Extract from Becoming Mary

Chapter 1.

My Uncle Philips had been at the point of death for so many months, that I could not understand why Mama was so shocked by the tidings that he had died at last. When the express came from Meryton that evening, her wailing could be heard all over the house. Kitty came in to the music room where I was playing the piano.

“Mary! Stop that dreadful noise and come into the parlour!” she said. “Do you not realise that Uncle Philips has died?”

“Of course I do!”

“Well then, I would have thought that even you would have had more consideration than to carry on playing. Come through at once and help with Mama!”

I did not understand why she was so vexed; I had deliberately chosen a piece in a minor key to provide a fitting accompaniment.

“I am helping!” I said. “‘Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day’.” I was not precisely sure what this meant but I had memorised a number of suitable quotations in preparation for my uncle’s death.

“Don’t be ridiculous! You are making it worse! Now stop talking nonsense and come into the parlour to comfort Mama!”

Mama was laid upon the sofa, alternately wiping and fanning her face with her handkerchief, emitting sobs and groans. Papa was by the fireplace, his expression one of boredom and impatience.

“Ah, Mary,” he said, “I have bad news. Your Uncle Philips has died, and your mother is distraught. But now that you are here, I am sure you will be a great comfort. No doubt you have any number of epithets concerning loss and the afterlife at your disposal?”

“I do,” I replied, pleased to be able to oblige. “‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.’” As my uncle had been an attorney this seemed apt.

Papa stared at me, then sighed. “You must excuse me,” he said. “I will leave you. A man is never much use in these situations. Mary, Kitty, take care of your mother.”

With this he returned to his library. Kitty and I stood apart while Mama continued to sob.

“My poor sister!” she cried, “How she will feel this! Such a dreadful shock to us all!”

“But he has been ill these past six months, Mama, and we have expected him to die all week,” I said reasonably.

“Oh, you have no sensibility, Mary!” Mama snapped. “I must go to your aunt, but I am too overset. No, I must go at once. Kitty, ring for Hill and ask her to pack whatever should be needful.”

“You will not go tonight, Mama?” Kitty said, “Shall we not send a message, and then you can go in the morning?”

“No, no, of course not, for who should help lay out your uncle’s body but myself? Do not be forever questioning me, Kitty! I have enough to distress me without that.”

Kitty rang the bell and then threw herself down onto a chair.

“Don’t just stand there, Mary!” my mother said, “Speak to your father and tell him I shall need the carriage immediately.”

I went to do her bidding. Papa was not pleased to be interrupted in his library. He was reading a periodical and sipping port, and wearily obeyed my mother’s command. When I returned to the parlour Kitty was alone.

“I suppose I shall not be able to go to Pemberley after all this summer,” she said crossly. “No doubt Mama will need me.”

“I do not see why,” I said. “I am sure I can be just as much of a comfort to her as you.”

Kitty laughed. “You? I hardly think so! No, depend upon it; I shall be trapped here all summer, with nobody to keep me company now that Maria Lucas is flirting with John Summerton. How bored I shall be, with nothing but death and funerals to talk of!”

“Perhaps if you embarked on a course of study as I do, you would not be so bored!”

“No, I thank you! I would rather die of boredom than become a bore myself!”

“There is nothing boring about having a well-informed mind!” I retorted.

“As you do not have a well-informed mind, you cannot pronounce on the matter.”

“I know more than you!”

“But what do you know of any use? Nobody is interested in your sayings or your piano playing. Papa thinks you are just as silly as me, despite all your book-learning. You cannot sew; last time you tried you cut through Mama’s best tablecloth! And you know nothing of housekeeping or entertaining.”

“At least I do not flirt!”

“Please, dear sister, promise me you will never attempt to do so! I could not bear the mortification of seeing you try.”

This was going the way of all my conversations with Kitty, so I went to my chamber. I heard the carriage draw up outside the house, and soon Mama was gone and all was quiet.

We heard very little from her over the next few days. Papa went to the funeral and brought news that my mother was looking after my aunt, who was prostrated with grief. Kitty was impatient to hear from our sister Elizabeth at Pemberley, and drove me mad with her fretting. Every day she asked our father if there had been a letter from Elizabeth, but it was not until some two weeks had passed since Uncle Philips’s death that a letter came.

“Well, Kitty,” my father said at breakfast, “You have had your wish. Your sister has invited you to Pemberley again this summer. Why she should desire your company I cannot imagine, but I do not complain, and at least if you embarrass yourself while you are there, I shall not have to witness it. Still, I am hopeful to be spared any further blows to our family’s reputation, as I gather there is no militia stationed in the area at this time.”

Kitty ignored the greater part of this speech and clapped her hands.

“Thank goodness! I am going to Pemberley! I shall not have to spend the summer with only Mary for company. Oh, how happy I shall be!”

“Defer your transports for a moment, Kitty; your sister Mary is to accompany you.”

“What?” we both said, equally horrified.

“Perhaps I did not express myself clearly enough. Mrs Darcy requests the pleasure of your company, Mary, as well as Kitty’s. You have not yet been to Pemberley, I believe.”

“But I do not wish to go, Papa!”

“Please do not let her go, Papa!” Kitty cried. “She will ruin everything.”

“This does not show sisterly feeling, Kitty.”

“I care nothing for that! Mary would much rather stay at Longbourn, would not you, Mary?”
“Indeed I would!” I said, for once in agreement with my sister. “I do not have to go, do I, Papa?”

“I am afraid so, Mary. Your mother will be staying with your aunt Philips for some time now, and she wrote particularly to Elizabeth begging her to ask you. It is a most flattering invitation, you should be grateful.”

“But Lizzy does not want me! And I should be much happier at Longbourn!”

“And I should be much happier to have Longbourn to myself for a few weeks!” Papa said, standing up. “You will leave on Saturday week. Mr Darcy is to send a servant to meet you at Hertford, and I suppose we could spare our carriage to take you that far.”

He left the room, signalling that there was nothing more to be said on the matter.

“Oh! It is too infuriating!” Kitty cried, with tears starting to her eyes. “I do not want you to come to Pemberley, it is all spoiled now. You will destroy everything! And do not think to be friends with Georgiana Darcy! She is my particular friend and she will not be interested in you.”

“I have no wish to be friends with her! I have no wish to go to Pemberley! I would much prefer to stay with Mama and be of assistance to her.”

“You might as well come, for all the help you would be to Mama! Oh, it is so vexing! And no doubt you will be playing the piano forever and mooning about the library. All my pleasure is destroyed!”

“You need not think I will get in your way. It is just as irksome to me as to you. I have no desire to be with you all summer, or with Lizzy.”

“Well, she does not want you either. She only invites you under duress.”

It was true: Lizzy had never invited me before, and I did not see why I should go now. I was sure Mama would prefer me to attend to her in her grief: surely a mother would need her daughter at this time, and I was her eldest daughter now that Jane and Elizabeth were both married, so it was my place to be with our mother. And I knew that Elizabeth did not really want me. My sisters did not value me. They took no notice of me when I tried to correct them, even though I had studied many texts relating to the proper conduct of young ladies. And now I was to be sent to Pemberley to be ignored and mocked, once again to be overlooked and unappreciated. Well, there was nothing for it. I must obey my parents and accept my fate with Christian resignation.

6 thoughts on “Extract from Becoming Mary

  1. Can I ask why you chose first person? My first thought is that it seems ‘too modern’ (what with perspectives having been third person or ‘letter’). I haven’t got time now to read it all or comment further (the demands of 4 children!)

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    • Great question – I agree it is kind of too modern, a departure from the style. Partly I somehow can’t help but write first person – no explanation for that yet – but in this particular case, as you will hopefully find out one day (!), Mary’s viewpoint is extremely unreliable, and hopefully the pleasure and pain for the reader is watching her get it so wrong, and then gradually get it less wrong as she grows up a bit.

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      • Ooh, I well know that first person thang. You feel like you’re under the skin of it, don’t you? I started my first (and only tbh) naaaaaaarvel in first, then started to redraft in 3rd because I wanted to introduce other people’s viewpoints. Then had it pointed out to me that other writers use both vps to great effect (example given was T is For Trespass by the fab Sue Grafton) and finally started the switch back to not only 1st p but also present tense. No wonder I never get truly finished (did finish the first draft, grrrr). But I must say I do love me an unreliable narrator. Notes of a Scandal left me breathless. As did some other story which I will remember when the Damn Baby Stops Crying To Be Fed Again. Will be back………

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      • Notes on a Scandal was very much in my mind when I was writing. I thought it was such an achievement (as is writing a first draft with a gazillion babies btw. My guys are now so ancient they’re more like editorial advisors). Also love Sue Grafton, but I may not have made it to T. Sort of forgot where I got to, same with Janet Evanovich. Hmm, we seem to have a number of tastes in common.

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