“The House Party” by Jenetta James – second story in “Elizabeth: Obstinate. Headstrong Girl”

“Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl” is a collection of ten short stories, each offering the reader an alternative Elizabeth Bennet, or perhaps it is better to say the same Elizabeth Bennet but one who finds herself in very different circumstances.

The second story, “The House Party” by Jenetta James, didn’t work for me.

The idea is interesting enough: Elizabeth and Darcy meet for the first time at a House Party at Netherfield in the winter of 1913. Darcy annoys Elizabeth by appearing not to support the suffragettes. Wickham is transformed from a Militia Captain to a scurrilous journalist, who is seated beside Elizabeth at dinner. The next day, they all go fox hunting. There is an accident, a misunderstanding, an intervention by a third party and a romantic walk in a maze.

This is a story I could have relaxed into had it not awoken my inner-pedant.

I kept getting distracted by small details.

  • Why did the Bennet sisters not have the services of a maid to help them dress for dinner?
  • How did Elizabeth end up sipping sherry while talking to Darcy when there’s no mention of her picking up a drink. The footmen were carrying trays of *wine twinkling in crystal glasses.” (“how does wine twinkle?” my inner-pedant demanded to know.) and Bingley takes Jane to get punch, but there’s no mention of sherry.
  • At a house party in 1913 surely people would have processed into dinner in pairs to pre-arranged seating, so how did Elizabeth end up going in alone and being seated next to a man she had not been introduced to?
  • Why does that man address Elizabeth as “Madam” when he introduces himself when she’s clearly a “Miss”?
  • Why is Elizabeth wearing a dress that had become too short for Lydia?

You get the point. Questions like this make you lose faith in the story and fall out of the illusion.

The language was also a disappointment. It seemed to me that the dialogue couldn’t make up its mind if it was in the early nineteenth of the early twentieth century. Then we get things like this:

“something in the depths of his eyes kept her pinned down like a moth.”

What does this mean? When is a moth pinned down? Surely it’s butterflies that are pinned, and then only when they’re dead, while moths are attracted to light?

I know I’m probably being harsh. I don’t much like my inner-pedant but once he’s awake, he’s very hard to ignore.

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