This is today’s post from Austen Authors, part of the P&P200 project where various Austen Authors filling out the Pride & Prejudice timeline in real time with new snippets and scenes from different points of view. I’m cross posting it here because the Austen Authors server is down today.
P&P200: Bingley takes possession of Netherfield
Today’s selection returns to last Sunday’s participants: Heather Lynn Rigaud as Mrs. Johnson, housekeeper extraordinaire at Netherfield, and Abigail Reynolds as Bingley. This also marks our first episode of confusion with this project of marking the 200th anniversary of the events in Pride & Prejudice. There are a number of fixed dates in the book, for example the Netherfield Ball is stated to be on November 26. Others have vague references – Bingley takes possession of Netherfield before Michaelmas (September 29). Others are up to the reader’s imagination, like at what point Darcy would have arrived at Netherfield. Heather and I shared the same interpretation, that Darcy would have come to Netherfield just before the Meryton assembly with the “large party” that Bingley goes to London to collect. However, one could also argue that Darcy might have been at Netherfield all along, and just out of sight when Mr. Bennet came to visit. He also might have come to view Netherfield with Bingley.
The two excellent posts this week from Regina Jeffers and Susan Kaye take a different approach from mine, which means that their posts would actually come later than this weekend in my personal chronology. When we put the posts together, those two will come after these two, but for now, we’ll just have to deal with the confusion of different authors with different chronologies. That said, let’s return to Netherfield Park, 200 years ago today:
Mrs. Robert Johnson, Housekeeper.
September 25, 1811
Apples 2 bu, pears 3 bu
Eggs 2.5 dz.
Today started as an excellent day as we welcomed the new Master of Netherfield. Mr. Bingley came accompanied by his sister and his man. He graciously condescended to meet the house staff and was very friendly with all. Indeed, I don’t believe I’ve ever met such an open and easy-going master. He spoke to me at some length to explain his plans and expectations for the house. He’s planning a large party of guests to come down in a fortnight, including his other sister, Mrs. Hurst. He was anxious that all be made ready for his company and I assured him that Netherfield would be in perfect order. He also spoke of possible shooting parties and a ball. His sister, Miss Bingley, condescended to say that we have a great deal that must be done to make the house presentable.
I have determined to hire another girl for the duration of Mr. Bingley’s guests’ stay. Miss Bingley’s maid arrives tomorrow, but there will be an increase in laundry and tidying that will require more staff. I will also engage a few girls and a man for to be on call for the master’s future balls and larger entertainments.
Despite Miss Bingley’s comments, I am satisfied with the condition of the house and feel we have served Netherfield well. I had a moment of concern when I caught Roseanna introducing herself to St. James, Mr. Bingley’s man, but he made it immediately clear that her attentions were unwelcome. I have set Roseanna to work on polishing all the plate, in hopes that will give time to reflect on her behavior.
Caroline Bingley glared at her brother as their carriage rattled over the cobblestones of a little country town. “Charles,” she said in a deceptively honeyed voice, “You know I do not like surprises.”
Bingley rubbed his hands together gleefully. “You will like this one.” She had been trying to wheedle the information out of him since they had left London, but he was determined not to tell her until the last minute. He could not wait to see the look on her face when she realized that Netherfield was theirs! “We are almost there, in any case.”
“Good. I have had more than enough of being gawked at by the locals. One would think they had never seen people of fashion before. That woman – her dress must be at least five seasons old, and she has the audacity to actual point at us!”
Bingley glanced out the window and smiled at a particularly pretty girl. “I am given to understand that there are a number of excellent families in the area, but strangers must be something of a novelty.”
Caroline’s lips twisted, but she did not trouble herself to reply.
Ten minutes later the carriage pulled up in front of Netherfield. Caroline barely glanced at the house. “What is this place?” she asked scornfully.
“It is called Netherfield Park.” Bingley tried to suppress a grin of anticipation.
“My surprise is here? Charles, don’t tell me you have purchased another horse!” She curled her lip as the footman opened the carriage door for her.
Bingley hurried around the carriage to hand her out. “No, my dear. It is not that your surprise is here, but rather that here is your surprise!”
“What on earth do you mean, Charles? I see nothing but the house.”
“How many times have you said we must find a country estate? Well, here it is. I have signed the lease, and it is ours.”
She turned an ominous stare on him. “You leased an estate without discussing it with me first? Charles, what in God’s name were you thinking? This is in the middle of nowhere, and heaven alone knows what condition it is in!”
Bingley’s shoulders sagged. This was not at all how Georgiana Darcy reacted to surprises from her brother. But perhaps it was just the shock of the moment. “I showed the drawings and the estate books to Darcy, and he said it was a good idea.”
“One can hardly trust the word of two men in the matter of a household!” she snapped.
“Come, let me show you the interior before you say anything further,” he said, then played his trump card. “Darcy says he will come for a long visit once we are settled in.”
“Hmmph,” she snorted, but with a thoughtful look. “A long visit, you say?”
“Yes. Look, there is the housekeeper waiting for us.” He bounded up the steps, leaving her to trail behind him. “Mrs. Johnson, it is a pleasure to see you again! Allow me to introduce my sister, Miss Bingley, who will be acting as my hostess here.”
The housekeeper curtsied deeply, but Caroline barely spared her a glance. Instead, she looked around slowly, examining the hall. “I suppose this will do, although it could be larger, and the furnishings are hardly to the latest fashion.”
Bingley’s spirits brightened. From Caroline, that was practically praise. “The library is to our left, and a ladies’ sitting room on the right. But come through here – you must see the grand staircase and the drawing room. It is in the shape of an octagon, and I immediately thought of you when I saw it.”
Caroline rolled her eyes, but proceeded through the gilded doorway with him. He had hoped for a better response to the grand staircase, which was indeed of the caliber of anything seen at Pemberley, but she said nothing until they reached the drawing room. There she stopped in the center of the room and pivoted around, slowly nodding her head. “I suppose you could have done worse,” she said grudgingly, then turned to the housekeeper. “It will take a great deal of work to do to make this presentable.”
So, how do you picture the sequence of events at the beginning of Pride & Prejudice?
Note: I based Netherfield on Basildon Park, the house used in the 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice, but the rooms I discussed were different. Below you can find pictures of the hall, the grand staircase and the octagonal drawing room, as well as a floor plan for the house.