Fitzwilliam Darcy is a single man in possession of a good fortune, a broken heart, and tattered pride. Elizabeth Bennet is a young lady in possession of a superior wit, flawed judgement, and a growing list of unwanted suitors. With a tempestuous acquaintance, the merciless censure of each other’s character, and the unenviable distinction of a failed proposal behind them, they have parted ways on seemingly irreparable terms. Despairing of a felicitous resolution for themselves, they both attend with great energy to rekindling the courtship between Darcy’s friend Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth’s sister Jane.
Regrettably, people are predisposed to mistake one another, and rarely can two be so conveniently manoeuvred into love without some manner of misunderstanding arising. Jane, crossed in love once already, is wary of Bingley’s renewed attentions. Mistaking her guardedness for indifference, Bingley is drawn to Elizabeth’s livelier company; rapidly, the defects in their own characters become the least of the impediments to Darcy and Elizabeth’s happiness.
Debut author Jessie Lewis’s Mistaken invites us to laugh along with Elizabeth Bennet at the follies, nonsense, whims, and inconsistencies of characters both familiar and new in this witty and romantic take on Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice.
Saturday, 2 May 1812: Hertfordshire
Kitty’s announcement that a certain gentleman was riding towards the house threw Jane into an unbearable state of suspense. Elizabeth had walked out, and in the absence of her good sense, there was little to prevent Mrs. Bennet’s hysterical fluttering or Kitty and Lydia’s wild speculations as to their visitor’s purpose. By the time Mr. Bingley arrived and the long-awaited interview began, Jane had abandoned all hope of approaching it with equanimity. She longed to observe whether he paid her any peculiar attention yet scarcely dared look at him. She longed to speak but could think of nothing to say. It seemed safest to concentrate on her embroidery and allow her mother to carry the conversation.
Though he bore Mrs. Bennet’s effusions with good humour, Jane could not but notice Mr. Bingley’s smile grew progressively more fixed. Gathering her courage, she exerted herself to enquire whether spring had much favoured Netherfield’s gardens. He answered in the affirmative and most enthusiastically, but after that, they both fell back into awkward silence.
“I recall your saying, sir,” her mother went on, unperturbed, “that whenever you were in Town, you never wished to leave it.”
“Did I? But, of course, I must have if you recall it,” he replied amiably.
“You did. Yet, here you are! You have left London in favour of the country. How ought we to account for it, I wonder? What is here that could possibly tempt you away?”
Jane closed her eyes, mortification burning her cheeks.
“I decided the country had one considerable advantage over London and that I should be much happier here.”
Jane opened her eyes again in astonishment, and he was looking at her directly. She gasped and instinctively lifted a hand to her breast, regrettably dropping her embroidery hoop in the process. She lunged after it, but too fast, for she lost her balance and toppled after it. Stifling an unladylike screech, she reached for the nearby occasional table to break her fall.
Her recovery was short-lived, for the folding leaf of the traitorous furniture unceremoniously folded, clearly mistaking the occasion for an entirely different one where its services were not required. Her hand swept down towards the ground, followed by her head and shoulders as she made unintentional obeisance to the room, the stack of ribbons atop the table unfurled in a colourful fountain, and to her utter mortification, a distinct ripping sound came from under her arm.
Her sisters erupted into laughter. Her mother openly lamented her inelegance. Mr. Bingley she dared not look at as she slid back into her seat, despairing of ever regaining his esteem after such an exhibition. It was with a palpable sense of relief that she heard the front door open and the sound of Elizabeth’s voice. When her sister came into the parlour, Jane turned away from the gathered company and mouthed to her urgently, Help!
Elizabeth judged the awkwardness pervading the parlour to be beyond salvation. She suggested they walk in the garden instead, and with a little help from her mother in dissuading the younger girls from joining them, it was agreed.
“’Tis well,” she assured her sister quietly, nudging her towards the stairs. “He has come this far; a dropped hoop is not likely to put him off. Go! Change your dress and take a moment to collect yourself. I shall sing your praises until you return.”
She found Mr. Bingley by the front door, and together they resolved to take a slow turn whilst they awaited Jane.
“Is your sister well?” he enquired.
“Perfectly well, thank you, sir. She is changing into something better suited to walking.” It did not seem to placate him overmuch; thus, in an attempt to give him heart, she added, “We are all exceedingly pleased to see you returned.”
“It is exceedingly pleasant to be back.”
“And were there one person’s opinion you particularly cared for,” she added with a sly glance, “I daresay you may be confident of a warm welcome there also.” The hope overspreading his countenance was all she could have hoped for on Jane’s behalf.
“I thank you sincerely for your assurances. I hoped, from what Darcy said, that you would be my ally.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “He spoke of me?”
“Oh yes, he confessed everything. I know it all.”
Perhaps it was the tremble in her voice that bade him look at her with such concern. “Pray, be not alarmed that his disclosure was in any way improper. I know you did not see eye to eye with him, but I assure you Darcy is a very good sort of man—and exceptionally loyal. As soon as he realised his actions had injured me, he felt obliged to confess his mistake. I know of his misjudgement of your sister’s affections, his concealment of her presence in Town this winter, and your assertion of her regard—all of it.”
“I see.” Elizabeth could only hope the omission of any mention of his proposal was indicative of Mr. Bingley’s ignorance rather than his discretion.
“I apologise if mentioning it made you uneasy.”
“No, not at all. I am only relieved my interference was not seen in a mistaken light.”
“On the contrary, I cannot thank you enough for speaking up. I am quite in your debt.”
She smiled distractedly, consumed by a sudden and compelling desire to hear more about his friend. With as much disinterest as she could feign, she enquired whether Mr. Darcy would be joining him at Netherfield.
“Not on this occasion,” he answered. “He has been particularly busy these past weeks—rarely home to callers and unwell to boot.”
“He is unwell?” She endeavoured to ignore the cloying sensation of guilt, for surely even with her vanity, she could not take credit for an ague.
“Oh, nothing serious—only a persistent cold, I think. Ah! Miss Bennet, you have joined us at last. Wonderful!”
Elizabeth gladly ceded possession of his arm to Jane and fell in behind them as they meandered Longbourn’s paths. She made a poor chaperone, for all her thoughts were focused nearly thirty miles away in London on the man who had gone against all his professed scruples to reunite two people in love. Mr. Darcy would never wish to see her again, she knew. Nevertheless, though still not sorry for refusing him, she felt a burgeoning regret for not allowing herself to see him properly when she had the chance.
Jessie Lewis, Author
I have a long-standing love affair with words. I adore reading them, writing them, and as my friends and family will wearily attest, speaking them. I dabbled in poetry during my angst-ridden teenage years, but it wasn’t until college that I truly came to comprehend the potency of the English language.
That appreciation materialised into something more tangible one dark wintry evening whilst I was making a papier-mâché Octonauts Gup-A (Google it—you’ll be impressed) for my son, and watching a rerun of Pride and Prejudice on TV. Fired up by the remembrance of Austen’s genius with words, I dug out my copy of the novel and in short order had been inspired to set my mind to writing in earnest. I began work on a Regency romance based on Austen’s timeless classic, and my debut novel Mistaken is the result.
The Regency period continues to fascinate me, and I spend a good deal of my time cavorting about there in my daydreams, imagining all manner of misadventures. The rest of the time I can be found at home in Hertfordshire, where I live with my husband, two children, and an out-of-tune piano. You can check out my musings on the absurdities of language and life on my blog, Life in Words, or see what I’m reading over at Goodreads. Or you can drop me a line on Twitter, @JessieWriter or on my Facebook page, Jessie Lewis Author. I’d love to hear from you!