by Susan Adriani, guest blogger and author of The Truth About Mr. Darcy
If you think it's difficult to find a man like Mr. Darcy in the twenty-first century, just imagine attempting it in the nineteenth, where propriety was demanded at all times—especially during courtship.
In Regency England, a woman's sole occupation was to attract a husband. It sounds easy enough, but, in actuality, it was a bit more complicated than one might think. For one thing, there were rules to follow, each designed to protect and preserve a lady's reputation and standing in Society. Not only was it unacceptable for a respectable woman to seek employment of any kind, it was scandalous for an unmarried lady to appear in public without a chaperone, or to openly express an interest in a gentleman. Propriety dictated she must wait patiently for the prospective suitor to express his admiration for her, never the other way around.
Should a promising gentleman just happen to express his interest, however…well, there were a few more rules to follow. Intimate touching, for instance, was not permitted, nor was familiarity of address—meaning the gentleman and lady in question were required to address each other formally at all times, never by their Christian names. Letter writing was not allowed, nor was gift giving; and under no circumstances was the couple to be left alone together. That would lead to implications of marital intent.
So, what could a courting Regency couple do? Well, to be honest, not much; there was, however, walking and dancing. On a walk—carefully chaperoned, of course—the couple could easily engage in discreet conversation by lagging behind the rest of their party. As dancing usually required a man and woman to hold hands at frequent intervals throughout the set, it provided an acceptable way for them to engage in physical contact, under the watchful eyes of an entire assembly, of course. It also provided another opportunity for partners to converse discreetly.
As a writer, though, I couldn't resist taking a few liberties with Jane Austen's characters by bending the bounds of propriety just a bit, and in some cases, much more. In my book, The Truth About Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are engaged in a courtship, but because she is uncertain of her feelings for him, she has asked that they keep it a secret from her family or, more aptly, from Mrs. Bennet, who is hyper-focused on finding husbands for her daughters. Elizabeth would much rather get to know Darcy on her own terms, and manages to do so on the sly with very little interference from her doting, yet often overbearing mother.
The following passage is part of a scene from my book, where Elizabeth and Darcy meet each other sans chaperone, which, as you now know, was quite a scandalous thing to do! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed being here today. Thank you, Keira, for having me!
Elizabeth was surprised to admit the last fortnight had been one of the most enjoyable she had ever spent. She had faithfully—and secretly—managed to meet with Darcy every morning, and on many occasions, they found themselves reunited again in the afternoon or evening, either at small, informal gatherings or at dinners given by one neighbor or another.
At first, Darcy was hesitant to approach her when in company and reluctantly resigned himself to the possibility that he would be forced to find consolation in the form of his old standby—staring at the woman he loved with undisguised longing from across the room—but, to his immense delight, Elizabeth no longer seemed to be of a mind to stay away.
Having gained a better understanding of Darcy’s taciturn disposition and his haughty composure when in company, Elizabeth made every effort to draw him into conversation with her friends, her neighbors, and the few truly intelligent members of her family.
Much to Darcy’s surprise, he discovered that under Elizabeth’s keen and solicitous guidance he was beginning to relax his stoic mien and even enjoy himself with the people of Hertfordshire. But Darcy found he was never so much at ease—he had never felt so accepted nor so valued for his own merits and contributions—as when he was alone with Elizabeth on their early morning rambles.
Elizabeth turned onto the path leading to Oakham Mount and immediately discerned the familiar figure whose presence she had come to welcome, even anticipate, as he leaned against a tree. She took a moment to study him while he twirled a strand of dried hay between his fingers, seemingly lost in thought. Even in such an informal setting—or perhaps in spite of it—Darcy presented a striking picture. Elizabeth raised her hands to her hair, smoothing any stray curls that may have escaped the confines of her bonnet. She struggled to calm her breathing and then, repressing a smile of pleasure, made her way toward Darcy.
A wide smile overspread his face as he beheld her—her cheeks aglow from the exertion of her morning exercise. It took less than an instant for his mind to begin contemplating how she might look after having partaken of another form of exercise—that of writhing beneath him in ecstasy as he plundered her lips and pleasured her body, claiming her as he so fervently wished to do, forever as his own. She extended her gloved hand to him as she approached, and he took it, lifting it to his lips and bestowing upon it a kiss. His eyes never left her lovely face.
Elizabeth found herself blushing as his ardent gaze almost seemed to reach inside to caress her very soul. After several long minutes of silence, she managed to find her voice. “Good morning, Mr. Darcy. I trust you are well today?” she asked with a touch of her usual archness.
Darcy did not relinquish her hand and quietly replied, “I find I am very well this morning, Miss Bennet… now that you are come.”