Several blocks up, the water is too shallow to continue. They have to drop us off in a front yard of a house that, like ours, was still barely above water. We pile the critters around me–and mind you, it’s pouring rain–and wait for hubby and neighbor to arrive. Cats yowl around me–they do not at all appreciate sitting around getting wet. Younger son forges ahead, trying to find my sister who is supposed to arrive to drive us out to dry ground. I’m sure she has been trying to call, but under these condition, the phones are just not much use.

Through the pounding rain, I make out a street sign. Heaven’s above, it is at least half a mile from here to where we were told the police were stopping incoming traffic.

The rest of our party debarked and we were faced with a new, unexpected challenge. Four of us had to get all the critters and luggage half a mile through the rain and streets that were flooded waist deep in places to actually get to the waiting cars.

Plan A: We’d have one person wait at one end while three carried what they could to the next safe stop point. One would wait there with stuff and critters while two returned to the start point and brought all that remained.

Military experts say no plans survive first contact with the enemy.

Yeah that.

Lots of people stood around gawking at the evacuations. Several jumped up to help. Soon, I’d lost track of bags, cats, dogs and my own people. There was no choice but to slog on and hope to meet up with sis and the rest of the caravan at the end of the journey. So with a cat carrier on each shoulder and one carried in front—45 pounds of cats when dry, probably over 50 pounds now that they’d been sitting in the rain for a while—I trudged into the hip deep water.

Now I understand why water aerobics are such a great workout. I wonder if adding wet cat weights to the workout will ever catch on.

Probably not.

I regularly run a three-mile track around the neighborhood, but that was the longest half mile I’ve ever traversed. At last I spot my sister’s car and dad’s van. I load up my three cats and turn back around to try to locate all that came with us.

A quarter-mile away, I find hubby and son with a friendly canoer who could navigate the shallower waters. He was trying to load a bunch of our stuff into the canoe. Our dog though had been pushed to her limits. She saw me, jumped out of the canoe and looked at me with eyes that said. “I’ve done everything you wanted, but I can’t do that.”

Our dog once we got to my sister’s house.

Fair enough. I grabbed her leash and we walked to the van, taking a very long way around to keep from water that was too deep for her.  All the while I’m thinking it would be a miracle if we made it through with all heads and tails accounted for. I don’t even know which cat is in which carrier, much less who has which cat.

A few minutes later, I’m standing at the van counting and recounting. Nine cat bags—yes, really all nine. Count one more time. Yes, nine and three dogs. Enough heads and tails. I close up the van and slog to the car. Hubby assures me everything is accounted for there as well.

Good enough.

We shut the doors, strap on the seat belts and pull away from the flood, heading for dry ground. We could only hope for when we’d be back and what we’d find when we got there.

Crossed in Love Ch 1

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen leaves us to wonder if Elizabeth was indeed crossed in love over Christmastide whilst the militia was stationed in Meryton. Take a behind-the-scenes peek with me at what might have happened.


Chapter 1

November 24, 1811  

Elizabeth followed Papa with her eyes as he paced along his favorite track in the parlor, back and forth in front of the fireplace whilst the rest of the family assembled there before church. She pressed her lips hard and turned her face aside. He would know she was trying not to laugh if he saw her.

Jane sat near the window with her needlework, where she always sat unless Mama was in the room, then she would sit on the settee on the opposite wall, beside Mama. A low fire warmed the room as much as the sunbeams through the window that danced along the carpet and cast shadows on the yellow wall near the chair where Elizabeth sat. The sun had faded the upholstery to be sure, but it was also very warm and friendly, a necessary quality in a room where the family gathered.

Papa passed by her again, the scent of his shaving soap reached out and tickled her nose—a funny, sneezy herbal scent. “Mrs. Bennet, we await your presence.” He stared at the doorway as though that might bring her in faster.

“You know she always takes particular care with her Christmas pudding preparations.” Elizabeth rose and went to him.

He huffed and wrinkled his lips into a special frown reserved for Mama alone. “How long does it take to pour brandy over fruit and spices?”

She patted his arm and followed him as he tramped back along his path. “You know as well as I, it is more complex than that.”

Jane joined them near the fireplace. “Stoning and chopping the fruit is time consuming.”

“Is that not why we employ Hill and Cook? As I recall, she took great pride in telling Mr. Collins that you girls did not sully yourselves with toiling in the kitchen.”

Elizabeth cringed. Why did Papa have to mention him? “Indeed she did, but Christmas pudding is no regular food stuff.”

“You know how special Christmas pudding is to her,” Jane said.

“Would that it be special on a day of the week with nowhere else demanding our presence?” He shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling where the maid had missed a spot dusting.

Mr. Collins, Mary in his shadow, trundled in. “Good day to you, Mr. Bennet and to you my fair cousins.”

Necessary pleasantries were exchanged and Elizabeth sidled away. With a little good fortune, his attentions might continue toward Mary and she could escape notice.

“I was just telling Mr. Collins about Mama’s great love of Christmas pudding and how she loves this Sunday above all others,” Mary said with a hopeful look toward Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins thumbed his lapels, expression sober, almost severe. Why did he always have to take the role of the authority on nearly everything—especially when he seemed to know so little. “As a clergyman I am not certain—”

“Excuse me, I need to speak to Mrs. Bennet.” Papa edged past them and out of the parlor.

Elizabeth peeked into the corridor. He turned toward his study not the kitchen. She squeezed her eyes shut and sighed.

Mr. Collins looked after him. His brows drawn tight together, as though unable to work out why Papa might have left. His shoulders twitched in a tiny shrug, and he turned back to his remaining, captive audience.

“I am not certain how this particular Sunday holds any significance above others. Surely the Sundays of Advent—”

“Mama finds the day has personal significance, not doctrinal importance,” Jane said softly.

Mr. Collins formed a silent ‘o’ as if the idea of personal significance were an entirely new concept.

Elizabeth and Jane took to the settee. Elizabeth picked up her sewing from the basket and ducked her head. Perhaps he would not take notice of her.

Lydia and Kitty skipped in, giggling and tittering about the bonnet that Lydia had newly trimmed.

“Why should this Sunday have such personal import that she might be at liberty to make the entire family late to holy services?” Mr. Collins clasped his hands behind his back and resumed Papa’s path, pacing before the fireplace.

 “Are you going to tell the story of Mama and Papa’s betrothal?” Lydia snickered.

“What has that to do with this particular Sunday?”

“The Christmas pudding that foretold their betrothal—” Kitty glanced at Lydia.

“Was stirred up on this day—” Lydia grabbed Kitty’s hand.

“And Mama was the one who put the ring charm in the pudding,” They finished together.

“She looks fondly upon Christmas puddings as a result.” Mary mimicked one of Mama’s warning glances toward Kitty and Lydia, but failed to achieve the desired effect.

“Fondly? Only fondly?” Lydia chortled. “She considers them essential and auspicious, slaving over them each year as though—”

“Your mother declares herself ready—let us be off.” Papa called from the vestibule.

Lydia and Kitty led the procession out. Mr. Collins lingered behind near the settee.

The back of Elizabeth’s neck prickled. Why was he looking at her like that?

 

Thankfully, the carriage was not required for the trip to church. A fine brisk walk in the morning sun and crisp breeze was exactly what Elizabeth most needed right now. More properly, it would have been what she most needed had Mr. Collins not taken the opportunity to appoint himself as her devoted escort. He immediately took to her side, rescuing her from any danger of reflection or contemplation.

Instead, she became well acquainted with Lady Catherine’s beneficence; her prescriptions by which sermon writers offered the most appropriate sermons for parishioners; her magnanimous assistance in reviewing the sermons he himself wrote; her generous refinements added to his preparations.

Heavens, could the man not think nor act for himself?

“Is it truly necessary to have her review your work, sir? Forgive me if I am incorrect in my understanding, but is not a vicar secure in his position? Does not securing her favor have little to do with the security of your position?”

Such a glance he cast upon her! So condescending! No one had looked at her that way since she was an overly inquisitive little girl. “It does you credit, dear cousin, that you would give so much consideration to my situation and welfare. You are quite correct in your understanding of the nature of my preferment. Nothing short of complete moral failure on my part can separate me from it. I flatter myself to believe it entirely avoidable on my part.”

“I am sure you are correct, sir. Still, I do not apprehend your most profound devotion to her opinion.” She kicked a dry clod of dirt out of the path.

“Is it not a right and pleasing thing to be concerned for the opinion of those Providence has placed in superior positions? One can profit both spiritually and in more temporal ways from their beneficence.”

“Oh, now I see.”

He was a puppy, begging for crumbs at her table. To be fair, his income could not be much above a tenth of Papa’s, but still. Had he no dignity?

She shifted her wrap to sooth the prickles across the back of her neck. What he implied was too much like a servant holding out a hand for vails from houseguests. Would he expect the same obsequiousness from a wife? No doubt he would. She swallowed hard.

The church bells rang a final call to worship as they arrived and went directly to their pew. The little stone and wood church brimmed with congregants. How utterly unsurprising that Mr. Collins should contrive to sit between her and Jane.

The vicar read the day’s prayer.  “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Lydia elbowed Kitty and whispered “Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot. And when we do get home tonight, we’ll eat it up hot.”

Elizabeth stifled a laugh.

“I suppose it is the fashion of young people today to freely parody those things considered sacred. I am pleased to see that you do not indulge in such unseemly fancies,” Mr. Collins muttered under his breath, eyes fixed on the vicar.

Elizabeth bit her lip hard. Bother, she should have laughed heartily. Perhaps that might have given him pause instead of one more thing to fuel his unseemly praise of her. What beastly luck to have herself in proper check this morning.

Mr. Collins offered his reflections and commentary on the sermon throughout the service. In short, the vicar executed his task admirably enough, but his sermon was too modern. He would have clearly benefited from the guidance a patron like Lady Catherine could offer.

Her skin itched and every limb twitched. She would have gasped for breath had it not been likely to gain even more attention from him. His presence had all the appeal of a coarse wool blanket on bare skin.

Mama glanced at them from the far end the pew. Prim and entirely satisfied, she folded her hands in her lap and peeked first at the Bingleys across the aisle, then the Lucases to whom she offered a well-pleased smile.

How shocking to be so self-congratulatory in church. Elizabeth’s stomach churned. It had not been a mistake as Jane insisted. Mama clearly expected, even anticipated Mr. Collins making and offer to one of her girls. Not just one of her girls, but to Elizabeth in particular.

Surely, even Mama could certainly see how unsuitable they were to one another. Surely he could see it, too. No man could be that insensible, could he?

 

On the way home, Mary contrived to walk with Mr. Collins. How she managed—and why—were a mystery, but Elizabeth enjoyed the fruits nonetheless. She strolled beside Jane, savoring the quiet company and gentle sunshine. With Mr. Collins behind her, she could nearly block out the sound of his voice in favor of the sounds of the countryside—birds, sheep, cows and a few horses.

 Mama faded back from her place beside Papa and interposed herself between Elizabeth and Jane. “It is not becoming for you to roll your eyes so much, Lizzy. I have seen you do it far too often recently.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“And another thing. I do not much like your way of constantly escaping Mr. Collins’s most agreeable company. See there, Mary is walking with him. It should be you.” Mama glanced over her shoulder, none too discretely.

“Mama, I do believe Mary is partial to Mr. Collins’s society,” Jane said.

“I do not care what Mary’s preferences are. Mr. Collins deserves more than a plain middle child. Since he cannot have the eldest, his preference falls to you.” She elbowed Elizabeth sharply.

“Mary would much rather have it.” Elizabeth peeked over her shoulder. “And he does not seem much displeased for it.” In all likelihood, any of them would do for him; he hardly seemed to care very much which.

“That is because he is a gentleman and does not wear his heart upon his sleeve. Do not be insensible of the great boon he seeks to be to all of us.”

“Are you telling me—”

“It seems I can tell you nothing, obstinate girl. I am simply reminding you of the reality of our situation, something you would be wise not to forget.” Mama huffed and marched back to her place beside Papa.

Elizabeth hesitated a few steps, increasing the distance between her and Mama. “Oh, Jane. What am I to do?”

“Do not be too hard on Mama. You know her nerves.”

“Papa’s great friend all these years? Yes, I well know her nerves.” She rolled her eyes. Perhaps Mama did have a fair point on that account.

“Do be fair or at least try.”

“I try. Indeed, I do. But what sense does it make to deny Mary her preference and me mine? You and I have always agreed we should marry for love alone.”

Jane sighed and glanced in the direction of Netherfield Park. “Yes, it is a very desirable thing. But not everyone is the same. Mr. Collins’s motivations seem very different. Not wrong, but different.”

“So different, I do not see how I may bridge the gap—nor do I see why I should when things might very well be agreeably settled with Mary.”

“She does seem to take great pains to seek out his company. Perhaps he and Mama may be made to see reason.”

Hopefully Jane was correct. But what if she were not?

Even if it were not possible to marry for love, it should not be too much to ask to be able to enjoy a friendship with the man she married, should it? How could she possibly settle for less than that?

 

After a light nuncheon in the dining room, Mama called them all to the kitchen. She did the same thing every Stir it Up Sunday since Elizabeth could remember. The large worktable in the center of the kitchen bore the fragrant makings of the pudding. The air swirled with the fragrances of brandy and spices hanging in the steam of the great roiling cauldron waiting to accept the finished pudding.

“You too, Mr. Collins, for you are part of the family, to be sure.” Mama waved him toward the table.

He edged in between Jane and Elizabeth.

 Of course, where else might he stand?

Elizabeth sidled over to make room for him, nearly treading on Mary’s toes in the process. Poor Mary looked so dejected. If only they might switch places, but Mama would no doubt cause such a scene if they did.

“Now, Mr. Collins has it been the habit of your family to make a Christmas pudding?” Mama asked.

“This is the first time I have experienced this most charming and agreeable custom, madam. To be sure, the Christmas Puddings at Rosings Park—”

“Well then, I shall tell you how we do it. There is a great bowl there, and you each have the ingredients beside you. You, sir, have the flour. Add it to the bowl and then pass it east to west.”

“Clockwise—” Papa whispered loudly.

Apparently he thought little of Mr. Collins’s sense of direction. Probably for good reason.

“Yes, yes like that. Give the bowl to Jane now.”

She added a pile of minced suet and passed it to Kitty. Kitty and Lydia added dried fruits and nuts and passed it into Papa’s hands for the bread crumbs and milk.

Mama poured in the brandy soaked citron and spices. “And that makes eleven ingredients. We have two more now, thirteen for Christ and the apostles.”

Mary added the eggs and slid the heavy vessel to Elizabeth.

“How fitting for you to add the final sweetness, Cousin Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth cringed and nearly spilled the sugar.

Mama glowered at her, but quickly recovered her composure and handed Mr. Collins the wooden spoon. “To remind us of the Christ child’s crib. Now stir it east to—clockwise—with your eyes closed sir. And make a wish.”

Mr. Collins steadied the bowl and grasped the spoon. “I shall wish for—”

“No, sir,” Elizabeth said, “Your wish must be made in silence.”

Mama glowered again. Little matter though. Elizabeth had no desire to hear Mr. Collins’s wish. His expression said too much as it was.

The bowl passed around the table. Some wishes were easy to guess.

Mary wished to be noticed by Mr. Collins. Kitty and Lydia wished to be noticed by anyone but Mr. Collins. Mama doubtless wished Mr. Collins to marry one of her girls, preferably Elizabeth. Jane, of course, wished for Mr. Bingley. But Papa’s wish remained a mystery. What would he want?

The cold, heavy bowl passed to her. The rough wooden spoon scraped at her fingers. What to wish for? She closed her eyes and forced the spoon through the heavy batter. To marry for love. I wish to marry for love.

“Do not dawdle so, Lizzy. We must add the charms now. Here one for each of you.” Mamma passed a charm to each sister and Mr. Collins. “Add your charm to the pudding and stir it again.”

Mama shoved the bowl toward Mary. “You start.”

Mary gulped. “I have the thimble—”

Lydia snickered. “How fitting.  Spinsterhood!”

“It is for thrift.” Jane’s tone was as firm as it ever got, a veritable rebuke.

“For thrift, then.” Mary tossed it in and quickly stirred it into the batter.

“I wonder which of us shall travel.” Lydia tossed a tiny shoe charm into the pudding.

“And which shall find safe harbor?” Kitty followed with an anchor and held the bowl while Lydia stirred them in.

Jane added the coin and Elizabeth the horse shoe. Jane held whilst Elizabeth stirred.

“And you Mr. Collins?” Mama blinked, but her expression was far from innocent.

“It seems I have the ring to add to the pudding.” He dropped it, eyes on Elizabeth.

“How very auspicious. Did you know, I added that same charm to a Christmas pudding the year of my betrothal to Mr. Bennet?”

“Traditions says—and I would hardly count it accurate—that the finder of the ring will wed, not the one who dropped it in the pudding,” Papa muttered.

“Well that may be, Mr. Bennet, it might be. But, I can speak to what happened for me. And I believe it may well have significance for others among us.” Mama fluttered her eyes at Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins smiled his cloying smile and edged a little closer to Elizabeth.

Papa huffed softly. “Let us hope that something with greater sense than a pudding prevails over such decisions, shall we now? So then, give me the buttered cloth and the pudding that it may be tied up and done with.”

Elizabeth stood back to give him room to dump the pudding out and wrap it in the pudding cloth.

Thankfully she had an ally in Papa or at least she seemed to. The way Mama carried on and encouraged Mr. Collins, she would need one.


 

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Ape Leaders: Spinsters of the Regency Era

Courtship and Marriage5Regency society organized itself around marriage and family. Adults were identified by their place, or lack thereof, in a married, family unit. Married women were ranked higher and more respected than the unmarried spinsters.  


The plight of the regency spinsters is fairly well documented. The local tax or judicial records says it all. Women were typically identified in tax or judicial records by their marital status (spinsters, wives and widows) whereas men were always identified by their occupation or social status. (Shoemaker, 1998) The message is clear: a woman’s identity (and legal existence) was determined by her marital status.

That status though was not morally neutral. Spinsterhood was considered ‘unnatural’ for a woman, even though nearly one in four upper class girls remained unmarried (Day, 2006). They were called ‘ape-leaders’ (for that was what they would be doing in hell as punishment for the unnatural lifestyle. Enough said on that point….) and ridiculed for their failure in the most basic requirements of femininity.

However, if a single woman possessed independent means—a fortune of her own sufficient for her to live on, it was possible she could maintain her own household and carry on an independent life. Female investors were not unknown and their capital supported the joint stock companies behind municipal utilities and railways. (Not going to comment on the irony here–good enough to provide money, but not enough to be respected in society…) Wise investments could provide a steady income without administrative worries. (Davidoff & Hall, 2002)

Not all women were so fortunate as to have independent means, and even if they were, male relatives might make it difficult or impossible for her to access her own fortune. (Naturally the men in her life knew better how to manage her affairs than she.) In those cases, a spinster would have two choices, find a job to support herself or live in the house of a relative.

Let me but stay until I am married and Ill ask no longer time. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org
The dance of death modernised.
1808 By: G. M. Woodwardafter: Isaac CruikshankPublished: October 1808.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Upper class ladies had limited job prospects, given their desire to remain respectable—and their more or less complete lack of marketable skills. Genteel options were limited to being a lady’s companion or a governess.

Being a governess required and education that not all ladies had and was not necessarily an enviable position. Within the households they served, the existed in a nether realm, not equal to the family but above the servants. Often, a governess would associate with neither, virtually shut away from all society. She would also be vulnerable, as all female servants were, to (unwanted) advances from the males of the household.

Unmarried women unable to become governesses were expected to make themselves useful to which ever relative might take them in. They might keep house for bachelor (or widowed) brothers or uncles, tend children, cover for married sisters while they were indisposed or during lying-in, nurse the sick, cook, clean and mend. Ironically, despite these functions, they were still often considered spungers and a burden to the household.

No wonder women like Austen’s Charlotte Lucas would get panicky about getting to an age where they were considered unmarriageable and ‘on the shelf.’ Not quite a death sentence, but much like being a prisoner sentenced to life in heavy labor with no parole. Though it might sound a little exaggerated, I’m convinced it is a fairly apt description of the plight of an unmarried woman in the era.

Want to learn more? Try Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, available in ebook and paperback

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References

Baird, Rosemary. Mistress of the House: Great Ladies and Grand Houses, 1670-1830. London: Phoenix, 2004.

Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, the Parson’s Daughter. London: Hambledon Press, 1998.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Day, Malcom. Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David&Charles, 2006.

Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen and Marriage. London: Continuum, 2009.

Horn, Pamela. Flunkeys and scullions: life below stairs in Georgian England. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.

Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.

Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004.

Shoemaker, Robert Brink. Gender in English Society, 1650-1850: The Emergence of Separate Spheres? London: Longman, 1998. Pearson Education Limited

The Woman’s advocate or The baudy batchelor out in his calculation: Being the genuine answer paragraph by paragraph, to the batchelor’s estimate plainly proving that marriage is to a man of sense and oeconomy, both a happiner and less chargeablo state, than a single life. Written for the honour of the good wives, and pretty girls of old England. London: Printed for A. Moore, near St. Paul’s, 1729.

Vickery, Amanda. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009.

Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

Rising Waters: Dry Shoes are Totally Underrated

You never realize how wonderful dry shoes are until Hurricane Harvey leaves you stuck wearing wet ones.


In case you missed earlier installments:

Rising Waters part 1

Risings Waters Part 2

Rising Waters Part 3

Somehow, I had hoped that dry shoes and clothes would change things more than they did. I was already tired of being wet, and according to the latest weather forecasts, Hurricane Harvey was promising that wet was the way things would be for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the task at hand was no different than a few minutes earlier–get what was important to higher ground. I could do this though. I had just done this very same thing at the neighbors’ house. It could not be so very different here, now, could it? I just had to find the clinical detachment I channeled there and apply it here. Just pick a room and start.

Now was not the time for reflection; that would come later.

Lesson 7: Too many really important things are stored too near the floor.

My son and our neighbor were quick on my heels as I headed for the sitting room, hoping for something, or really anything to do, extra bonus points if it was something useful. I was supposed to start at ground level and move up from there, but finding them something to do first seemed a little more important. They needed the distraction.

The file cabinet drawer with all the kids’ school pictures and memorabilia—the ones I had always intended to scan but hadn’t gotten around to yet– was an obvious choice. The wooden trunks with holiday décor needed to go upstairs too. So I set my extra hands on those and grabbed a laundry basket for my own efforts

The curio cabinet was the first thing I encountered in the room—the one my hubby got me last Christmas because the cats had shattered every shelf in my old one in an event known as the a ‘cat’-astrophe. No, stop, don’t think about that right now. It would all be there to consider when the current job was done. For now, just pack: our wedding album and my bouquet, the vase my grandfather brought my grandmother filled with wildflowers when my father was born, my great grandmother’s tea cup and missal. It is so hard not to think about each one of these things–they have little monetary value, but they are irreplaceable. 

A quick glance outside reminds me I don’t have the luxury to dwell on anything but the here and now. The water is still higher, encroaching on yet another house—the third on the street ready to succumb. 

Ready hands take the basket and hand me a box as I take on the bookcase. Yearbooks and old family books take up the bottom shelves and make it into the box. The rest could be replaced, just like the rest of the furniture left in the room. Except for the antique dressing table–that would be hard to replace. But there really was no room left upstairs for such things. One more thing not to think about right now.

Stay detached, must stay one step removed if I’m going to keep going.

A trip to the study turns up a box of my earliest writing–must save that–story notes and the scrapbooking armoire—so very many pictures. Another task to set my extra hands to. Who knew I had so many pictures in there–and more in an adjacent closet–boxes and boxes of them. More that I should have already had scanned and saved.

Hopefully I would have the opportunity someday.

Between each room, I ran outside, braving the pouring rain to hear from the neighbors. With the cable and internet out and phone coverage spotty, everyone was hungry for news. Fresh information was worth its weight in dry shoes. Talk of evacuations–who was leaving now and how–sets my mind and heart racing. Could it really come to that?

It already had. That’s why I had my neighbor and six extra animals upstairs.

Can’t think about that quite yet. First, finish the house, then deal with that. Somewhere in the midst of it all, numbness sets in, the questions, the decisions become more academic than heart rending. I know there will be a price to be paid for it later, but for now, I will take anything to make this easier.

Lesson 8: The power of connection

 Countless trips upstairs dwindle to a trickle. There’s not much else to haul upstairs. On one hand, downstairs seems very empty, but on the other, it feels like there’s so much still there—yet there really is that there is no choice but to leave behind. We can’t move everything upstairs.

Focus on that. But there is no choice.

Time for another break to check on the neighbors. A third house has taken on water, but it’s a two story and she’s not ready to leave. The next one in danger has an elderly couple living there and they’re only one story. I remind them they are welcome to stay with us, if their house starts taking water, and it looks like it will. Will check on them again soon.

I’m not sure I’ve talked to the neighbors so much in the last year—and I’m not proud of it. What a way to meet the neighbors.

Back at the house, the only place I can get cell reception is the front porch. At least the wind isn’t driving the unceasing rain under the porch as I set up my old wicker chair and start to dial. My eldest has made it to Dallas with wife and baby and is safely set up at her uncle’s house. That’s one thing off my mind, though I’d have given anything for them to be able to shelter with us.

Son number two tells me the profs are being really understanding about the storm—he should have stayed home to be able to help move things. I try to assure him it’s better this way—we needed his room to hold furniture, but I’m not sure he’s convinced. My father, who only lives ten minutes away, but far enough from the waterways that they’re not in danger, doesn’t seem to comprehend the seriousness of our situation, but all told, it’s probably better than way.

My sister, on the other hand, is just this side of frantic.  As I talk to her, I’m watching boats—canoes and kayaks go past—one more surreal image I’ll never shake from my head. She wants us to leave now, but it’s really not an option at the moment. The water is too deep to wade through, the boats that have offered help are too small to manage the critters safely, and it’s close to nightfall, when things get dramatically more dangerous. It really makes more sense to shelter in place.

Undaunted, she is determined to find us a way out and tells me to keep the phone close.

In the meantime, I go back in the house and try to feed people, but no one is really hungry except the animals. So, they get their dinner and the dogs get a quick trip outside. After that, we decided to see if we could introduce the dogs so that they didn’t have to be confined quite so much. In the middle of the living room devoid of most of its furniture, we put everyone on leashes and start the process.

I kind of think they knew what was up. My dog, who is more of a four footed speed-bump than anything else took one look at the other two and rolled over belly up. I swear I could hear here say, ‘it’s not the time to worry about who’s in charge here. I’m a beta and I know it, are we all good now?’ Apparently they were and we had a nice little dog pack ready to share the upstairs couch and watch movies with our youngest son and neighbor to pass some of the dark evening hours.

We were finally able to tune in news radio. Even with the crackly AM band reception, hearing a voice that brought news of the outside world was a relief, even if it was news we didn’t really want. The rain was not going to let up anytime soon. More of the city was underwater and high-water rescues were happening everywhere—many of them were by civilian volunteers moved to help their neighbors. The truly sobering news was that there was a fair chance the storm would head back out to sea, strengthen, and return with another several feet of rain. Would there be anything left of the city if that happened?

As 10PM approached, the water was licking the next door neighbor’s driveway. If the rain continued all night, there was little doubt it would be getting to ours soon. Later, I discovered we had another 5 inches of rain on Monday, for a total of 32.5 inches of rain since Friday.

My sister’s ringtone sent me scurrying to the front porch. She’d been making calls since we’d hung up. She’d located two possible friends of friends with boats that might be able to help, and through a ‘seven degrees of Kevin Bacon’ sort of maneuver had called an old acquaintance with a cousin who worked at the Parks Service and knew who to call to get on the evacuation list, so we were now on that list.

Sometime after dawn tomorrow, we had a way out. My knees went a little weak as I managed to go back inside and share the news.

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