February 22, 2023

A Man of Few Words (excerpt)


I have requested that Miss Katherine Woodbury record the following in hopes of clarifying certain aspects of the courtship between Mrs. Darcy, née Bennet, and myself found in the account penned by Miss Jane Austen, widely circulated under the title, Pride and Prejudice.

Let me hasten to observe that I find no fault with any part of Miss Austen’s account. It records, with commendable accuracy, my behavior towards and conversations with my future bride. However, through no fault of Miss Austen’s, there have arisen many fanciful inventions in connection with her work. These inventions are, I must stress, wholly without foundation.

I speak specifically to descriptions of my person and character that persist in providing me with the gregariousness of Tom Jones, the masterfulness of one “Mr. B” in Pamela, and even, I am sorry to say, the licentiousness of a Restoration rake. I am portrayed as a type of contemporary knight-errant: emotional, hotheaded, and distressingly unorganized.

To be sure, my wife and sister find such depictions amusing in the extreme, and Charles Bingley has taken to regaling dinner guests with each and every new derivation that chances across his eyes or ears.

However desirable such a picture of the English gentleman might appear to many, it is precisely my honor as a English gentleman that compels me to attempt to convince the reading public that, in my case, these portraits have no basis in the truth.

It is thus my earnest hope that the following should put to rest the presumptions contained in any and all such conflicting narratives. Miss Woodbury assures me that she has taken my full character into account. If I detect, occasionally, a hint of amusement in her writing, I lay such amusement at my wife’s feet.

One must, in marriage, make some concessions to the impressions of one’s spouse.

Fitzwilliam Darcy


Lambton, Derbyshire

28 January 1814

Chapter 1

Darcy Rejects a Lady Without Realizing It

Fitzwilliam Darcy came to Hertfordshire during a damp fall.

Hertfordshire was not part of his usual routine. He usually spent the fall and winter at Pemberley, the family estate in Derbyshire, departing Pemberley in the spring to visit his aunt’s place in Kent.

However, Darcy’s friend, Charles Bingley, had purchased a house, Netherfield, in Hertfordshire. Darcy, Charles insisted, must see it and give Charles suggestions for its improvement.

So Darcy had come, although he was beginning to suspect that what Charles meant by “suggestions” was “admire the view and applaud my good taste.”

Not that the estate didn’t have potential. Darcy took a tour with the estate agent (Charles did not yet have a steward), and they agreed that the west side of the estate could possibly be quarried for chalk, but rents to farmers would make up the bulk of the estate’s income.

Darcy re-entered the house, shaking rain from his coat, and found that the neighbors had descended on Netherfield.

He knew they would. Bingley’s arrival in the area—with his sisters, who would arrive that afternoon—increased the population of the neighborhood’s gentry by ten percent. At least. And Darcy had to admit that Bingley was a pleasant addition to any community.

If only Bingley would curb his hearty (and utterly sincere) desire to include Darcy.

“This is Mr. Bennet,” Charles said when Darcy entered the sitting room. He indicated a lanky gentleman with a sardonic look. “Mr. Bennet, this is my good friend, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy and Mr. Bennet shook hands.

“I mustn’t stay long,” Mr. Bennet murmured. “Our local worthies would welcome your presence at Meryton’s assembly ball, Mr. Bingley—and your entire party. You will be able to dance with my, ah, reasonably pleasing daughters.”

So. The man had daughters to marry off. Darcy shook his head as Mr. Bennet prepared to depart. For all his gregariousness, Charles would never marry a girl from a country family. Darcy was sure Charles would marry one of the many ladies who flocked around him in London.

We will make every effort to attend,” Charles told Mr. Bennet at the sitting room door.

Darcy’s heart sank. He wished people would restrain their communal instincts. He understood the need to gather but why did it need to happen so repeatedly? And in such uncomfortable settings? With strangers?

“We are going,” Charles told him when Mr. Bennet left on his horse. Darcy didn’t bother grumbling.

Not much, that is.

Bingley’s sisters, Carolyn and Louisa, arrived the next day. Louisa was married and brought her husband, Mr. Hurst, along. He was a self-indulgent man who spent much of his time staring at cards and ignoring his wife.

“Oh, Charles, you shouldn’t have!” the sisters both cried when he told them about the assembly ball, but Darcy didn’t bother feeling hopeful they would force Charles to change his mind. He’d heard these protestations before. The sisters wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to show off their finery.

They did carp at the indignity of visiting a village assembly house rather than a well-furnished family dwelling. Darcy considered simplicity one of the (few) redeeming qualities of the affair. A town like Meryton had an obligation to contrive entertainments for its populace.

Unfortunately, civic accountability proved the evening’s only redeeming quality. The assembly room was too hot and too crowded. People thronged around the Bingley party, wanting to be introduced to Bingley, to his sisters, to Mr. Hurst, and to Darcy.

—to Bingley, to his sisters, to Mr. Hurst, and to Darcy.

—to Bingley, to his sisters, to Mr. Hurst, and to Darcy.

ad nauseam. Darcy disciplined himself sufficiently not to groan aloud. Why do they bother? He would never remember their names. He was unlikely to spend much time at Netherfield anyway. Bingley would get bored soon and move on. Darcy gave the Netherfield experiment six months.

More faces—more introductions. People welcomed Darcy to the district and extolled the town. Women exclaimed at him. An over-scented woman cried, “Doesn’t the quartet sound lovely?”

There was nothing to say to that. It wasn’t as if Darcy could hear the music with all the chattering and thumping and the unending introductions.

“What beautiful gowns,” another woman shrieked. Darcy managed to detach himself from the gossiping women who whispered as he edged away. He shook his head. Some of these women carried on as if lace and ribbons were state secrets.

He circled the room, nodding to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. “What an odd company,” Miss Bingley mentioned as he passed her. “Don’t you think?”

Darcy shrugged but didn’t pause. He’d already danced with her and didn’t need to again—she had plenty of partners. Worthy women could always obtain partners. He started another circuit, looking for Bingley. They’d been here nearly two hours—long enough. Bingley would make the customary excuses, they’d go back to Netherfield, and Darcy could read and go to bed.

Bingley was ending a dance with a tall, serenely smiling woman. Darcy paused near the edge of the woman’s party and Bingley bounded over to him like a Pemberley pup, full of laudatory details. Wasn’t this ball splendid? Weren’t all the girls pretty? He was having a wonderful time—

Darcy felt the beginnings of a headache. Bingley looked puzzled. Darcy knew that look—Why isn’t Darcy having fun?—and predicted his friend’s deductive leap—Darcy would have fun if he danced.

Bingley bore out Darcy’s expectations. “I’ll find you a partner,” he declared—another Bennet sister, in fact; there, behind Darcy.

Darcy turned his head and caught the eye of a sitting young woman. “She’s very pretty,” Charles said, as if a young lady’s looks should instantly sweep Darcy into a maudlin, uncritical state of mind. “Stop standing there so stupidly and ask her to dance,” Bingley continued.

Darcy snapped refusal. Even if they weren’t going to leave early, that didn’t mean he was going to dance with somebody he didn’t know in an overheated room amongst a crowd of people exchanging pointless remarks.

Bingley grasped Darcy’s point at least. He laughed, slapped Darcy on the back, and strode back to the serenely smiling woman.

Darcy’s headache was getting worse.

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Mr. B Speaks! and A Man of Few Words can be read together in The Gentleman and the Rake.

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