Our Austen: Fan Fiction in the Classroom
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Suffering and Seduction
Maaike Kok, Josine de Vries, and Anneke Westra
List of characters
Mr. Willoughby........................Josine de Vries
Miss Eliza Brandon..................Anneke Westra
Mrs. Fanny Dashwood............Josine de Vries
Mr. Edward Ferrars................Josine de Vries
The family of Willoughby had been long settled at Combe Magna. Their estate had always been grand, as opposed to their current financial situation. After fifteen years of marriage, during which Mr. Willoughby had succeeded in spending the whole of his wife’s original fortune of 50,000 pounds, the couple lived in such a disreputable manner as to lose the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintances. Moreover, Mrs. Willoughby had never had the good fortune to produce any offspring, and thus the couple was forced to spend a life sentence of matrimony together without the distraction of children. Instead of entertaining her old friends from her London days, who had all abandoned her upon hearing of her disgraceful situation, Mrs. Willoughby often received the bailiff, with whom she was almost on first name terms, and who always seemed better acquainted with the state of her husband’s bank account than herself. After one such visit and the inevitable argument arising from it, Mr. Willoughby decided to take his one horse and leave the mistress of Combe Magna to her desperate calculations.
Hours, days, and weeks went by as Catherine settled. She was not an idle wife and played her part perfectly. The housemaid adored her mistress, and Henry was utterly pleased with her. On a chilly Wednesday morning Catherine sat in the parlor, overlooking the meadows. She often felt at a loss when Henry was gone. In her hand The Castle of Otranto rested, as her mind wandered to a more eventful afternoon. Ghosts, tyrants, and fair maidens in distress soon occupied her mind, until her housemaid called her from her dreams. “Pardon me, ma’am, but I shall go to the market now to fetch the ribbons for your dress.” Cathy nodded and stretched as she forced herself to awake from her silly dreams. These fantasies caused her trouble before—surely she knows much better now.
Mr. Willoughby: I think I’ll leave the mistress of Combe Magna to her desperate calculations!
More due to old habit than fresh inspiration, he decided to take the road to Bath.
Mr. Willoughby: I think I’ll take the road to Bath!
There he knew he would be able to find some old acquaintances still able and willing to provide his necessary comforts.
At Delaford, the daughter of Colonel and Mrs. Brandon, who went by the name of Eliza, was ready to become a heroine. It was therefore a great convenience to her that her aunt, Mrs. Fanny Dashwood, decided to reestablish her acquaintance with the Brandons by inviting Eliza to visit her in Bath, where they would be spending the season.
Eliza: I am ready to become a heroine. I wish something would happen. Oh . . . what’s this? It’s a letter written by my aunt, inviting me to Bath. What a marvelous idea!
Under the wing of her aunt, Eliza would come out, and enjoy all the pleasures the energetic society of Bath could offer. Eliza herself, having read all the gothic novels a young heroine ought to have read, such as The Monk and The Castle of Otranto, expressed a fervent desire of going thither and seeing the vaulted crypts of Bath Abbey. Mrs. Brandon, still in possession of her sweet disposition, but being fifteen years the wiser than Miss Marianne had once been, had lost her inclination to judge too rashly and too harshly. She could see nothing but goodness of heart in the kind offer made by her sister-in-law. Therefore it was soon settled that Eliza would be collected by the Dashwoods’ carriage to travel to Bath next Tuesday.
Eliza: My dearest aunt, thank you for inviting me to come with you to Bath. We’ll have a splendid time. I can feel it.
Fanny: Yes dear, although I was hoping to see your father too. They say he has become quite famous and rich after inventing the steam tractor, which has caused a veritable revolution in agriculture.
Ten days later, three of which had been spent in Bath learning all about the latest fashions, Eliza had been provided with a dress in the newest mode, and the important evening had come, at which she was to make her entrée in the Upper Rooms.
Having spent the last week in grimy inns with doubtful company, Mr. Willoughby decided it was time for a change of scene. He had squandered his acquaintances’ allowances sooner than he had hoped and could now take no other measure than to repair to the society of the better circles in the Lower and Upper Rooms, where he hoped to find some young, pretty and impressionable source of money.
Mr. Willoughby: It is time for a change of scene. I need to find another source of money, since I squandered all of mine. Let’s see what amusement the Upper Rooms will bring me.
Upon entering, his eye was immediately caught by the enthralling presence of . . . . Could it be Miss Marianne Dashwood?
Mr. Willoughby: Can this be? Is that . . . ? Can it be Marianne?
His heart was positively pounding. On moving nearer, however, the fair creature turned out to be not his former object of affection, but a woman, or girl rather, looking remarkably similar.
Mr. Willoughby: No, it’s not her, but the resemblance is striking!
Despite the inevitable disappointment he must be subject to, Mr. Willoughby’s interest had awoken. On observing the goings on around the girl, he found her to be accompanied only by a rather disagreeable lady well past her bloom. This would prove to be easy. By engaging the favor of the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Willoughby had soon acquainted himself with Mrs. Fanny Dashwood and her niece Miss Eliza Brandon.
Eliza: Pleased to meet you sir. My name is Eliza Brandon.
Oh, how that name tore his heart asunder! Not Marianne, but her daughter, her daughter which she had begotten from that old fool Brandon after he had taken her away from him. Marianne, who once was his! Mr. Willoughby decided that the opportunity Miss Eliza offered would give him more than financial advantage, it would also accommodate his ultimate revenge on that cold-hearted coxcomb and his wife. The rest of the evening he was extremely attentive to both ladies, who were pleasantly surprised to meet with such a cultured and charming man. Through repeated entreaties, he even secured Miss Eliza for a couple of dances. At the end of the ball, they parted with smiles and compliments on each other’s dancing skills. Miss Eliza exerted herself to obtain Mr. Willoughby’s promise to meet her again in the Pump Room the next day.
Eliza: Mr. Willoughby, will you oblige me by meeting me in the Pump Room tomorrow?
Mr. Willoughby (licking his lips): Nothing would please me more, my dearest girl.
The next morning, Eliza made sure that she was at the Pump Room as early as possible, unchaperoned, as she was quite unaware of the indecorum this posed. For hours she desperately looked around for a sign of Mr. Willoughby’s presence. Just when she was ready to give him up and return to her aunt’s house in Gay Street, he appeared in the doorway. Mr. Willoughby immediately spotted Eliza and was once again shocked by the striking resemblance between her and her mother Marianne, his one true love. Remembering Marianne made him sure about the fact that he needed his revenge. He was alone, jailed in a loveless marriage, while she had everything. The shame that he could bring upon the happy house of Brandon by seducing the eldest daughter was the only thing he craved at this moment. He advanced on Eliza, inquiring after numerous trivialities, and ultimately he politely requested that he be granted the honor of her company for a perambulatory tour of the crypts of Bath Abbey.
Mr. Willoughby: Miss Brandon, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the crypts? I hear they are quite interesting and . . . secretive.
Eliza’s heart leapt upon hearing this proposal. She had read widely in gothic literature and was therefore familiar with the secret dark passageways, low vaulted ceilings and catacombs in such ancient edifices.
Eliza: Well, Mr. Willoughby, I must confess I am delighted by your proposal and will gladly join you.
It then occurred to Eliza that, in going to the underground passages of the Abbey with a man, unaccompanied by anyone, she might be behaving inappropriately for an unmarried woman not yet fifteen years of age. Mr. Willoughby, however, was quick in removing her concerns by assuring her that, now that she was “out,”
Mr. Willoughby: Everything is appropriate in Bath! Standards of propriety in this modern city differ greatly from those in the country.
Eliza, convinced by Mr. Willoughby’s reassurances and his truly genteel behavior, could hardly hide her excitement at the prospect of at last being shown a real abbey, such a fine old place just like what one reads about. Dimly lit passageways leading to gloomy crypts kept her vivid imagination entertained all the way to the Abbey. Hardly could her innocent mind have suspected Mr. Willoughby’s deceitful, despicable plot to which she was falling victim.
At the Abbey, Eliza marveled at the tombs of James Montague and of Lady Jane Waller, whom she was certain had been brutally murdered by her husband Sir William, if—now a horrid thought sprang up in her mind—if, of course, she was buried there at all, for she might have been locked away in an upstairs room at their manor all these years . . .! While engaged in these thoughts, Eliza felt herself being taken by the hand, and she was guided away from the South Transept towards the vaulted crypts. Mr. Willoughby’s firm grip on her arm and his quickening pace allowed dreadful suspicions to enter her mind.
Eliza: I am absolutely mortified by these dreadful suspicions, which have entered my mind!
Could it be true? Was Mr. Willoughby abducting her? Was she, Miss Eliza Brandon, falling victim to a brutal libertine? Growing weak with fear and terror, Eliza almost lost consciousness. She tried to look into Mr. Willoughby’s averted eyes, but he would not face her. His eyes flickered maliciously, and he was now positively dragging her along down the ancient steps . . . through the gloomy, deserted corridor . . . towards those dreaded crypts . . . . Who would hear her now? Who could save her from this man and his cruel intentions? What had she ever done to deserve this unhappy lot? No longer did she desire to be here, unwillingly trapped in a gothic narrative, her own . . .
Meanwhile, less than half a mile from the Abbey, in Gay Street, young Edward Ferrars, son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ferrars, who would be taking orders within a twelvemonth, was about to pay a visit to his aunt and cousin. He had been staying with some relations these three weeks and was now passing through Bath on his way home. Upon hearing that his cousin Eliza was in Bath he had made up his mind to pay his respects. He had long ago set his heart upon her and intended her to be his future wife. He would make his intentions known to her as soon as he had been given a living. Upon opening the door the servant told him that her mistress had gone out to drink the waters, and so had the young mistress, hours ago, to meet a Mr. Willoughby, at the Pump Room.
Servant: I am very sorry, Sir, that they are all out when you chance to visit.
Edward: A Mr. Willoughby you said? Tell your mistress when she returns that I will call again later today.
Mortified by such blatant lack of propriety, not by the cousin, with whom he could find no fault but ignorance stemming from sheer innocence, but by the aunt, young Mr. Ferrars hastened himself to the Pump Room, where he learned that his beautiful cousin had indeed appeared earlier that day, but that she had left the Rooms accompanied by a Mr. Willoughby, of unknown address. . . . The young lady had been talking about Bath Abbey when they left.
Edward, more alarmed at hearing these tidings than he had been before, quickened his pace as he strode towards the Abbey. Fearing the worst, he made straight for the crypts. There he found . . . Thank goodness, it was her, indeed, his beloved Eliza! Her face white as chalk, but all the more beautiful for it, she had sunk to the floor, while a middle-aged rakish man, the shadow of former good looks still visible in his face, stood bent over her. He looked miserable and appalled.
Mr. Willoughby: What have I done? I nearly betrayed the memory of my one true love, that which could have been, eternal happiness. . . . Oh, Marianne, forgive the impurity of my thoughts, the wickedness of my character, forgive me. . . . See the wretched state that I am in . . .
Edward, on walking nearer, overheard all this, and recalled a tale his mother had once told him, about the man who had loved his aunt Brandon. This must be the very man! Suddenly he understood the familiar ring the name Willoughby had had to him upon first hearing it spoken by the servant at Gay Street!
Mr. Willoughby suddenly looked up, and saw Edward. He looked a broken, haunted man. Upon perceiving Edward, a look of terror, mingled with resentment appeared on his face.
Mr. Willoughby: You! Brandon, you haunt me! Please, have mercy upon me! Upon my word, I did not touch this girl, this Marianne, this Eliza . . .
Upon hearing her name, Eliza revived. Seeing her regain consciousness was more than Mr. Willoughby could take. With one last, despairing look, he ran.
Edward took his beloved cousin in his arms and escorted her back to her house at Gay Street, where she was looked after by the servants to regain her strength. Edward stayed in the house the whole time, and sat at Eliza’s bedside when she called for him.
Eliza: Edward! Oh, Edward . . .
She told him all that had happened in the crypts: Mr. Willoughby, knowing her preference for the gothic, had willingly offered to show her the crypts of Bath Abbey, but her imagination had got the better of her, and when horrid thoughts entered her mind she lost consciousness. At this point, Edward had found her.
Edward told Eliza the tale of Mr. Willoughby and her mother, the then dashing Miss Marianne Dashwood. Eliza was flabbergasted. Although she had learned that gothic novels exist only on cheap paper, she had heard enough to feel that, in suspecting Mr. Willoughby of wanting to abduct her, she had scarcely sinned against his character or magnified his cruelty.
I leave it to the audience to imagine the happy ending that always follows such a tale. Suffice it to say that, after Colonel Brandon’s warmest consent to the marriage between Edward Ferrars and his Eliza, the happy couple married and were offered a living in close proximity to Delaford. Mr. Willoughby, upon his return to Combe Magna, discovered his wife to be having an illicit affair with the bailiff. He was imprisoned on account of his debts throughout the county, and noone has heard about him since.
Mr. Willoughby (clutching a bottle):
So long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry
And laugh about it all again . . .
(Leonard Cohen, “So Long, Marianne”)
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