Hitting the Books While Writing, a Guest Post from Don Jacobson

This post originally appeared on Austen Authors on December 23, 2017. Enjoy! 

I have a problem.

I possess what might be called a “flypaper mind.” Stuff goes in and then gets stuck. My memory is in no way eidetic, but rather is loosely associative…meaning that I tend to cascade information in an inverse pyramid. You hit me with a general topic—or even something specific—and then I will barf out all sorts of things. There is a lot of information inside, not much of which is correlated with anything else—except when I write.

Then it gets a little weird.

For instance…in The Maid and the Footman, I decided to create a “proposal without words” where Henry Wilson asked for Annie Reynolds’ hand. She is seated at the pianoforte in Burghley House’s Blue Parlor, having been sent there by Kitty Bennet in a “plot” with General Fitzwilliam to set her up for the proposal. While Miss Reynolds waited, she began to play the instrument. Henry slipped in.

“Annie softly exhaled as she ended the melody. Not shifting in her seat, she reached up with her unadorned left hand and gently clasped his right where it rested on her collarbone. Her eyes remained closed so as not to break the trance.

Henry dropped to his knees and carefully—so carefully—grasped hers where they were under the pianoforte. He turned her body on the bench to face him.

Her face, rosy in the room’s firelight, was turned down to his. Her eyes slowly opened as she beheld her world. The golden brown pools glistened with hope and joy.

He gripped her hands in his, holding them prayerfully. Here was his Westminster. His love echoed through the spires, rising like the great buttresses holding the walls of the mighty cathedral to join with the bells tolling a full peal[i]. His Annie…his love…his life.”

And there, in the last paragraph is one of those “things.” Somehow, I recalled that a royal marriage, coronation, or other great national event would be celebrated with a “full peal” of the bells at Westminster Abbey. Now, however, the historian in me took over because I could not, I was constitutionally unable to, simply drop such an interesting tidbit into the middle of Annie and Henry’s story.

So, I checked it out. And, at the bottom of this post (all the way after the excerpt) you will find the reference. The fine folks at the Abbey itself advise that a full peal is over 5,000 changes and takes nearly 3 hours to complete. Gentlemen in the audience: I do not know about you, but when my wife of 41 years said, “My Mom thinks we ought to get married. What do you think?” I nearly shouted back “That’s what I have been saying for five years!” Think every bell at Holy Name Cathedral, St. James and Fourth Presbyterian (all Chicago) let loose all at once? You bet!

As an historian, I have been trained to always—always—cite my sources. Obviously, doing so adds heft to the evidence I am assembling, but it also illustrates that I am being rigorous and not making it up as I go. I could no more stop footnoting than I could voluntarily cease breathing.

That has put me lightly crosswise with a few readers who do offer the valid criticism that excessive endnotes tend to detract from their reading experience. Endnotes (which I use in literature rather than the more common footnote found in academic writing) do not disturb the pagination and layout of either print or e-books. A reader can move past the Roman notation if they desire or, in print, flip to the back of the book which represents a true departure from the narrative. In the e-book, an interested reader simply highlights the note in text to get a full reference.

Many folks tend to think notes are truly boring. However, I see several uses for notes: they answer the questions “Why/What;” they offer backstory and context; or they respond to the author’s desire to interact with the reader outside of the actual story.

Why/What Notes

In The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, Mr. Benet receives a note from someone. The note is in an envelope that is sealed. But, wait a moment. Thomas Bennet is sitting in his bookroom in January 1812. Were envelopes even around? Time to look it up.

I learned that

“The machine to apply adhesive to the seams and flap of machine-made envelopes was not fully developed until the 1880s.”

Not common knowledge to anyone. If I had let it flow by, I would justifiably been pilloried by astute readers. Having an envelope in 1812 was just as much a sin as having (I kid you not) Darcy receiving a telegram from an investigator looking for Wickham.

In the aforementioned missive opened by Mr. Bennet, I have the writer using the word “closure.” This was very intentional on my part as 1) The writer had undergone years of psychoanalysis and 2) she was writing with a vocabulary of a person living in 1932 (see The Keeper and The Exile Pt. 1). As I have a word maven as one of my beta readers (yes Carol…no teenagers, only adolescents!), I knew I had to explain that I knew what I was doing.

In the modern sense… Sense of “tendency to create ordered and satisfying wholes” is 1924, from Gestalt psychology. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=closure

Context Notes

Sometimes an explanation is necessary to establish a very clear context for a set of actions undertaken by a character.

In The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque, I was curious how large Kitty’s fortune would grown to in 75 years. Why? First, I wanted to know how wealthy she would have been (an interesting conundrum for a young lady who had been raised in the knowledge that her family was one fall from horseback away from poverty). But, her wealth was an important plot motivator for the villain in the story: Lord Junius Winters.

I felt that it was necessary for me to justify the figure at which I arrived (somewhat north of £200,00) for her holdings when she arrived in 1886. I did not want an error detracting from the overwhelming impact of that figure.

Kitty’s £10,000 dowry from Darcy and Bingley along with her £1,000 share of her mother’s dowry calculated at 4% compound interest (annual) would be £208,398 in 1886 after 75 years of investment. Her annual income off of that principal at 4% is about £8,300. That £8,300 would be the 2016 equivalent of £980,000 per year. See http://www.in2013dollars.com/1886-GBP-in-2016

Think Winters’ efforts to get his hands on Kitty’s trust fund was worth it? For my American readers, that £980,000 is about $1.5 to $2 MILLION! A Year!

However, my favorite Context note is the manner in which Colonel Fitzwilliam’s sword is referenced. JAFF writers have often credited the good Colonel with offering that he “should have run that (pick your epithet) through with my sword. I immediately wanted to ask…and what was that sword? Describe it.

There is a psychological reason behind that, I think. I will answer with a question: “While a steak knife is as deadly as a sword, which freaks you out more?” The sword, of course, is the most common response. Why? Because it is a brutal weapon, hacking, amputating, capable of splitting you from (as Sir Thomas Malory wrote) “from guzzle to gatch,” and inflicting such heinous damage that you would run from the field.

Would General Sir Richard Fitzwilliam have fought with a gentleman’s rapier? I think not and put those thoughts into the mouth of Mary Bennet in The Keeper as she dressed down three militia officers who had the temerity to harass her, Maria Lucas, and Georgiana Darcy on the streets of Meryton. She was telling them that Fitzwilliam was protecting all those who lived in Meryton, but particularly the Bennets and Darcys.

“I have seen his working sword. It is not shiny and bright like that little toad-sticker you wear. His is a man’s weapon, heavy to cut through bone and gristle, hued like pewter and with a blade longer than your arm. It is nicked and scarred and so worn from constant sharpening that it is more rapier than saber.”

But, what sword would the General carry? His daily weapon with which, as Mary put it, “dispatched more of Napoleon’s horde to Hades than you can imagine,” was likely the Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword. In today’s parlance about hacking (electronic not martial), this is a blade which uses “brute force” to be effective. See the note:

The trooper’s sword, and the officer’s undress sword, was a dedicated cutting weapon with a broad heavy blade and was renowned as being completely unfit for delicate swordsmanship.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1796_Heavy_Cavalry_Sword

Dialogue Notes

In The Exile, a character in 1886 comments that new legal protections protected young Kitty Bennet, unlike Miss Darcy in 1810, from fortune hunters. The danger to Georgie was the practice known as coverture. That word was never used in the body of the book. More needed to be said, and I took that opportunity in the note.

Coverture was a practice based upon the legal fiction that upon marriage a man and a woman became one in the eyes of the law. Thus all of a woman’s property became her husband’s to do with as he pleased. Hence Wickham’s search for an heiress—or for that matter, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s. Darcy and Bingley’s ability to “marry for love” was, sadly, based upon their income. The woman could only regain direct use of and title to her remaining pre-marital property if she outlived her husband. The Married Woman’s Property Acts of 1870, 82, 84 and 93 gave women rights to their property even within the confines of her marriage.

I did refrain from editorializing here…in spite of my distaste at coverture.

Of course, one can have fun in the notes. Consider the name of Maggie Smalls’ abuser in The Exile—Charlie Watts. My note:

Sorry Stones’ fans…I needed a “w.”

Then there is my fascination with not necessarily useful information as when referring to Lord Henry Fitzwilliam’s 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. My wife’s great uncle was Art Souter, so I loved the idea of getting him into my book. Mr. Souter was the “Chief Mechanic” for Rolls-Royce in the United States when the company manufacturer R-R chassis in Springfield, MA.

Rolls-Royce manufactured the chassis and drive train components. Those who purchased an automobile from R-R would then order a body from a coach-maker. An excellent reference on classic Rolls-Royce motorcars is Arthur Souter, The American Rolls-Royce, Mowbray Co., 1976

Finally, when Mary awakens on December 12, 1811, her first day as Miss Bennet, she recalled the dreams she had been having and referenced Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The front end of the note is straight-forward, but I did have fun with the last sentence.

Coleridge composed “Kubla Khan: Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment” in 1796 after dreaming that he had been composing a poem. He awoke and raced to write down all he could recall as his senses returned. Some argue that he had been under the influence of Mrs. Bennet’s favorite nerve restorative, a tincture of morphine known as laudanum.

Thus, dear readers, the notes, for me, form an integral part of the work…much as Janet Taylor’s covers do or the text itself…and do, I hope, offer an ultimately rewarding reading experience.

I am deep in the last portions of Part 2 of The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn.

Please enjoy this excerpt.


This excerpt is from a work in progress. ©2017. No reproduction either through mechanical or digital means is permitted without the express written consent of the holder of this copyright. Published in the United States of America.

Chapter XXV

Wilson and Hunters, Lincoln’s Inn January 2, 1812

Kitty was surprised at how different Frederick Hunters’ office appeared in the tepid winter afternoon sunlight. Her only previous experience with the sepulchral master of the firm had been well after sunset. Deep shadows had reached out to envelope all but the golden pools cast by the desk’s whale oil lantern and beeswax candle wall sconces employed against the night. Today, however, the southwest facing coal grime-smudged windows behind his desk admitted enough watery daylight to surround his bald pate with a modern age halo.

She nodded in recognition of his foreshortened bow as he had remained seated rather than struggle into a standing position, and then passed a few minutes making small talk as they awaited the signal indicating that their guests had arrived. The Countess had draped her frame in an antiquated black bombazine gown coupled with a veil that served as more of a shroud, so as to defy any of Mrs. Wickham’s attempts to clearly identify her. While Lady Fitzwilliam doubted that Lydia would be able to see past her selfish fascination with the attractions of the metropolis she preferred to remain in complete control of her alias as the Countess of Deauville.

Yet, forewarned is forearmed. The veil will prevent her from seeing my eyes or my face, even though I am so much older than that which she would recall. However, Lydia is no fool. She possesses her own measure of Bennet cleverness. One slip could upset the applecart. Best I should use Henry’s old trick and put myself between the windows and her eyes. Oh, I ought to deepen my cross-Channel back tone, too.

The tinkling of a small bell told them that Mrs. Wickham had crossed the threshold into the confines of Wilson and Hunters. When Hunters rose from his chair, Kitty did the same from hers, but slid around the desk to fill his empty place. Hunters glanced back at her shifting. For a moment, the Countess did not move a muscle. Then she nodded indicating that the room was now arranged to her satisfaction.

At Hunters assent, the staid knock upon the door swiftly moved to an opening and the introduction of the young lady. A blushing Miss Jenkinson was arrested in her attempt to follow Lydia into the sanctum by Hunters’ lifted paw.

At her questioning look, Hunters offered little explanation except to say, “I can assure you, Miss Jenkinson, that there are no dangers for Mrs. Wickham beyond this door. At my advanced age, I doubt if I am a threat, and besides, the Countess of Deauville will be undertaking the interview. Her presence will ensure that the strictures of propriety will be observed.

“I would ask that you retire to the waiting area through which you passed just moments ago where you will find the Countess’ footman.”

Having said his piece, the gentleman firmly closed the door to his office leaving the companion to find her way back along the dimly lit passageway. She softly entered the area happily organized with two comfortable chairs facing a fireplace snapping loudly with a freshly stoked coal fire. Only one chair was available for her as a man with nearly white shortcut blond hair and ice blue eyes occupied the other. He hauled himself to his feet, towering over her in the process, and dipped his head in recognition of her entry.


He even smells old, or so Lydia Wickham thought as Hunters guided her toward the armchair facing his desk. The young lady had had little experience with geriatrics even though she did consider her father to be ancient beyond belief even though he had yet to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. On the other hand, Hunters was of an age with Lydia’s long-deceased Grandfather Samuel Bennet, now in his seventy-seventh year.

Lydia’s habitual stream of consciousness behavior, now diverted from her libidinous observations of the Countess’ footman when she had passed by him in the seating area near Hunters’ office, now focused on the third figure in the room. Her observations used M. Descartes’ deductive methodology—or so Lizzy had explained it to her: reasoning from the general to the specific to arrive at the greater truth.

A woman from form and scent—roses over cut grass.

A woman draped in total mourning.

A woman, older, in full mourning regalia, yet in a lawyer’s office.

Not a woman…but rather a lady given the blue diamond twinkling on her gloved RIGHT ring finger—so a widow in reality.

A lady…and I would imagine a titled one…for her bearing even when seated is impressive—that of someone used to commanding and being obeyed. I think she will thump that silver-headed walking stick resting by her left hand with authority.

So, a lady, but violating propriety by breaking mourning to travel to a place of business.

T’is more likely that she is using mourning as a disguise, otherwise she could have had me and Miss Jenkinson meet her and Mr. Hunters at her residence.

A lady, not wishing me to apprehend her identity, who has gone to great lengths to conceal much…yet, in so doing, she reveals more that she imagines.


Lydia firmly planted both feet on the floor in front of her chair and folded both hands in her lap. She neither removed her gloves nor her fur-lined cloak. She schooled her features into a pleasant, but impassive, curiosity, reminding herself how the Majors’ wives had counseled her to behave during her first meeting with the Colonel’s lady.

Then a silent contest of wills ensued with neither the lady nor Lydia giving way.

Eventually—after perhaps two minutes during which she could not penetrate the opaque umbra rendering the lady’s features indistinguishable—Lydia bowed to convention…to an extent. She cleared her throat without changing her expression.

At that sound, the lady raised her left forefinger acknowledging her victory in the battle of societal wills and giving Lydia permission to speak first.

Lydia introduced herself in her clear soprano, still redolent of Hertfordshire with her ‘r’s rolling richly from the upper reaches of her throat. The sound opened great cracks in Kitty’s reserve, fragments of which crashed to the floor of her heart. Tears pricked the corners of her china blue orbs.

I am such a watering pot! T’is well in excess of forty-six years since I have listened to my beloved sister speak. Yet, it is naught but a moment, a blink of the Universe’s eye, yet a cherished entry in my memories hoard.[ii] The shroud was an excellent idea, for if I identified her emerald green eyes when I beheld them as she lay upon her deathbed in her nineties, she will certainly suss me out, watching tears fill my own Bennet eyes, but two-and-sixty years old.[iii]

Lydia continued on, “…I find that I am in your debt, madam, without knowing who you are or why you have decided to turn your eyes in my direction.

“While my elder sister Elizabeth may be called impertinent, I promise you that I will not be gainsaid when I demand something. In this case, I will moderate my language to erase that strident word and substitute ‘strongly desire’ in its place.

“Thus, my lady, I do strongly desire to know who you may be and why you have taken an interest in a lowly lieutenant’s wife.”

Kitty leaned back in her seat, surprised at how well spoken her younger sister had become. She reflected that, perhaps, when she had been a youngster, she had ignored the style and nuance of Lydia’s speech so overcome she had been by their tenor of their content.

There was always a lascivious subtext whenever Lydia took Mama’s exhortations about men in red coats to the next stage. My adolescent brain locked up when it tried to consider why an older man—uniformed or not—would find a fresh-faced young lady attractive. Now, of course, I know…as does Lydie!

However, she speaks today as one would expect a gentleman’s daughter. How much I have missed that voice; how much I misjudged her mentalité.

Seeking to control the pace of the discourse, Kitty paused, channeling her inner British landed aristocratic snobbery. Then, to fully disguise herself, she replied in English tinged not only with her regular Breton tonality, but also blended with some of Jacques’ potent Alsatian, almost Walloon, cant, “Child, you have cut to the heart of the matter. Normally I would never condescend to recognize you even in a polite setting, much less speak with you.

“Perhaps, in recognition of a hostess, who saw fit to invite both you and I to the same event—although I cannot imagine such a curious circumstance—I would nod your way and then proceed to ignore you for the balance of the call.

“This preface does not offer you any intelligence about who I am or why I have taken your part. You will have to be satisfied with that which I provide you.

“I am Lady Katerina Robard, the Dowager Countess of Deauville. I have recently returned to England from the Western Hemisphere, not the Sugar Islands, but rather that now-American territory known as Louisiana. My husband, the Compte passed away these two years past, estranged from our estates and native land. I reside at Madras House here in Town.

“That accommodates the first half of your strong desire.”

Lydia noticed the Countess’ nervous habit of using her right thumb to spin the diamond solitaire around her right ring finger.

Her voice may sound authoritative and settled, but her ‘tic’ tells me otherwise.

“As for the reason I choose to sponsor you this Twelfth Night, let it suffice to say that I owe your family a great debt, something which I can never repay…and something which, if my involvement became known, would place all of you in great danger,” she added allowing Lydia’s facile imagination, steeped in Napoleonic intrigue, to fill in intentionally vacant blanks.

There may be others who will anticipate Moriarty over the next eight decades. Even though Papa is today’s Keeper, he is in no position to fight a mastermind willing to go to the ends of the Earth to control the Wardrobe. Imagine what horrors Napoleon could unleash if he had a venal Bennet willing to do his bidding!

Lydia gulped back in turn, on tenterhooks awaiting more information, “Oh, I assure you, my Lady, I would never breathe a word of this. We know that the Tyrant has agents everywhere. Why, my husband has ordered men in his file to be given two dozen at the crosstrees for babbling about anything to do with the regiment.”

“As well he should. The lower classes have no idea how to keep quiet. They seem intent on bringing Madame Guillotine’s bloody excesses to this peaceful shore,” the lady imperiously snorted.

Lydia relaxed, becoming more comfortable in her conversation, and, thus, igniting her tendency to run on, “Oh, my Lady, my dear Wickham—that is what I call him—is nothing if not the best gentleman soldier you have ever seen. Such a figure he cuts in his regimentals! You know that he is in the 33rd Buffs! They are called Wellesley’s Own because he commanded them in India when he was but a colonel.

“George is away on detached duty, especially sent by our Colonel himself who said that no other but my dear Wickham would do!”

Oh, how I have missed you, sister! That is the sound of my childhood—my beloved nursery mate unleashing a fire hose of talk, beating the neighborhood into submission. But, I needs must keep you under control, or we will never conclude this interview!

The Countess moved like a cobra striking: with blinding speed. The walking stick crashed down lengthwise upon the ancient wooden desktop. Hunters flinched at the violation of his sacred space. The raw sound slammed Lydia back into her chair, cutting the flow of her tongue mid-thought.

Kitty dismissively snapped, “Enough Mrs. Wickham! Your constant chattering wears upon my nerves—famous or not. Yes, I am sure you believe your husband to be the most essential officer in the regiment. But, that fact does not contribute one jot to your understanding of my plans. Now, if you please, allow me to continue.”


[i] Significant events and anniversaries whether royal, national or Abbey related are marked by the ringing of a full peal [at Westminster Abbey]. This comprises a minimum of 5000 different changes (or sequences) and is performed without a break. A peal takes over three hours to complete… from http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/abbey-bells accessed on 11/12/16.

[ii] Graeme Edge, lyric from Departure on the album In Search of the Lost Chord, The Moody Blues, Deram Records, London, 1968.

[iii] Please see the Prologue to The Exile (Pt. 1): Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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