(Copied from So Little Time…)
Hello, my friends! I’m excited to have Riana Everly here today! Her new book Teaching Eliza sounds delightful – a mash-up of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion! I’m looking forward to reading it!
Riana Everly interviews Professor Darcy
Me: Good evening, Professor. How kind of you to take time out of your busy schedule to visit with us.
Darcy: Good evening. I am pleased to be here. It is always a relief to escape the demands of society for an hour or two. Er… there are no society matrons lurking in the wings, are there? I feel quite hounded by them.
Me: No indeed, sir. No matrons, I promise. No mamans on the hunt, nor débutantes waiting for a husband. You are quite safe here.
Darcy: That is a relief. I spent all day trying to escape my own Aunt Catherine. I finally gave her Wickham’s address when she asked of my whereabouts this evening. That ought to amuse her for a minute or two.
Me: You surprise me with your devious sense of humour! Now, to my first question: Our readers would like to know what first interested you in the field of phonetics.
Darcy: It began as a game of sorts. As a lad, I travelled extensively with my father as he conducted affairs pertaining to his estate and investments across England, and into Scotland and Ireland, even. I found that I had particularly sensitive ears and a prodigiously sharp memory. I derived my entertainment in listening to and emulating the various incarnations of English as I heard it. Some were melodic and lyrical, others assaulted my poor sensitive ears. By ten years of age, I could mimic the major regional distinctions of speech from across our great country and could identify the origins of a speaker from a few words. As I grew older and my skills grew more sophisticated and refined, I was able to pinpoint a man to within a few miles of his birthplace and more. That made for some grand entertainment whilst Father was conducting his business.
Me: Fascinating. But…
Darcy: Now, you, Madam, are a most interesting case. Unfortunate, but interesting.
Darcy: To be certain. Most unfortunate. Oh, I see I have offended you. No matter, ‘twas not personally meant. I would be pleased to take you on as a student should I find myself with the time.
Me: I did not realize, sir, that I was to be subjected to your scrutiny this evening.
Darcy: Madam, my delicate ears can never rest. Now, let us see…. Hmmmm…. Born in South Africa. You can never lose those sharp consonants and high front vowels, no matter how you attempt to soften them with North American sounds. Yes, North American, that is next. You have incorporated the common rhotic…
Me: Er, Professor, I thought I was to interview you. (He glares at me, like I have just confessed that I hate his cravat).
Darcy: We shall dispense with the specifics then. You moved from South Africa to the west of Canada as a child, but then moved again to more central regions, where the general accent is fairly neutral. But, alas, you shall never live down your time in Montreal.
Darcy: You drop in French words every so often. Mamans and débutantes, as you said a few minutes ago. We shall not begin to analyze your deplorable French accent. I might be able to ameliorate your English pronunciation, but your French is quite beyond help.
Me: Well! Perhaps we ought to call this interview to an end, before I embarrass myself further by uttering a word in German or Spanish. Good night, Professor Darcy.
Darcy: Madam. Good night.
Me: Well! I never. The professor is rather insufferable, is he not? Shall we see how he treats poor Elizabeth Bennet?
In this excerpt, she has become aware of the inadequacies of her Hertfordshire accent and manners in the salons of London, and has come to ask the professor to take her on as a student. Darcy is confident in his skills as a teacher, but Lizzy is less certain. And the professor’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, has something to add as well, to sweeten the pot.
“Six months, Eliza. Three if you have a good ear and a quick tongue.”
“I don’t think you can do it, Darcy,” the Colonel interrupted, “but I’ll throw in a wager if you can. Pass her off as the daughter of a duchess at some celebrated ball in six months, and I shall endeavour to see a case of that contraband French cognac you so like make its way to your house. Further, I shall contribute to outfitting her in all the fashions of Town. My allowance from the pater must be put to good use. We shall send for Mrs Pearce immediately, and take her to London for fittings and a meeting with your sister’s dressmaker.”
Darcy jumped to his feet and strode over to his cousin. “Let us shake on it, Richard. It is a deal!”
Elizabeth was stunned. The decision had been made, one that concerned her most completely and intimately, and she, it seemed, had little say in it.
“Gentlemen,” she protested once she finally was able to speak again, “you have forgotten to consult my wishes!”
“That is true, Darcy. Have you forgotten that Miss Elizabeth might have some feelings about your proposal?” The colonel’s concern was sincere.
“Oh no, I don’t think so. Not any feelings that we need bother about. Have you, Eliza?” His cheery smile and the quizzical tilt to his head spoke of his utter disregard.
“Well I never! I was mistaken to speak to you. Please forgive me for interrupting your privacy,” she stood and turned to leave, but Darcy caught her by the elbow. She flinched at the unexpected physical contact, but remained still.
“No, no, not so fast, Eliza. I have decided that this little endeavour will be of great value to us both. I shall achieve my aim of throwing off the husband-hunters of town; you shall achieve yours of being able to move in society; and the colonel here will achieve his of procuring for me the cognac his fully intends to drink himself. Don’t be missish, Eliza,” his marvelous voice grew mesmerizing and seductive. “Think of the future. You shall pass as a grand lady, as a duchess. You shall be so admired that even should your custom slip and you revert, momentarily, to your present manners and speech, it shall be seen as something new and wonderful from the highest strata, and everyone will fall over their feet to emulate you. You shall have the pick of the finest men in town, and you shall marry very, very well. You will even have the opportunity to spend as much time as you wish in my library, perusing my vast collection, and reading at will. Think on it, Eliza! Think on it!”
He waved his hands suggestively as he spoke, and Lizzy was put in mind of the snake charmers she had seen once at an exhibition. But she was no slithering creature to be so manipulated!
“You have decided? You? What gives you the right to decide what will be of value to me? Have you appointed yourself my lord and master already, when I wished merely to enter into a business arrangement? How dare you!” She would have stamped her foot in indignation, but refused to give him the satisfaction of observing such a typical gesture. Instead she straightened up her posture and intensified her glare.
The colonel was biting his lips and could not suppress a wide grin. “Oh, I am enjoying myself immensely!” he proclaimed to nobody. “You might wish to reconsider, Darcy. This one has fire that will meet yours in equal force. I might be a betting man at times, but I would not wish to wager a penny on which of the two of you would win a battle of wills.” He sat back in his chair and made himself comfortable, as if he were about to watch some entertainment.
Darcy, for his part, met Elizabeth’s indignation with a sally of his own. “How dare I? I dare by having the means, knowledge, and experience to give you what you want. What you asked for, in fact, only a few moments ago. Have you changed your mind already? Are you so unsteady in your convictions that a mere disagreement over price will send you fleeing? Or are you a woman made of sterner stuff — the sort of woman the ton would accept as my betrothed? I, for one, believe it is the latter.”
“And, sir, the only way I can prove my mettle is by surrendering to your terms? You sadly underestimate me! I shall be on my way and shall never bother you again. If my season in Town were to throw me in the paths of others like yourself, I should be glad to have avoided that fate.”