Nearly everybody has heard of Elizabeth Bennet, the spunky young lady in Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is so popular that she has her own Wikipedia page, where curious persons can read a detailed analysis of her character. Known for her beauty, charm, and wit, Elizabeth Bennet is a force to be reckoned with: she made me write a trilogy.
How did that happen? You may recall that in Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth had a chance to study Anne de Bourgh through the dining room window at the home of her friend Charlotte Collins. Elizabeth had been called down from her upstairs bedroom to observe Anne sitting in a low phaeton near the Collins’s garden gate. While Anne talks briefly with Charlotte, Elizabeth is struck by the young lady’s looks, saying, “I like her appearance. She looks sickly and cross. Yes, she will do for him very well. She will make him a proper wife.” (1)
The “him” in her comment is Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth knows that Mr. Darcy has been engaged to his cousin Anne de Bourgh since he was a child, the marriage having been agreed upon by their mothers. Elizabeth is delighted by the idea that the proud, good-looking, wealthy Mr. Darcy will marry the small, plain, sickly Anne.
It was Elizabeth’s observation about Anne looking “sickly and cross” that stayed in my head for years. In odd moments, I would think: Why is Anne sickly and cross? What sort of disease might cause her to look sickly? Did she have consumption (tuberculosis)? Did she have rheumatic fever? (You might enjoy reading my blog about rheumatic fever.) Or perhaps she experienced lingering effects from scarlet fever. (I also wrote a blog about this infection.)
In short, I wrote a trilogy because Elizabeth Bennet made me do it! I became fascinated by the surgical and medical treatments available during the early 1800s because Elizabeth Bennet described Anne de Bourgh as sickly and cross. My trilogy — titled Surgeon’s Duty — incorporates the treatments and medicines used in the Regency era to treat fevers and other conditions. It reveals the ghastly horrors of Regency-era surgery. In her young life, Elizabeth Bennet appears to know nothing of these horrors. Let’s hope she remained ignorant of them!
Sources and Comments:
(1) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice, chapter 28.
(2) The image has been scanned from the book at Pemberley.com by Wikimedia Commons (commons.wikimedia.org).