Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Talking like Jane Austen at a menacing Mansfield Park

Since today is Talk Like Jane Austen Day as well as being the day before Halloween, I thought it might be a good way to acknowledge both occasions by offering up an excerpt from my upcoming e-book for 2014 entitled Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires.

The premise of my plot is that modern day descendants of the Bertram family(who happen to be living in America)discover that they are heirs to the estate of Mansfield,which has been mostly reclaimed due to back taxes and in a state of disrepair.

While cleaning out the place in order to make it acceptable for rental to a film company, a secret stash of letters written by Fanny Price are discovered,letters intended for her brother William but never sent to him. Instead, they serve as a journal of sorts in which Fanny relates to him about the growing vampire danger from a pair of certain new neighbors(I think you can guess who but here's a hint,they are brother and sister).

While one of the present day Bertrams chooses to continue with the clean-up at Mansfield, the other decides to publish the letters in order to cash in on the current vampire trend with hopes that Angelina Jolie will star in the film version.

Yes, this story is a tad "fang in cheek" but I am hoping to capture a hint of Austen's style with this epistolary tale of terror. This portion of the book is the very first letter in  the series in which Fanny talks of the recent death of her Uncle Norris and about a special inheritance that she was made the secret guardian of,for Edmund's sake:


My Dearest William,

Since I have already sent you word about the death of our Uncle Norris, this note will be put aside for some time until I am quite sure that it will not be a burden to our remaining uncle, Sir Thomas, to ask for it to be franked.

His funeral was this afternoon, which was done very neatly and economically, according to our Aunt Bertram who told me that her sister Norris saved a good deal of money by getting the undertaker to sell her one of his display coffins for her husband to be buried in. She was able to purchase it at half price and with a discount for the clergy included in the bill as well. Aunt Bertram did not say this as a critique of her sister, rather as an observation of the clear minded nature that Aunt Norris possesses, even at such a time.

Aunt Bertram also informed me that I would now be expected to live with her sister at her new lodgings, which are not too far a walk from the main house. Since she always meant to take me, according to Aunt Bertram, her current state of adjustment and absence of company is intended to be made up by me.

As much as I am grateful to my family Bertram for their many kindnesses towards myself and to you, brother, this duty will be hard to carry out.Aunt Norris is as kind as she can be, I suppose, yet her repeated reminders of how fortunate I am to even be in this household are difficult to bear and how I must never forget that I am not a Miss Bertram, like my dear cousins Maria and Julia, does place an obstacle in my heart's path when it comes to loving her as I should.

Cousin Edmund is the only one who understands some of this and will hopefully be able to offer me encouragement if and when I must move across the park with her. However, what I wanted to share with you is a remembrance of our uncle that has risen up in my mind  recently.

It was about a year or so after your first visit to Mansfield. I was assisting Aunt Norris in arranging the flowers in the parish church for the Easter celebrations due to take place the next day and trying to be as useful as I could. My Aunt Norris has very high standards which I was not always able to live up to at that age(or even now, I fear).

During a moment as she was instructing me on how to properly hold up a basket, Uncle Norris inquired " My dear Mrs. Norris, were you able to speak to Lady Bertram this morning?"

She paused in her instruction to me("Don't be so clumsy, Fanny!" were her exact words, I believe)and answered him. "Why, yes, I have spoken to her today, at least several times."

He nodded and then said "I only mention it because you specially asked me to remind you to speak with her about tomorrow's dinner and if we should bring something over beforehand."

That seemed to puzzle her. "I quite sure that Lady Bertram and I went over the dinner menu most thoroughly, Mr. Norris! I cannot think of what you mean..." she then started to worry about a dish that Sir Thomas particularly enjoyed and then decided to go back to the great house to check with Aunt Bertram. I was told to stay behind and help Uncle Norris with the rest of the flowers.

"Don't fret, my dear, Fanny and I will manage it well enough." Uncle Norris smiled at me, which was most reassuring. We did not spend a good deal of time in each others' company, other than my attendance at his sermons on Sunday. When ever he and Aunt Norris came to dinner at Mansfield, Sir Thomas and Edmund would talk with him as I attended our aunts in their needlework and tea.

Upon placing a pair of flower vases on the side of the altar, Uncle Norris turned to me and said "Fanny, may I ask a favor of you?" I replied yes, thinking that he wanted me to fetch more flowers or take a message to Aunt Norris. Instead, he reached into his coat pocket and brought forth a small object wrapped in cloth.

 Clearing his throat, he then said "As you know, Mrs. Norris is a very tidy housekeeper and especially prone to tossing away what might be mistaken for clutter during the spring season. Cleanliness is a fine trait, to be sure, as well as most Christian but every now and then I do have a few items that I would prefer to keep rather than lose due to her knack for thoroughness in these matters."

I kept still and nodded, not sure of what I was about to be asked. He continued, “This item in particular I wish to pass on to Edmund someday, after he takes his orders." You will recall that our cousin Edmund is destined to follow the tradition of younger sons and enter the church, which my Uncle Norris was most proud to instruct him in.

Holding out the wrapped item, he asked if I would put it away for him amongst my belongings until such time as it was ready to be given to Edmund. I was truly honored by this request and happy to oblige. Uncle Norris allowed me to unwrap the item, which I can only describe as a strange sort of spindle, like the one Mama used to have before it was broken by one of the boys or the maid we had at the time.

It was long and made of wood, with a sweet scent. My uncle told me that an old friend of his had carved it from an apricot tree similar to the one that Sir Thomas had given him for his own garden long ago.

Odd yet lovely designs were cut into the upper part of this spindle surrounding a cross with a circle within it. Uncle Norris told me that it was an Irish design. "I did not know that you knew any Irish men, Uncle!" I surprised myself by saying. He smiled at me again. "Yes, he was a good friend ,Mr. Lefroy and rather capable for a Catholic, that is."

"Is it an Irish prayer stick?" I don't know why I asked that and regretted my boldness instantly, yet Uncle Norris just laughed and said "Not exactly, my dear Fanny but it did send a few of the deserving to their eternal reward." I was most confused by this remark yet did not dare to inquire further.

He then asked me to keep this between ourselves, since Aunt Norris was not familiar with his Irish friend and might not understand the significance of the item for Edmund. "Some day I will ask you for it, Fanny, or have you give to Edmund directly but for now, I entrust this to your keeping. You don't mind, do you?" I did not, in the least and assured him so.

I put it away with some of my small trinkets in the East room near the attic ,where I and Maria and Julia took our lessons and  that I still spend some better part of the day in. For awhile, I had forgotten all about it, until Uncle Norris' recent departure. He had not mentioned it again to me during the rest of his days yet as it turned out, he remembered the matter quite well as I later discovered.

I was helping Aunt Norris bring a few parcels over to Mansfield before the funeral, to be stored in their attics due to her new house being much smaller than the parsonage. As I picked one up from the study, a pile of papers fell from the desk and while putting them back in place, there was a sealed envelope addressed to me!

 You can imagine my shock, William, at such a find. I took a moment to break the seal and found a small key underneath with this message:

My Dear Fanny,
Long ago, I asked you to take care of a certain Irish piece for me. I am sure that you still have it and if you are reading this letter, clearly I am not able to give it to Edmund before his ordination, so I entrust you to do so in my stead.

Use this key to open the bottom left drawer of my desk and add what is in there to that hiding place. There should be amongst the contents of the drawer a set of books that Edmund will need but those must only be given to him after he takes orders, that is most important! I thank you, my good niece, for your assistance in this matter and bless you for your discretion.

Your loving uncle,
John Norris

I was not able to attend my late uncle's wishes at that time, due to Aunt Norris calling for me to hurry with my bundle. I shall attempt to do so before her move and hopefully get a hold of what he intended for Edmund to have....

I have more to relate, now that my mission is complete. Aunt Norris was occupied with her sister Bertram this morning, so I was able to open that drawer and retrieve the books and things for Edmund without anyone noticing. Part of me feels rather disturbed at such a deception but since it was the wish of my uncle to keep this action a private matter and a respectable clergy man such as himself would not ask anyone, particularly a family member, to willfully do wrong, I am quite assured that I have done right.

The books for Edmund do not appear to be in English, but he is well versed in Latin and Greek, so this shouldn't be a problem for him. One of them does have a title that I can understand but must be a foreign book, as Lore of the Nosferatu does not sound like a proper English subject at all.

 What ever it is, Edmund will know and I hope that he will be pleased that Uncle Norris thought so highly of his prospects in the church to ensure these items would reach him despite their unexpected parting of the ways.

I hope that you will agree with me that I have done my duty to Uncle Norris in this situation. I am not sure when and how to give these treasures to Edmund, since his ordination will not be for quite some time.

I am also not sure how long a few of them will keep until then, either. Why my uncle thought to store away garlic cloves and a vial of their oil, much like my Aunt Bertram's for her smelling salts, is too odd a notion for me to consider but perhaps there is some religious purpose to it that a lay person is not meant to understand.

Those, I may very well put towards my own use in order not to borrow my aunt's too much. I am sure that Uncle Norris would not mind, yet Edmund will be offered it when this small inheritance is made over. I also ask you, brother, to keep this matter secretive as well, although I know it is hardily the sort of information anyone aboard ship would care to know at all. When this letter reaches you, it may not matter yet I do beg for your silence on the subject if you write to anyone else in the family.

Most Loving,
Your Sister Fanny

 As you can see, Aunt Norris is just as wicked as any vampire in my monster mash-up and there are quite a few surprises heading her way,along with the rest of the regular cast.

Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires is still a work in progress at the moment but I plan to have it finished by the end of this year and to be published at Smashwords by early 2014. With next year being the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park's original publication, the timing seemed eerily right.

I hope you enjoyed this advance look at my Austenesque horror story and please feel free to offer me some feedback,either in the comments section or at my FB page for my previous Jane Austen themed e-book,The Austen Avenger (which will also be the home for this sinister story as well). Have a happy Talk like Jane Austen Day and a Happy Halloween tomorrow and here's to making two great tastes taste great together,like a certain peanut butter cup:

No comments: