There is also giveaway associated with this post, an ebook of 'A Will of Iron', courtesy of Meryton Press. Without further ado I'll pass over to Linda.
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Laughing at Lawyers - By Linda Beutler
Thanks, Ceri, for hosting a stop on the A Will of Iron Blog Tour, and for your suggestion I write about researching the legalities included in the novel. As I write more Austenesque novels, I find I am enjoying the research more and more. It adds to my sense of putting a puzzle together, almost as much as finding new ways to use Jane Austen’s great narrative quotes, dialogue, and Regency adjectives.
From a legal standpoint, this story deals with wills, and it is both Anne de Bourgh’s iron resolve to escape her mother, and her carefully drawn-up Last Will and Testament that combine to give the book its title and drive the plot. (In truth, the original working title was “Death Comes to Rosings”, but what with the TV production of Death Comes to Pemberley, that title flew out the window.)
Since there were no entails or encumbrances against Rosings Park, it would have been considered a fee-simple estate, inheritable by whosoever Sir Lewis de Bourgh chose. With only one daughter, the line of succession is clear. His will sets Anne’s age to inherit at 25, but as befits a male-dominated—and Lady Catherine dominated—society, Anne does not take control until she marries, which would push Lady Catherine to the dower house on the property.
None-the-less, once Anne is old enough to inherit, since Rosings is hers free and clear with only the stipulation about her mother, Anne may draw up her own will and disburse her holdings as she sees fit. This was an uncommon and powerful position for a woman to be in at that time. In other families, a female heir would have been advised—more likely bullied—by male relations and family financial retainers. Because no one expects our Anne to do anything but marry Fitzwilliam Darcy, no advisors were necessary.
Once pregnant, Anne sought legal counsel in Hunsford in her little phaeton. It has always amazed me in canon that Anne is mention flitting about in her own rig, even if driven by servants. Having Lady Catherine think nothing of Anne leaving for jaunts with Mrs. Jenkinson, or even alone, was very useful, I can tell you!
Her attorney (or lawyer if one wants to be disparaging) is Andrew Steventon, Esquire. (When using “Esquire”, a man would not also have said Mr. It would be considered redundant, or so advised my editor.) I named him Andrew because it is Colin Firth’s middle name—inspiration must come from somewhere—and Steventon was the Hampshire village where Jane Austen spent half of her life, and began writing. Although slight of build and wearing glasses from many long years of close work, Mr. Steventon is a good, no-nonsense kind of lawyer. He has done everything in his power to keep Anne’s will legal and incontrovertible, even though she changes it often in the last month of her life.
The gathering of the beneficiaries of a will is a long-cherished plot device in all manner of fiction. Since everyone Anne includes can be gathered in Mr. Steventon’s law offices, it is great fun to bring the disgruntled, the confused, and the surprised together for some fireworks. Although gaining no benefit, Lady Catherine shows up uninvited, and sputters and fusses throughout the reading. Since he is in no may beholden to her, the small-in-stature but serious attorney is able to stare her down when necessary to maintain order.
The next legal character we meet is taken from life, Mr. Humphrey Knocker. There really was such a man. He is listed on the rolls for magistrates in Kent. Although I could not find which jurisdiction was his specifically, I could not let anyone with a name like that go begging for a role, now could I? He is the one who investigates later murders in the story. Grim work, his!
Lady Catherine would have no country lawyers, I can tell you! Her attorneys are in London, and once Anne’s will is read, one can imagine Lady Catherine burying them in a flurry of letters and expresses aimed at damage control. She threatens everyone with the wrath and skill brought to bear by Messers. Phawcett and Drippe kept on retainer for all her legal needs. Much to their embarrassment, their client is requesting changes to her will that are not strictly legal, but some clients will simply not be advised.
All marriage licenses and wills deemed legally binding were recorded upon execution at the Archdeacons Court of Doctors’ Commons in London, and thus become public record. Mr. Steventon would have had an association with a solicitor (although technically acting as a solicitor himself, location and class mattered) in London, who would have vetted documents Mr. Steventon wished to have recorded with the Doctors’ Commons. “Doctors” in this case refers to those having a PhD in legal studies. Mr. Steventon endeavored successfully to ensure Anne’s will was unchallengeable.
Interesting thing about the law: laws change, sometimes with blinding rapidity, but the language of the law adapts much more slowly to the passage of time and changes in society. Mr. Steventon and Sir Chauncey Phawcett would recognize a will written today, and would be able to draw one up in 2015 that would pass muster either now, or in 1815!
Of course, as one reads A Will of Iron, it is the reactions of the beneficiaries that carry our interest. Imagine Elizabeth and the colonel’s surprise when Anne leaves him £50,000, just the sum Elizabeth had suggested a second son was worth (at most!) as they joked about the colonel’s relative lack of fortune. Does this change how the colonel allows himself to feel about her? And what are Darcy’s thoughts as he sees their stifled responses to this news as the will is read? Sorry, no more spoilers here!
Thanks again, Ceri and Babblings of a Bookworm readers for this chance to reveal just a bit more of A Will of Iron.
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Thank you so much Linda, for this informative post. It is a strange thing to think that the wording of a will written 200 years ago could be sufficient today when you think how unrecognisable other parts of life are.
The lovely people over at Meryton Press are offering one commenter here a chance to win an ebook of 'A Will of Iron'. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment about the book or Linda's post. This giveaway is open to international entrants who comment by the end of the day on 22 July. Please leave a way for me to contact you in case you are drawn as the winner :) Please note that this giveaway has now closed for entries.
Since this is a blog tour there are of course other stops where you can find out more about the book or enter to win a paperback or ebook copy. Here is the blog tour schedule so you can check out the other stops:
Blog Tour Schedule:
6 July: Review at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
7 July: Guest Post & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
8 July: Excerpt at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride & Prejudice
9 July: Review at Wings of Paper
10 July: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time…
11 July: Review at Half Agony, Half Hope
12 July: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club
13 July: Review at Songs and Stories
14 July: Review at Austenprose
15 July: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
16 July: Review at Margie's Must Reads
17 July: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
18 July: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen
19 July: Excerpt & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
20 July: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
But what if you just can't wait for the uncertainty of a giveaway and need to get your hands on a copy of 'A Will of Iron' as soon as possible? Well don't worry, you can buy one! It's available in ebook and paperback at Amazon (US, UK and many other countries) or you can pick up the paperback at Barnes and Noble if you prefer.
The untimely death of Anne de Bourgh, only days after his disastrous proposal at the Hunsford parsonage, draws Fitzwilliam Darcy and his cousin Colonel Alexander Fitzwilliam back to Rosings Park before Elizabeth Bennet has left the neighborhood. In death, Anne is revealed as having lived a rich life of the mind, plotting rather constantly to escape her loathsome mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Anne’s journal, spirited into the hands of Charlotte Collins and Elizabeth, holds Anne’s candid observations on life and her family. It also explains her final quirky means of outwitting her mother. Anne’s Last Will and Testament, with its peculiar bequests, upheaves every relationship amongst the Bennets, Darcys, Fitzwilliams, Collinses, and even the Bingleys! Was Anne de Bourgh a shrewder judge of character than Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy combined?
Linda Beutler is an Oregon native who began writing professionally in 1996 (meaning that is when they started paying her...), in the field of garden writing. First published in magazines, Linda graduated to book authorship in 2004 with the publication of Gardening With Clematis (2004, Timber Press). In 2007 Timber Press presented her second title, Garden to Vase, a partnership with garden photographer Allan Mandell. Now in 2013 Linda is working with a new publisher, and writing in a completely different direction. Funny how life works out, but more on that in a minute.
Linda lives the gardening life: she is a part-time instructor in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College, writes and lectures about gardening topics throughout the USA, and is traveling the world through her active participation in the International Clematis Society, of which she is the current president. Then there's that dream job--which she is sure everyone else must covet but which she alone has--Linda Beutler is the curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, which is located at Luscher Farm, a farm/park maintained by the city of Lake Oswego. They say to keep resumes brief, but Linda considers Garden With Clematis her 72,000 word resume. She signed on as curator to North America's most comprehensive and publicly accessible collection of the genus clematis in July 2007, and they will no doubt not get shut of her until she can be carried out in a pine box.
And now for something completely different: in September 2011, Linda checked out a book of Jane Austen fan fiction from her local library, and was, to put it in the modern British vernacular, gobsmacked. After devouring every title she could get her hands on, she quite arrogantly decided that, in some cases, she could do better, and began writing her own expansions and variations of Pride and Prejudice. The will to publish became too tempting, and after viewing the welcoming Meryton Press website, she printed out the first three chapters of her book, and out it went, a child before the firing squad. Luckily, the discerning editors at Meryton Press saved the child from slaughter, and Linda's first work of Jane Austenesque fiction, The Red Chrysanthemum, published in September 2013. Her second work of fiction, From Longbourn to London was published in August of 2014.
Linda shares a small garden in Southeast Portland with her husband, and pets that function as surrogate children. Her personal collection of clematis numbers something around 230 taxa. These are also surrogate children, and just as badly behaved.