The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen tells a spirited, affecting love story during an exciting, turbulent time. Set in the “lost years” of her twenties – a period of which historians know virtually nothing – the trilogy reveals the story of a talented, passionate woman fully engaging with a man who is very much her equal. The series resolves the biggest mysteries of Austen’s life:
- Why the enduring rumors of a lost love or tragic affair?
- Why, afterward, did the vivacious Austen prematurely put on the “cap of middle age” and close off any thoughts of love?
- Why, after her death, did her beloved sister destroy her letters and journals?
In this trilogy (with the second volume pictured at right), Austen’s intelligence and charm earn her a man’s deepest admiration and regard. Together they take on every challenge of a complex and sometimes hostile outside world.
Her story will resonate with every woman seeking respect, opportunity -- and love.
* * *
In her mid-twenties, well past her bloom, Miss Jane Austen is enticed by Mister Ashton Dennis, a man several years her junior, to go for ride on a hot-air balloon piloted by a French aeronaut doing a demonstration flight at Bath, England.
Beyond a modest rocking motion such as one would experience in a small boat setting out from shore, the first few moments aloft held no particular thrall. After the workmen released the ropes and hastened to pull them clear to avoid snagging the balloon, the audience began to murmur with the first flutterings of ascent. There was little sensation of motion. Faces shifted perspective and then began to slide away, as if the crowd were sinking instead of the balloon rising. The interior of the basket was designed so that they could sit as if on an afternoon carriage ride, but Ashton and Jane stood, hands firmly holding on to the chest-high side. Jane risked a wave to Cassandra and Alethea, who observed their departure with identical frozen expressions of disbelief.
Jane was uncertain where to look. Did one continue to watch the varying reactions of the crowd—some joyful, some incredulous, some afraid, a few angry at what had to be a blasphemous violation of God’s pure space? Should she look up at the balloon itself, as large as the globe but as insubstantial as Jane’s muslin dress? Should she scan the horizon for vistas that were starting to reveal themselves over the buildings? With so much to see from new and ever-changing angles, she did all of these things rapidly and found herself feeling dizzy. She wondered if her face betrayed the same expression of incredulity as Ashton’s. He seemed to share her perplexity, her sensation of being overwhelmed, and her excitement. And they had barely cleared the trees!
Streamers set on poles showed that the wind was running to the southeast, but some kind of eddy sent the balloon drifting the opposite way over the Sydney Hotel. She had never imagined how a building would look from above. The central skylight and its smaller companions looked like deep blue pools, giving her a momentary urge to dive in. The colonnaded portico stood out in bright relief in the sun; the stocky lower level and the tall, thin, elegant upper story formed a congenial pairing. Red-coated valets ran out from under the entryway to see the balloon, which turned north as if to promenade up Sydney Place. A pair of horses approaching from Sutton Street startled at the sight.
The balloon paused as if undecided on its path. They were only a few feet above the roofline. The roofs of this section of row houses had notches and grooves, almost like a key; the pattern was not something one could see from the street. Suddenly Jane saw that they were directly across from her own home. Her parents stood in the window. Along with many other people leaning from windows, the Austens waved at the aerostat. Not a few people waved British flags, though the balloon and aeronaut were French. That the flight was occurring in England was enough to stimulate a show of nationalism.
“Mother, father!” Jane called, returning their gesture with great vigor and leaning so far forward that Ashton felt obliged to clutch at her.
“Mr. and Mrs. Austen,” Ashton said in a stiff and strangely formal manner, tipping his hat with his free hand in the requisite manner.
Jane’s parents at first responded with great delight at being singled out by the balloonists. But, as recognition dawned as to who was gesticulating and hallooing, their pleasure changed to shock and grief: They grasped instantly that the novelty of their daughter’s situation, as exhilarating as it was unforeseen, must be nothing but an astonishing harbinger of death. Mrs. Austen keeled over; Mr. Austen’s sudden movement to catch her—deft for a man in his seventies—left his thick white hair in disarray, compounding his expression of fright.
“It will be all right, Miss Austen,” Ashton said.
“It had better be, Mr. Dennis.”
During these first few minutes of their expedition, Monsieur Garnerin moved from one side of the basket to another, checking clearances, ensuring that the balloon did not graze the hotel or trees, talking quietly to himself with evident satisfaction at their progress.
“Êtes-vous prêt?” he asked. Not waiting for a reply, he dropped a barrage of ballast. The balloon rose rapidly; the building hid her parents from view. As if seeking its bearings, the balloon swiveled almost completely in a circle. Once free from sheltering buildings and trees, it fell captive to the prevailing wind and surged southeast, sending the carriage rocking in the opposite direction. The balloon and its basket see-sawed over Sydney Gardens like two dancers disputing the lead. Jane caught only a hint of the canal, the bridges, the waterfalls, and the serpentine promenades where she and Cassandra had enjoyed cool walks over the summer. She was certain she caught a glimpse of more than one couple exchanging unsanctioned kisses on isolated benches in the labyrinth. Then they were past the gardens. The balloon continued to rise. Her ears popped. Jane had a moment to take in the buff-colored houses that were almost painfully bright in the sun. The construction on this side of town was all noise and confusion, but from this vantage point she could ascertain the underlying geometric pattern. They were the first to see how Bath would look in coming years. The sense of orderly development gave her pleasure. It was a shame that it would take many, many years for the greenery to return fertility to an area sterilized by progress.
Once the balloon stabilized, Monsieur Garnerin turned to his passengers with a cold, professional smile.
“Am I really your first female passenger?” Jane asked in French, suddenly concerned that her frail form, a wisp compared to Ashton’s and Garnerin’s, might not withstand the rigors of flight.
“Plusieurs femmes vous ont précédé en vol, y compris ma femme. Vous n’avez rien à craindre. Les changements de pression ne vous nuira pas.”
“What was that about?” Ashton asked.
“He has taken women aloft before. Including his wife. He assures me that I have nothing to worry about. The altitude will not cause me to explode.”
“Mais vous êtes la première anglaise,” Garnerin said, with a bit more politesse.
“I am the first English woman to go up with him,” Jane told Ashton, though he seemed to have comprehended the words.
They were high enough now that the woods and farmlands formed a patchwork quilt of light and dark greens, with here and there a stripe of yellow; the texture of the ground from altitude resembled wool and moss. The balloon slowed, reached its apex, and began to drift down. Using a wooden pitchfork, Monsieur Garnerin fed the brazier with more fuel, encouraging a whiff of farm. The basket swayed. Jane’s stomach felt momentarily queasy. In a few moments, Monsieur Garnerin had steadied their height above ground. He held up an instrument that measured the altitude. “Interesting,” Ashton said. “A variation on the standard barometer.”
“We are approximately four thousand three hundred feet,” Monsieur Garnerin said in thick but understandable English.
“Is it a good sign that he suddenly speaks our language?” Ashton asked.
“I rather suspect that it portends something disagreeable,” Jane replied.
“Monsieur Dennis,” Monsieur Garnerin said. “You have purchased the balloon. You have taken away my livelihood.” His words were clear despite the French mastication. “With typical English arrogance, you have chosen to embarrass me among my family and your people.”
“See here, man, I was rather trying to help you out.”
“You were trying to impress this young woman.” Monsieur Garnerin bowed to Jane. Reflexively, she returned the courtesy. “You have succeeded. You have what you want, which is everything I have.” As he spoke, he unstrapped an odd device from the side of the carriage. It resembled a large umbrella with wooden sticks that went down to a small woven bucket. “But you did not purchase me.”
“Monsieur Garnerin,” Jane said, “I am sure that Mr. Dennis meant nothing unkind.”
“Of course not,” Ashton said. “I merely sought to get you back to France before war breaks out again. It is only a matter of time. You could spend years in an English prison. I’m providing you a way home.”
“If that were only your intention,” Monsieur Garnerin said. “I wish you the very best with your acquisition. Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!” With that, he hopped onto the side of the carriage, stepped into the bucket, and pushed off. The balloon heaved sideways, exactly as a small boat when someone rolls off into the sea; simultaneously, it shot up with the release of the man’s weight. Below them, they saw the white umbrella structure blossom. Monsieur Garnerin disappeared from view beneath it.
After rising rapidly another thousand feet or more, the balloon leveled off. They watched the parachute sway below them, drifting like a dandelion puffball across the green fields...
Collins is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Phi Beta Kappa, with a major in English Literature and a minor in science. He has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Oregon, with concentrations in Eighteenth Century Literature, Renaissance literature, and modern literature. While his high-tech career gave him a practical understanding of science and business, Hemingway also carried on his passion for the art of storytelling, for the rich history of Georgian-Regency England and the Napoleonic wars, and for Jane Austen’s literature. His own fiction is shaped by the language of the heart and an abiding regard for courage in the face of adversity.
Published books: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volumes I and II; Business @ the Speed of Thought, with Bill Gates; Built for Growth, with Arthur Rubinfeld of Starbucks; What Happy Companies Know, with Dan Baker and Cathy Greenberg; Maximum Brainpower, with Shlomo Breznitz; The Fifth Wave, with Robert Marcus.
Giveaway - The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volume I
So did you enjoy the excerpt? Care to read the entire series? The first two books are available now, with Volume Three coming in 2017. For today, let's get started with Volume One of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen! We're giving away two copies of the book-- a paperback copy to a U.S. domestic winner, and an ebook copy to an international winner. Please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below, and enter to win! Contest period concludes at 12am EST on October 1, 2016.
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