I’m excited to bring this back to the blog!
You can read other Friday Features here: Sufficient Encouragement / Mr. Darcy’s Kindness / Once Upon a December / Love Lasts Longest / A Sense of Obligation / No Cause to Repine / Undone Business / Letters from the Heart / The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter
Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride had its beginnings very early in my author career. On my old blog, I posted the beginnings to several stories at once. Over time, I realized that a few of them were dealing with the same sort of theme and should be one story. Additionally, as a guest post on another blog for my first release, I wrote about the correlation between Hester Chapone’s Letters on the Improvement of the Mind and Mr. Darcy’s statement that a woman should improve her mind by reading.
Hester Chapone was a member of a group of women known as the Blue Stockings Society from the 18th century. They were well-educated and well-bred women that funded artists, writers, and scientists. Unlike other salons of the era, they banned discussion of politics and gambling. It also had none of the promiscuity attached to it that other salons had. Most shocking of all, many of the patrons went on to create their own works of art.
The term bluestocking comes from this society. It is said they got their name after Benjamin Stillingfleet was invited to a session but said he had no black silk hose to wear. He was told to wear his ordinary blue stockings. By the Regency Era, this Society was all but forgotten as many of the leaders had died decades before or were quite elderly.
In Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride, Darcy has an elderly aunt who wants him to restart the Blue Stockings Society with his wife as the leader. This puts him on the hunt for a woman who should have not only the intellectual capabilities but the connections to high society like the first leaders did. Unfortunately, he can’t get Elizabeth Bennet out of his mind.
Although I began working on Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride in 2013, it wasn’t until 2017 that I was ready to really focus on it. I also had about fourteen published books under my belt by that point (I have delisted a few and plan to republish them at a later time). I think I really needed that extra time to grow as a writer.
One of the things that I did differently with this story than with any other, was the inclusion of letters at the beginning of every chapter. I felt like that was fitting considering the influence of Hester Chapone’s work on my own. It was intended to provide little clues to the reader, but I don’t think anyone got them! I chose not to repeat them in the sequel as it didn’t seem readers enjoyed them. Please let me know if you did!
In true Blue Stocking fashion, Elizabeth would be more than a mere patron of the club. She has a passionate hobby of her own. As art, music, and literature were already well-represented in the first Society, I gave Elizabeth a hobby that had once been my own: architecture.
Her interest in older architecture foreshadows the Neo-Gothic designs that would come to prominence in the Victorian Era. I wanted to make Elizabeth a little ahead of her time and I also thought she would appreciate something different than the Neo-Classical norm of straight lines. Her hobby helped create one of my favorite scenes in the book, which is the excerpt below.
“Good day, Miss Elizabeth,” he said when he could make his mouth move.
“May I walk with you?”
She took his extended arm, and a thrill shot up the limb. Some of her usual reserve seemed gone, adding to the heady sensation. Darcy forced his brain to focus on conversation and not the light pressure of her hand on his body.
“Did you bring your sketchbook?”
She held up her other hand and grinned. “You know me well, sir.”
“I am beginning to believe such a thing is impossible. However, I dearly enjoy learning about you and guessing what you might do next.”
Elizabeth laughed at the image he created, and Darcy realised he had never known the joy in giving someone else happiness.
“Well, I am waiting. What do you think I will do next?”
She gave him an impish grin, and the desire to feel it against his lips consumed him. A raw hungering burned in him. Men in his clubs boasted of bedding the most beautiful courtesans in England. Poets claimed love would drive you mad. And yet nothing he had read or heard in his life prepared him for this feeling, this need to consume and allow himself to be consumed, not with carnal pleasures but with enjoying — in needing — another’s presence and to be the source of their bliss.
“Am I that much of a conundrum?” she teased when he remained silent, but her smile slipped.
“Forgive me,” he rasped. Desire still coursed through him. “I do not dare guess what you will do next. Your path is unmappable by any but you. However, I would like to show you something, if you will follow.”
Elizabeth tilted her head; insatiable curiosity lit her eyes. The image of her looking up at him thusly from where she lay on his bed jolted to the front of his mind.
“This way.” He motioned to a narrow path off the main grove while cursing his dishonourable thoughts.
They walked in silence, and Darcy mourned the loss of her hand on his arm as the lane was too narrow to allow them to walk side by side. After nearly a quarter of a mile, the route curved sharply and then opened to a grassy area filled with newly blooming meadows, a pond, and the foundation and one ivy-covered wall of an old church. Coming up next to him, Elizabeth gasped.
“How did you find this place?” she asked when she recovered.
“I spent many visits of my youth escaping the stuffy drawing rooms of Rosings. I still do,” he admitted.
“It is stunning,” she said reverently and walked forward to gain a better view.
“As you may have guessed, Rosings was built during my uncle’s lifetime. His father, the first baronet, tore down a crumbling structure from Henry VIII’s time. The church your cousin now uses was built then as well. Records state that this church is from even earlier, Edward III’s reign.”
“How sad,” Elizabeth muttered and approached the wall. “Did you know the Perpendicular Gothic came to prominence during his reign — after the Black Death ravaged the country?” She ran a hand lovingly over the stone.
“I did not,” Darcy answered. “Is that what appeals to you about the style?”
“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said as she began to move around the structure to examine it from all sides. “It denotes a certain amount of strength in humanity to achieve such vaunted heights. After so much death, they still cared about culture and beauty.”
Darcy trailed behind her, and she continued speaking. “It is not the fashion at all now. Instead, we’re told to favour buildings with the straight lines of ancient Greece. Stone upon stone must be secured. Every piece doing its part, never out of place.” She shook her head. “The Gothic embraces nature rather than trying to conquer it.”
Elizabeth pointed at the empty Tudor arch, which would have housed a window or door. “Do you see the shape? Curved and graceful?”
As she talked, Darcy believed she may have well described herself. Eyes lingering on her form, he reverently said, “Beautiful.”
“It is, is it not?” She stood still and appreciated the view she now saw with the sun shining through the empty frame, illuminating overgrown vegetation. With no regard for her gown, she sat and opened her sketchbook.
Darcy allowed her the quiet he believed such concentration required. Her hands moved swiftly and gracefully. She drew without the sort of labour that comes from self-consciousness or a desire to impress. She simply unleashed a passion she felt, and finely-honed skill. As much as she might deride her skills on the pianoforte, she apparently had put her time to greater use.
As she drew, Darcy imagined the lives the place had seen. The ones who built a place of worship after so much devastation. The family who provided the funds but eventually sold the estate. Their family name did not appear in the roster of current peers. Likely, they had no sons left to inherit and had kept the property away from their daughters. The next owners fared no better. The family sold it after two or three generations to Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s father to cover a debt. Through the passage of time, this area stood largely neglected and ignored, unnoticed by those who inhabited the space just outside it. However, Darcy could not mourn its neglect. The sheltered alcove where he now sat remained unspoilt by following generations attempting to conquer nature and shape it into formal gardens and hedges. Even more, it allowed him this morning of peace with Elizabeth.
When she finished, Elizabeth looked up and blushed. “Forgive me, I had not meant to ignore you,” she said and bit her lower lip.
“Think nothing of it. I enjoyed the companionable silence and watching you work. Your passion should never be hidden. May I see?”
Shyly, she handed the sketchbook to him. He could see from a distance that Elizabeth had great skill. Upon closer viewing, it was clear that she saw through a true architect’s eye. There were no exaggerated and idealised views. She had imagined the church as it once might have looked, but it seemed far more real than any portrait he had seen. Acquainted as he was with blueprints for new structures, he saw her natural skill. She was not a gentlewoman dabbling in art or design. If she were a man, she would find sufficient income putting her talents to use.
“This is quite good,” he said in wonder, hating the insipidness of his words.
“Do you really think so?” Elizabeth asked with an insecurity he had never heard before. “I know it is nothing compared to what Mr. Dance could do, but I have so few opportunities—”
He silenced her with a finger to her lips, all the while hating his gloves. “You have great skill, Elizabeth.” He triumphed when she did not rebuke him. “Far greater than any person that I have seen.”
“Do not exaggerate.” She sounded offended and grabbed the sketchbook from his hands. “You must have studied architecture at school and university. You have seen far grander places than I ever have.”
“It is true,” he responded slowly, “that I have had the occasion to view magnificent buildings. During the Peace of Amiens, Father and I journeyed to Vienna. At Cambridge, I sat and attempted to draw the Octagon Lantern in Ely Cathedral. But not one of my classmates had the sheer talent or passion you do.”
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“I am sorry my praise is inadequate to what you deserve. I do not know the correct terminology despite my classes, but it is near brilliant.”
Elizabeth shook her head, unwilling to accept his compliments. She stood and shook out her skirt. “Can you tell me about Vienna?”
Darcy stood as well and smiled. “It is very different from England. There was a reverie, a joy for life. In London, the people only care about their appearance and politics. In Vienna, there was laughter. Art and music were everywhere.”
She sighed and hugged herself. “It sounds wonderful.”
“It was unforgettable. I would love to make the journey again. Georgiana would flourish there.”
He hummed the tune of a waltz he had heard long ago in a crowded ballroom. His father had teased him for not asking any of the ladies to dance, and at the time all he could think of was how uncomfortable he felt. What he did not know was that he was waiting to have the right partner — the one he would do far more than discomfort himself for.
“What do you hum? I do not recognise the rhythm.”
“It is called a waltz. It is very different from our English dances.”
“Show me,” Elizabeth said, curiosity once again lighting her features.
Darcy chuckled. “I am not sure I remember.”
“I will never know any better,” she laughed with him.
“Very well.” He held one arm to his side and the other at the height of her shoulder. “Now, you step forward. You place one hand in mine and the other on my shoulder.”
Elizabeth’s eyes went round. “Surely not!”
“Indeed,” he said with amusement. She remained still, and he could see the indecision warring in her eyes. “I had thought you unafraid of anything.”
With the raising of her chin, she stepped into his arms. Immediately, thought evaporated in his mind. This had been a bloody terrible idea! How had it escaped his notice that he would be practically embracing Elizabeth?
“Mr. Darcy?” she asked and lightly tapped his shoulder.
The pressure sent a thrill of pleasure coursing through his body, and he bit back a groan. “Yes?”
The dance? The dance. As if blood still circulated to his feet! He cleared his throat and began to hum again, awkwardly leading Elizabeth in the steps of a waltz. And somehow, in this grass-covered ballroom with the shadows of an ancient church heightening Elizabeth’s features, he fell even more in love with her.
*Right now it is only live on Amazon but will be on other vendors shortly.