Saturday, 15 February 2014

Reticence - Chapter 1 (Austen Recreative)

Henry Chandler and his wife, Elizabeth, were known throughout England for their extravagant dinner parties and their indulgent balls. Mr Chandler, whose father had earned his fortune with the East India Company, and had purchased a considerable portion of land near Salisbury, being the only son, inherited his father’s estate upon his death. While his father was on his travels, Henry was raised alone by his somewhat doting mother, and had managed to become ruler of the household, with few restrictions and impediments. For this reason, he grew to be a particularly haughty man. His wife, a handsome, intelligent woman, was much the same, often keen to show off her wealth and beauty; and so the Chandlers held their famous balls for the district, not simply for their own enjoyment and pleasure, but rather to satisfy their self-inflated egos. The Chandler estate, Great Nast Hyde, was the biggest in all the surrounding area, encompassing over 250 acres.

On the evening of one December ball, the weather had been so ruthless that the anxious friends and town acquaintances of the Chandlers were unable to venture through the village to Great Nast Hyde. At first it seemed that the ball would be cancelled; but this would not do. Mr Chandler, whether out of pure vanity or stubbornness I am not sure, insisted that the several carriages of the household be sent out to collect their more disadvantaged guests, so that the ball could go ahead. Once the majority had arrived, the rest were left to persist through the cold by their own means. The entirety of the district recalls this night, and indeed Mrs Chandler was never afraid to mention the occasion to her friends: ‘Do you remember when my kind husband sent out all of his carriages to collect our guests? Twelve carriages in all!’ Most of her listeners understood that this was by no means an act of compassion, but rather a typically Chandler act of flaunting the family’s wealth to their guests.

Mr and Mrs Chandler’s first daughter, Louise, inherited all those characteristics that her parents encompassed – vanity, pride, beauty, and intelligence. Her frequent trips to town had helped her to become a more than respected young lady, and indeed she had numerous admirers both in Salisbury and London. By the time she was 21, rumours of Louise’s beauty had spread so widely that every young girl desired to be her, and every young man desired to be of her acquaintance. Louise had, for a long time, been familiar with the novels of Mrs Radcliffe and the poetry of Thomas Gray, and was so well read that she often found her parent’s conversation somewhat dull and misinformed. She had loved, she had lost, and in her imagination she had overcome every problem she had ever encountered. She relished the balls her parents held, and adored to be the centre of attention. She was, in every way, the perfect heroine.

But, despite my best wishes, my real heroine is far from typical of the novels of Mrs Hoyt or Mrs Radcliffe. In fact my heroine, naturally, has yet to show her face. Jane, the Chandler’s second and youngest child, is to be at the centre of my tale. In no possible way could she have been any more different from her sister. Jane was two years younger than Louise, and was not pretty, but her features were on the whole agreeable. Unlike her parents, Jane was neither proud nor vain, but rather a shy and nervous girl. She was by no means intelligent, but she made up for her deficiencies in academia with her emotional intelligence, and she handled every situation with a good heart and a steady nature. She was adored by all of the villagers, and was particularly loved by the humble spinster, Miss Susan, whom Jane was accustomed to accompany whenever possible. The two could often be found sitting together in trivial conversation, reflecting upon the weather or telling one another tales of their imagination. Jane noticed with compassion that the poor were dissatisfied, and with reason: can one wonder what discontents lurk beneath their bosom?

The Chandler family were astounded by Jane’s peculiar, empathetic pursuits; for the Chandlers had few interests other than their income and their place in society, their concern for the poor being rather small. Jane, for her part, was perplexed at how one could be so intent on climbing the social hierarchy and showing off prosperity, two major concerns of the Chandler family. Jane would rarely attend the illustrious Chandler balls, and instead could be found sewing in her room, or visiting the village workhouse. In fact Jane showed her face so little on social occasions that, when asked about her, the local gentry from the nearby estates would prove to be completely ignorant of her existence. Despite her frequent visits to Bath, Jane had never ventured into the Pump Room or the Upper Rooms, preferring to remain in her own company. It was not because she did not enjoy Bath society, but rather because she was an incredibly reticent and discerning heroine, rare characteristics for a girl to have of such a tender age. She was dragged along unwillingly by her parents, who adored Bath society simply because they found it a comfortable setting in which to entertain, and one in which they hoped to be seen and noticed by as many people as was possible. Despite her parent’s censuring and attempts to alter her opinions, Jane kept a steady head, and refused to yield.

I am afraid to inform the reader that my heroine was no lover of literature, nor did her imagination roam free – she was no Anne Elliot or Catherine Morland – she was loathe to open a novel, for she found that they stole away the clock and left her feeling rather jaded. With her lack of literary awareness and social capabilities, one would think Jane’s experience was wanting. Her admirable characteristics of her discretion and her agreeable nature made up for her faults in the eyes of those who are to become prominent in the unfolding of my tale.

There was one family who noticed Jane – the Bateses, relations of the Chandlers, were particularly fond of her, and Louise often wondered why they favoured Jane so much. Mrs Bates, Elizabeth Chandler’s sister, had been the less fortunate of the two cordial women, marrying the village’s humble pastor.  Catherine and Anne Bates, the two daughters, both held pleasant countenances and easy manners – very similar to Jane in their characters. They often invited Jane to walk with them on sunny afternoons, but were perpetually declined. Jane was shy of her cousins’ kindnesses and unaffected conduct, sensations she rarely experienced. Their kindness to Jane was destined to change her situation in society, and this is precisely what my tale is going to relate.

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