Monday, August 8, 2011

Austenesque Extravaganza: An Interview With Lord Harold

Portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Without question, the most beloved and intriguing gentleman in the entire Being a Jane Austen Mystery Series is Lord Harold Trowbridge, second son of the Fifth Duke of Wilborough: ardent Whig  and debonair clubman; unrepentant duellist and Man-about-Town; trusted confidant of the Crown and implacable enemy of Buonaparte--otherwise known as the Gentleman Rogue.  Lord Harold first made his appearance in Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor; having suffered an untimely demise in Jane and the Ghosts of Netley, he nonetheless reappears in a forthcoming short story, "Jane and the Gentleman Rogue," set in 1805 Bath, and presently to be published in Jane Austen Made Me Do It (Random House, October 2011, Laurel Ann Nattress, editor.)  The following is an informal interview with Lord Harold, conducted on the fly by The Author.

The AuthorHow did you come to make such a mull of your affair with Jane?

Lord Harold: Good God!  You might spare a fellow a very little!  Do you not think I've been asking myself the same damned question--and for all eternity?  I am one of those who are fated, perhaps, only to apprehend the worth of a creature once she is past all reclaiming.  We exist, you know--in our own particular Hell.  She was an excellent woman, Jane--unmatched, indeed, in her time and sphere.  No beauty to speak of, mind--except, perhaps, for her very speaking eyes.  When they did not mourn, they laughed irrepressibly, at some inner voice of ridicule she alone heard, that subjected all humanity to its scorn--as no eyes I've ever seen, before or since, have laughed.  So must God Himself have roared, to witness our absurdity!  It was her wit I loved; I confess it unashamedly.  Lord Harold, enamored of a Bluestocking!  She ruined me for every other woman.

And her hair!  How I should have loved to have seen it unbound.  I itched to loose those pins, at times, in the close conference of my carriage, when we two were locked together in the swaying conveyance; an intimate and separate world, whose tragic dignity was preserved only by my restraint--the forbearance of a gentleman.  What is forbearance, after all, when its sole reward is the grave?  I might have run my fingers through those chestnut locks, and held her fast, within the span of what little time remained to me--

The Author: But you did not; and she died unwed--though perhaps not unloved.

Lord Harold:  Her works outlived her.  I predicted that much, you know--it was I who told her she must write, as I lay gasping from the effects of the knife-wound that despatched me.  She should never have achieved the greatness she did, had I once loosed that glorious hair, and taken her to wife; she should have become something quite else--Lady Harold, a formidable figure, tricked out by the most expensive modiste, which I dare swear she would have gloried in.  But her writing?  A thing for the fireside; for the amusement of children and indolent cousins, hanging on her sleeve.  No: She was better by far, left to Genius, than claimed by me. 

The Author:  You are eloquent in your own defense.

Lord Harold:  Naturally.  Eloquence is the most necessary weapon of a gentleman's arsenal; it disarms reproof, even as it wounds.  An art lost to your age--but one that defined mine.  Recollect: A gentleman is nothing without Honour; and what is honour stripped of eloquence?  A poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage--a Buonaparte, in fact, glorying in the sacrifice of better men.

The Author:  You devoted your life to defeating Napoleon.

Lord Harold: I see you call him by the name he chose, rather than the one to which he was born.  I was never one to pander to a shortened stature, puffed up by bravado--except when it was called Nelson.  For the Hero of Trafalgar, one must always make exception.

The Author: Hah!  You are an adept, I see, at turning the conversation.  But we are to talk of Jane--and so I must ask you, my lord, about the curious cask you bequeathed her.  A chest full of papers, kept safe by your solicitors, and bearing your entire history--not to mention the history of your generation.  A dangerous gift, was it not?  And one contested by the Trowbridge family?  Your brother the Sixth Duke was most incensed.  Such names as he called Miss Austen!   

Lord Harold:  My brother is a fool.  --Reason enough to have guarded my papers.  Wilborough should have burnt them--but Jane knew how to use them.

The Author: The very fact of the bequest argues that you anticipated your death.

Lord Harold: But of course.  We are all merely borrowers of Time.  It is a wise man who banks upon nonexistence.

 The Author:  But what of those who gain Immortality?

Lord Harold:  Such as Jane, you would mean?  Why else cultivate Genius?  I would not be sitting under your eye, my dear Authoress, were it not for my extraordinary discernment--in having seen in Miss Austen, what no one else of her circle recognised: that she possessed the animating flame, unique to herself and her age, that should prove imperishable.  I warmed myself at that flame while I lived; I was perhaps scorched by it; but it has kept the cold of the grave forever at bay for us both.  And what is the transitory state of a mere Lady Harold, after all, compared to that?