I’m so excited to kick off the New Year with a guest post from new Austen-inspired author, Jayne Bamber! She’s been so kind to offer a guest post with interesting insight into Colonel Fitzwilliam, as well as an excerpt and a giveaway!
Colonel Fitzwilliam, the Ultimate Wingman
By Jayne Bamber, Author of Happier in Her Friends Than Relations
Thanks for joining me on the release date of my debut novel, Happier in Her Friends Than Relations! To celebrate the novel’s official release, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite characters in the Austen world: Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Jane Austen did not actually give him a first name, though by consensus of the fandom, it is widely accepted as Richard, a name given him in the ‘95 film adaptation. From there, authors and readers have gone on to take a great deal further liberty with his character, making the most out of what is honestly a pretty minimal amount of information.
Jane Austen described Colonel Fitzwilliam as “about thirty, not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman.” Lizzy likes him, so we are instantly disposed to do the same. He appears in just a handful of chapters in the middle of the book, and does little other than speak amiably with Lizzy, while Mr. Darcy stares broodingly at her.
The stark contrast between the two cousins’ personalities is part of his function in the story. Colonel Fitzwilliam converses with easily Lizzy and everyone else, and Lizzy thinks wells of him for it. Yet when Darcy attempts to do the same one night at Rosings, Lizzy accuses him, half in jest, of attempting to “frighten” her. Though the reader can see the flirtation in their banter, Lizzy is still blind, at this point, to Darcy’s interest in her, and her own interest in him.
Charlotte begins to see it, in part thanks to Colonel Fitzwilliam, when the two cousins visit the parsonage.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam’s occasionally laughing at [Darcy’s] stupidity, proved that he was generally different, which her own knowledge of him could not have told her.”
So while Lizzy teases Mr. Darcy to provoke him, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manner of teasing with Darcy really suggests that perhaps he is not typically as stoic and stony as Lizzy believes him to be. Whereas Wickham would have believe that Darcy only “chooses to be a conversible companion if it is worth his while,” Colonel Fitzwilliam proves that Darcy merely wants companions with whom he can feel at ease.
So there you have it, Colonel Fitzwilliam is a regency wingman. Of course, we know he is not particularly effective in this role, as he goes on to accidentally inform Lizzy of the role Darcy played in separating Bingley from her sister. Though in the text it is Lizzy who steers them toward this subject, most variations and adaptations interpret this as the Colonel’s attempt to portray his cousin in a good light, and a few vagaries even treat us to scenes of the Colonel realizing his error.
In the hundreds of variations out there, the vast majority of them offer us a closer look at the Colonel, and with the exception of the few that paint him as a competitor for Lizzy’s affections, he is generally portrayed as eager to help his cousin Darcy win Lizzy’s affection. It happens a hundred different ways, and yet we are always eager for more: Colonel Fitzwilliam foiling Wickham’s schemes, teasing his cousin, and getting into cheeky shenanigans with other characters he never crosses paths with in the books.
Every so often we are extra-fortunate, and in addition to all this, Colonel Fitzwilliam gets a love story of his own. Charlotte Lucas, Anne de Bourgh, Jane Bennet, Mary, even Lydia – with so many ladies in the story, it does seem a shame to have him still single at the end, doesn’t it? He’s got great potential as a secondary romantic hero. Jane Austen gives us just enough information to imagine the rest – the Colonel is mischievous and a flirt, but he loves his family, and anyone devoted to helping Darcy win his lady must surely deserve their own romance!
I certainly think so, and in Happier in Her Friends than Relations, we learn that perhaps he is eager to help Darcy win Lizzy because he’s a bit of a romantic, who is looking for a very specific kind of woman for himself, and he might just find her in Hertfordshire.
In the excerpt below, the Colonel, who is now Viscount Hartley, after the convenient death of his elder brother (sorry, couldn’t help myself!) is pursuing one of Lizzy’s friends, though I’ve redacted her name for the sake of maintaining some suspense, though I think you might be able to guess….
An unhappy alternative was before her—tolerate the insipid conversation of the Parker sisters, or remain alone with Lord Hartley, who gave her his most charming smile as he perceived her dilemma.
“We needn’t dance at present, if you do not wish to,” said he, falling into step with her as she moved around the perimeter of the room. “As we have taken once to the floor already, I understand I might only enjoy that pleasure once more this evening, without pushing the bounds of propriety, and I had rather hoped for the last set of the evening with you, if that would be agreeable.”
“And what if I say that it will not be agreeable, sir?”
“That is certainly your prerogative. Were I to request to this set, you would forfeit dancing for the rest of the evening, were you to decline me. However, I do not think you are very inclined to dance at all, so perhaps it will be no great loss. But, as I have only offered the final dance of the evening, you make no such forfeit in refusing me. Indeed, you have nothing to lose.”
“A rare stroke of luck for a lady in a ballroom.” She laughed in spite of herself. How could it be possible for her to both wish to accept him and refuse him, all at once?
The viscount chuckled. There was something pleasant about the way his honey-colored eyes lit with mischief; it nearly rendered him handsome. But no, she was sure that when she had her first met him, he had been very plain indeed. “Do not count yourself too lucky just yet, for if we are not to dance, you must at least bear the tedium of my conversation, which my sister tells me is a rather awful thing.”
“A wise woman. But, pray, why do you waste your time with me, sir? There is such a crush present, and you might have your pick of any of the young ladies here. I am sure there are any number of perfectly willing partners for a young, single viscount. I do not think you have danced with anyone outside your own party all night. You have not Mr. Darcy’s shy disposition. How can you account for it?”
He shrugged. “A matter of preference, I suppose.”
“You prefer to speak with perhaps the one woman here, outside your own family, who will not contemplate forming any designs upon you?”
“Yes, that is it—I wish to dance only with women who hold no romantic potential whatsoever, that is the way a ball works,” he quipped sarcastically, before pretending to pout. “Truly, no designs at all? You wound me.”
She scowled. “You are a strange man, Lord Hartley. I know your sister is exaggerating when she claims you to be positively deranged, but I do wonder.…”
“You wonder at my having a sense of humor?”
“Not everything is a joke.”
He laughed again, and offered her his arm as they continued strolling about the room. “That is true—most things are terrible, but if I do not look for humor where I can, the world would be a ghastly place. It is better to laugh; speaking from experience, the alternative is no way to live. So, you may call it whatever you like—humor, impertinence, recklessness.…” He waggled his eyebrows dramatically. “Perhaps it is rather reckless of me to set my proverbial cap at the most unattainable woman here, but I like you.”
She grimaced. “I wish you would not say such things. You do not know me.”
He looked intently at her. “But I wish to.”
“You are my sister’s friend, and the dearest friend of my cousin’s future bride. I am sure we shall be very often thrown together in the future, with so many common acquaintances.”
“In other words, I am a convenient choice,” she said flatly.
“I think you rather wish to misunderstand me. What I am suggesting is that people whose opinion I value find your friendship agreeable. You intrigue me, and have done so from the earliest moments of our acquaintance. Do you not recall our first meeting, at Longbourn in March?”
“I cannot see how I could have possibly made an impression on you at such a time.”
“Then you underestimate yourself. You offered consolation to a family of near strangers, and I shall never forget your countenance as you looked at poor Lizzy, while she was in such despair. You had tears in your eyes, and at that moment I knew you were a woman capable of a great depth of feeling. A woman who has known pain and suffering, who has been formed by experiences that would break a lesser creature. I accepted the invitation to Netherfield for the express purpose of coming to know you better, after witnessing your tender compassion.”
She felt a pang in her heart as she recalled the very moment he had described, but she could not accept his admiration. “And here I thought you and your sister stayed at Netherfield so that you might be of assistance to Lizzy.”
“We might have stayed at the local inn to accomplish that, but I wanted to be near you. Tell me, did you not enjoy my company?”
In truth, she could not deny that he and his sister had both been delightful houseguests. They had listened to her play and sing, and what performer did not enjoy an energetic audience? They had conversed, taken strolls in the gardens, and dined together with her family. Lord Hartley had proven himself to be everything a gentleman ought to be, but her heart had not been touched. How could it have been, after a mere week’s acquaintance
“You do not answer me,” Lord Hartley said. “Was I so unbearable?”
“Pah, now you are baiting me. I must say something complimentary, else I will seem positively rude.”
He leaned in, whispering, “I have a strong suspicion that you are absolutely unafraid of being rude.”
She could not resist laughing, for he was very near the truth. “I must speak as I find.”
“And you did not find me to be of any interest at all in the spring? What of my visit in the summer, for your sister’s ball? That was the first time I had the pleasure of dancing with you, and I think you rather enjoyed it.”
“I cannot deny that,” she admitted. “I am capable of taking enjoyment in such things. Sometimes.”
Lord Hartley scrunched his face. “You puzzle me exceedingly. I cannot make your character out at all.”
She smiled triumphantly. “Then perhaps you had better not set your cap at me, sir.”
“Too late, I am far too intrigued; I wish to know you better. Tell me, have I no hope of succeeding?”
Vexing man! Why is he so determined? Did Lady Rebecca put him up to this? She could well imagine her friend setting her sights on marrying all her female friends into her own family, merely for the convenience.
As she attempted to formulate some reply, she looked up and glanced around the ballroom, determined to avoid Lord Hartley’s eye until she knew how to respond without yielding. It was then that she unexpectedly locked eyes with John Willoughby.
Thanks for joining me on the third stop of my blog tour, and a special shout-out to those of you who have been following Happier since the days of posting on AHA and AO3! As a thank-you for all the wonderful support I’ve received, I have started a give-away, and will be selecting a winner after each post on the blog tour! See the full schedule for the blog tour below, and click here to follow me on Facebook for updates on the sequel, coming soon!
Thank you so much for such an interesting post and excerpt, Jayne! Best of luck with your release!
About the author
Jayne Bamber is a life-long Austen fan, and a total sucker for costume dramas. Jayne read her first Austen variation as a teenager and has spent more than a decade devouring as many of them as she can. This of course has led her to the ultimate conclusion of her addiction, writing one herself.
Jayne’s favorite Austen work is Sense and Sensibility, though Sanditon is a strong second. Despite her love for Pride and Prejudice, Jayne realizes that she is no Lizzy Bennet, and is in fact growing up to be Mrs. Bennet more and more each day.
After years of dating Wickhams, Collinses, and the occasional Tilney-that-got-away, Jayne married her very own Darcy (tinged with just the right amount of Mr. Palmer) and the two live together in Texas with a pair of badly behaved rat terriers, and a desire to expand their menagerie of fur babies.
Follow Jayne on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JayneBamberAuthor/
Here’s the buy link again: