Today on my blog I have an extract from Mrs Bates of Highbury by Allie Cresswell.
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The new novel from Readers’ Favourite silver medalist Allie Cresswell.
Thirty years before the beginning of ‘Emma’ Mrs Bates is entirely different from the elderly, silent figure familiar to fans of Jane Austen’s fourth novel. She is comparatively young and beautiful, widowed – but ready to love again. She is the lynch-pin of Highbury society until the appalling Mrs Winwood arrives, very determined to hold sway over that ordered little town.
Miss Bates is as talkative aged twenty nine as she is in her later iteration, with a ghoulish fancy, seeing disaster in every cloud. When young Mr Woodhouse arrives looking for a plot for his new house, the two strike up a relationship characterised by their shared hypochondria, personal chariness and horror of draughts.
Jane, the other Miss Bates, is just seventeen and eager to leave the parochialism of Highbury behind her until handsome Lieutenant Weston comes home on furlough from the militia and sweeps her – quite literally – off her feet.
Mrs Bates of Highbury is the first of three novels by the Amazon #1 best-selling Allie Cresswell, which trace the pre-history of Emma and then run in parallel to it.
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.
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The Extract from Mrs Bates of Highbury
It has always seemed entirely natural to me that Mr Woodhouse should enjoy the company of Miss Bates. They are similar in so many ways – making much of small things, constitutionally nervous and prone to silly fancies. It is not an ideal basis for a relationship, of course – a fanciful person needs a steady partner – but the comedic possibilities are legion. Starting my book thirty years before the commencement of ‘Emma’ meant I could take them back through the sliding doors of time and see what might have been.
Here, Miss Bates meets Mr Woodhouse at an evening party at Donwell.
Mr Woodhouse was a man in his early thirties, but, in appearance, demeanour and habit, some twenty years beyond that. He was tall, but walked stooped, with a stick. In figure he was somewhat lean, but so swathed in shawls and wraps and spare waistcoats that he seemed almost portly. He tended not to exert himself to be sociable – shrinking from the crowd around the supper table and walking the full perimeter of the room to avoid rubbing shoulders with the jostle of dancers at its centre – but when society came to him and met him on his own terms, he was sociable enough. Many had wanted to talk about him but few had wanted to talk to him, and it had been left to Hetty – at that moment unengaged in the dance – to entertain the newcomer.
Having quickly induced her to think the dance floor a great deal too crowded and boisterous, Mr Woodhouse consented to be attended by Hetty and they agreed to take a seat by the fire. ‘I do not venture out in the evenings, in general,’ he announced. ‘I find the evening air to be chill and ill-conducive to a man with a weakness in the chest. Indeed, even if it does no actual harm I can hardly think it does good to any, even those most blessed with health. And yet,’ with a sigh, ‘I know gentlemen who think nothing of walking a mile or more to spend an evening at cards with their friends. They don’t think it worthwhile putting their horses to for such a short distance.’
Miss Bates re-joined, ‘Oh yes, and so it is here in Highbury. I can count on only one hand the number of families who even keep a closed carriage and I vouch none of them would think of using it for such trifling distances as one thing is from another, here. We all walk everywhere! But you are quite right; it might not always be advisable. Think, after the chill air, to come into a room so hot and humid as this, where persons are exerting themselves in the dance! Anyone with a vulnerable constitution would be ill-advised indeed. I am surprised to see the youngest Miss Winwood amongst us, for I know she was crippled with croup only last week and that, you know, can have very serious complications. Young Joshua Hopley almost died of it two winters ago. He was an infant, however. I am almost sure it was croup, but it could have been the whooping cough. But the apothecary attended every day – that I do recall, for Papa paid the bill out of his own pocket. No, no. I assure you, I am quite of your opinion, sir. No one with a pulmonary complaint should risk an evening party if it can be avoided. Oh, sir. Are you unwell? The fire is rather fierce. I wonder they did not take your wrap from you at the door. Shall I assist you? No? Oh, well, if you really think… So, what were we discussing? Oh yes, evening parties. Well, I suppose the attraction of such a party as this, and the festive season, not to mention the great honour of an invitation to Donwell Abbey (for, I assure you, the squire does not entertain very often, and certainly not in this style) will overcome many a scruple on the grounds of health. So,’ she concluded, ‘you do not generally go out in the evenings? We are exceptionally fortunate, then, that you have made an allowance on this occasion. I wonder what convinced you to break your usual habit.’
But Mr Woodhouse did not elucidate beyond a querulous, ‘I wonder too, now.’ He eyed the Miss Winwood in question narrowly. ‘Croup, you say? That is a very serious complaint. Is it contagious? I wonder her parents have brought her. Children are delightful, of course, but not always at an evening party, I think. Childhood ailments spread so quickly. I wonder Knightley is not more careful of his boys.’
‘I do not think George or John has known a day’s illness! George broke his arm last year, falling from a tree, and he once fell through the ice of the mill pond, but suffered no harm, and a dog of theirs was bitten by an adder, and died horribly. But apart from that, the Knightleys are as hale and hearty as you would wish.’
‘Mrs Knightley, I believe, died in childbirth?’
‘Oh yes, of course. But I do not count such a complication as that as illness, do you? Tragic though it was.’
‘I would not count a broken arm as illness in itself, but if infection sets in, there is no knowing what it can lead to.’
‘To be sure,’ Miss Bates agreed, warming to her theme – this was just the sort of conversation she enjoyed – ‘and I recall an incident some years back in which a ploughman suffered so bad a break that the arm never did recover. Slipped on some ice – you know how it collects in the ruts and pot-holes. Over he went and that was that. The limb was twisted and useless ever afterwards. Or was that a leg? I do not quite recall, but it was certainly so, and he never ploughed another field.’
Mr Woodhouse, rather than being gratified by having had his point proven, looked aghast. ‘It makes one fear to venture out at all,’ he muttered.
‘Indeed,’ Hetty agreed, cheerfully.
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