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A Funny Thing Happened While I Was Reading MANSFIELD PARK . . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A week or so ago, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

So while listening to my Annual Austen reading selection for this year, Mansfield Park, yesterday, I started pondering some questions:

What if things went differently for Fanny once she left MP for Portsmouth after her refusal of Henry Crawford’s proposal?

What if Fanny’s family consisted of her older brother William and her widowed, sea-captain father only, and she’d been sent to live with her cousins at MP as a child due to the death of her mother in childbirth?

What if, instead of being sent to Portsmouth as punishment, she’s recalled by her father’s return from the Napoleonic wars and his assignment to the Port Admiralty in Portsmouth, so now he has a home to provide for her again?

What if, once back in Portsmouth, Fanny—or whatever I change her name to—thinks she’s in love with her cousin (Edmund—who will much more resemble Mr. Rushworth/Mr. Collins in this deviation) happens to meet her brother’s Captain, now also turned out on land for an indeterminate amount of time due to the cessation of hostilities with France? And what if his attentions to her make her realize just how poorly this cousin she’s always fancied herself in love with has treated her?

Hmmm . . . I think this requires some additional pondering.

So, now I’ve had a week to think about it . . . and while some of the ideas have changed (some drastically), I’m getting more and more excited about this idea. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (mostly backstory).

The Heroine:
In 1802, at the age of 12, after the death of her mother in childbirth, Pippa was sent to Clifden Hall to live with her mother’s cousin, Lady Frances Lawes-Lindsay. While Pippa’s mother and Lady Lawes-Lindsay had been raised together and thought of each other as sisters, Pippa’s mother went against her wealthy, but untitled, family’s wishes and married a young, penniless Royal Navy Lieutenant, while her cousin married the baronet, Sir Eldon Lawes-Lindsay. So while Pippa is brought into the household at Clifden Hall and raised with the Lawes-Lindsay children, Sir Eldon and his sister Lady Congreve, the widow of a baron who lives in a cottage on the Clifden Hall estate, never let her forget her status as a poor relation and constantly remind her of just how fortunate she is to have been dressed, educated, and included in the family. She was brought out into society a few years after her older female cousins’ debuts (and only locally in Devon, not London), but not with the same grandeur as her cousins, and not without Lady Congreve reminding everyone in Devon society about Pippa’s true parentage/status in the world (the daughter of a naval officer who had to pawn her off onto rich relations when he couldn’t care for her himself (because he was at sea/war). But they also manage to subtly poison her mind against her father and brother’s profession, letting her know what a disappointment she’ll be if she, like her mother, foregoes the opportunity to marry-up.

Even though Pippa loves her father and brother, and enjoys their rare visits over the years, she believes she has been given the opportunity to marry well—and for a long time she has nursed an unrequited affection for her cousin Gerald. He’d just gone off to Eaton when she arrived at Clifden Hall, but he always treated her with affection, just like his own sisters, whenever he was home from school.

With no offers of marriage over the past six years since her debut of which Sir Eldon would approve, at twenty-four, Pippa still lives with them because she has nowhere else to go. So when Gerald came home with his best friend from Oxford, Piers Hawtrey, and is teased by his sisters at a ball about Pippa being in love with him, Gerald, who only treated her nicely at his mother’s command all these years when he really didn’t ant to have anything to do with a poor relation, is offended. To put her in her place, he gets Piers to agree to pretend to fall in love/court Pippa and get her to fall for him. Pippa is flattered (though she doesn’t really feel anything but gratitude toward him), and starts to receive pressure from Sir Eldon and Lady Congreve to accept his suit and do what she can to get him to propose. But there’s something about him she doesn’t trust—and she’s heartbroken when she realizes that Gerald isn’t the same sweet boy she’d nursed an unrequited affection for all those years. At that point, Piers starts looking better–because he’s not only paying attention to her, he’s being a perfect gentleman.

This is probably where the prologue of the story will begin (it may sound sort of familiar, at least in the beginning—so I probably need to work on this more).

When Piers’s sister, Delia, comes so her engagement to Gerald can be announced, a ball is planned. Piers asks Pippa for the first set and then dances with her twice more before the dinner break, making everyone, including Pippa, expect another engagement will soon be announced. By the time he asks her to take a turn around the garden with her, she has convinced herself that not only will he propose, but that she’ll accept. When it comes down to it, the setting and mood are right, and . . . he laughs at her expectant expression and tells her she’s so beneath him that he can’t believe she ever believed he’d be interested in her. Pippa escapes to her room to avoid any additional embarrassment. The next day at breakfast, she is confronted by Sir Eldon and Lady Congreve who berate her for not just turning down Piers’s proposal but for insulting him in the process (having heard this false version of the story from Gerald and Piers the night before). She tries to set them straight, but they won’t believe her. For the next few days, she not only has to live with her relatives’ censure, she has to put up with Piers’s mournful act in front of everyone else and his snide comments and looks when he can catch her alone. Fortunately for her, two days later, her father arrives to take her home to Portsmouth. He’s been promoted to Vice-Admiral and is being sent to command the Royal Naval Dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia. And he wants to take Pippa with him.

The Hero:
Obviously, I’ve spent most of my time working on the setup and Pippa’s backstory, since that was the part inspired by Mansfield Park, and I haven’t had a chance yet to work much with the hero of the piece. But here’s what I know so far:

Post Captain Quinton “Quin” Ryles met Nicholas Stanhope ten years ago when both were young lieutenants in the Royal Navy who’d just signed on to the HMS Conqueror under Captain Israel Pellew. Within days, they were good friends. Within months, having survived the Battle of Trafalgar (October 1805), they were as close as brothers. On their return to England, Nicholas invited Quin to visit his sister in Devonshire on their leave. While he thought Pippa, just fifteen at the time, was pretty, she seemed a bit high in the instep for his liking and thought the family she stayed with had had a very bad influence on someone who could have been a pleasant girl.

Now, in 1815, with Waterloo behind them and the rank of Post Captain attained, Nicholas will be heading to the Caribbean and South America, while Quin’s ship has been assigned to the North American Station, with its command post being the Royal Naval Dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Quin is tasked with transporting the new commander of the North American Station—the fleet that patrols the Northern Atlantic from Greenland south to Bermuda. But before they leave, they have a few weeks on shore while their ships are refitted and supplied. So when Admiral Stanhope returns from Devonshire with Pippa, since Quin is staying as a guest in the Stanhopes’ rented house, he and Pippa are naturally thrown together.

Character Casting
You may find this hard to believe, but at this point, the only one of the characters I’ve cast so far is Pippa’s brother, Nicholas:

Richard Madden as Capt. Nicholas Stanhope

Richard Madden as Capt. Nicholas Stanhope

So, yes, I have some serious casting work to do!

But wait! What about that other story idea?
Don’t worry—I haven’t given up on my Matchmakers sequel. I’m still slowly working on that one, too. But it’s been so long since I’ve been this excited about multiple story ideas that I feel like I need to work on them whenever the fervor is there and I’m excited about it.

  1. Jodie permalink
    Tuesday, July 21, 2015 4:01 am

    I can’t wait to read this! I love Mansfield Park, but I love the sound of your version too!


  2. tinanewcomb permalink
    Tuesday, July 21, 2015 7:58 am

    Love this post. I often ponder what-ifs. My question is why did her cousin treat her so poorly? Was it because her family had no money? Hmmm . . .


  3. Dora Wagner permalink
    Tuesday, July 21, 2015 9:17 am

    I am interested in reading this version of the story. It sounds wonderful.


  4. Jolanthe permalink
    Monday, July 27, 2015 6:15 am

    Love this, Kaye!! Keep running with it and can’t wait to see where it leads. I love your writing and this would be a fabulous story! 🙂


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