In my latest Jane Austen Fan Fiction, Amending the Shades of Pemberley, I bent the rules a bit, and had Elizabeth singing the song “Hush, Little Baby” (or also known as the “Mockingbird” song) to Mr. Darcy’s daughter. I explained it all away by having her grandfather Gardiner learning the song from some Scots and Irish immigrants in the southern states of the U.S.
As with many folk songs, the author and date of origin of “Hush, Little Baby” remain an unknown. The English folklorist Cecil Sharp collected and notated a version of this song found in Endicott, Franklin County, Virginia in 1918, but such simply means the song had been around much longer, passed down from generation to generation, with little changes in it depending on whether one’s ancestors were from Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, or Northwest Europe. Sharp, himself, found a different version with complete lyrics in Micaville, North Carolina. A version recorded by James Madison Carpenter on a wax cylinder in the early 1930s in Durham, North Carolina, can be heard online at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website. Naturally, that date is well past the time of my story, but Cecil Sharp discovered such songs over and over again. If you have never heard of Sharp, you will be surprised by all he accomplished.
Cecil Sharp was an English born collector of folk songs, folk dances, and instrumental music. He was the man behind the folk-song revival in England during the Edwardian period. Sharp collected over 4000 songs from untutored rural singers in both Southwest England and the Southern Appalachian region of the U.S., where many have settled. “He published an extensive series of song books based on his fieldwork, often with piano arrangements, and wrote an influential theoretical work, English Folk Song: Some Conclusions. He also noted down surviving examples of English Morris dancing, and played an important role in the revival both of the Morris and English country dance.
I am going to take a side note here and speak of both a film and a book. The film is entitled Songcatcher, and although Songcatcher is a work of fiction, it is loosely based on the work of Olive Dame Campbell, founder of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and that of the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp, portrayed at the end of the film as professor Cyrus Whittle. A Lionsgate Film, Songcatcher about a woman whose drive to pursue the things she believes in leads her on an unexpected path to self-discovery. It is 1907, and musicologist Doctor Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer) has just been denied a promotion in the male-dominated world of her university. Frustrated and determined to get academic recognition, she heads to Appalachia with a recording device and writing materials. It also features Aidan Quinn and Emmy Rossum, along with Pat Carroll (the original voice of Ursula in “The Little Mermaid’). [Note: There is a situation in the story regarding homosexuality for which I offer a warning, but the tale itself is so beautifully told on how songs were preserved in the mountains of Appalachia, it is worth fast-forwarding through that part if you hold objections.]
The other is a book by Sharyn McCrumb entitled “The Songcatcher.” The Songcatcher traces one American family from the Revolutionary War to the present by following an English ballad as it is handed down through the generations. It is part of Ms. McCrumb’s ballad series, which I adored.
Amending the Shades of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
“You have willfully misunderstood me, Miss Bennet. You have no worry of my releasing you, for I do not wish you to perform as a governess to my daughter, but rather as my wife and the mistress of my hereditary estate.”
Elizabeth Bennet had thought the stranger quite handsome; yet, she had ignored those first tendrils of interest, for she was in no position for the gentleman to pursue her. She and her sister Mary were all who remained of their family. Moreover, Longbourn and its furnishings were to be sold. They were destitute, and, if fortunate, headed for service in some stranger’s household.
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s proposal of marriage would save both Mary and her, for her sister had agreed to assist with the gentleman’s young daughter. But what of the man’s tale of having corresponded with her father and of Mr. Bennet having purported a marriage between this stranger and her? Elizabeth knew nothing of the arrangement nor of the man’s existence. Though their marriage would solve all her troubles, what if the man’s tale was not completely truthful? Would Mr. Darcy become her enemy or a man she could learn to love?
GIVEAWAY: I have another two eBook copies of Amending the Shades of Pemberley available for those who comment below. The book released on Wednesday, April 26.
Also Available to Read on Kindle Unlimited
Now, back to my JAFF tale. In this scene, Darcy overhears Elizabeth singing the song “Hush, Little Baby” to Alice. At this point in the book, their relationship is quite strained.
“Hush little baby, don’t say a word, papa’s going to bring you a mockingbird,” Elizabeth softly sang the familiar lyrics as Alice nodded off to sleep. This was the third time she had sung the song this evening. The lullaby had quickly become Alice’s favorite. Elizabeth suspected it was because the lyrics spoke of what her father might bring her.
“Papa,” the child whispered and reached out a hand. It was only then did Elizabeth realize Mr. Darcy stood in the open doorway.
“Good evening, sweetheart.” He stepped inside and knelt beside the child’s bed. A gentle hand brushed the hair from Alice’s cheek. “It is good of Elizabeth to sing the lullaby so many times.”
“One more,” the child said rolling her eyes upward to meet Elizabeth’s. “Peas.”
“Last time,” Elizabeth warned, not because she disliked being with the child, but because she wished to avoid her husband. She began again, “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Papa’s going to bring you a mockingbird. If that mockingbird doesn’t sing, papa’s going to bring you a diamond ring. If that diamond ring turns to brass, papa’s going to bring you a looking glass. If that looking glass is broke, your papa will bring you a billy goat.”
Thankfully, the child’s thumb found her mouth, and Elizabeth was not required to finish the song.
The nursery maid slipped into the room where she would sleep nearby. “I’ll douse the candle, sir,” the girl whispered.
Mr. Darcy nodded his agreement. He rose, but tarried a moment to look upon his child with an expression of longing Elizabeth could not identify, before he extended his hand to her. She did not want to touch him, for Elizabeth knew herself too susceptible to him; yet, she accepted the heat of his palm as it encircled her closed fist. Gently, he interlaced their fingers and led her from the room. As they walked away, hand-in-hand, she could not completely swallow the whimper rushing to her lips.
Her husband paused, turning her to face him. “What bothers you so profoundly, love?” he asked as he reached to caress her cheek.
Elizabeth wished desperately for him to touch her in affection; however, she knew such would never occur. She managed to say, “The lullaby reminds me of my mother. She sang it to each of her children. I have both her and my father on my mind since the Holy Days. Like Alice, I always wondered when my papa would bring me each of the fairings.”
“I have never heard the song before. Where did you learn it?” he asked, tucking her hand about his arm and directing their steps towards their quarters.
“From my Grandfather Gardiner. He was a tradesman, building what is now my Uncle Edward’s import and export business. At that time, Grandfather Gardiner often traveled to exotic and not so exotic places. Once, he made his way to the American continent, for he had heard of a place a bit north of what now is the port of Charleston. There were artisans there who created hand-crafted furniture, which my grandfather thought would be popular with many in London, for it was sturdy and made of an odd wood with lines, that when polish was added to it, made for a bit of what he liked to call a ‘masterpiece in wood and grit.’
“While he dealt with the fathers in a rudimentary village, GG heard a woman singing the song to her child. She had a Scottish accent.”
“You called your grandfather ‘GG’?” he asked with a large smile.
“No, Jane called him such, for she had difficulty saying ‘Gardiner,’” she corrected. “For a bit he was ‘Grandfather G.’ By the time Mary came along, he was ‘GG.’” She paused, “Should I continue to speak of the lullaby or should we discuss what you called your grandparents when you were young, and do not forget, Alice calls me ‘Lizbet.’”
“My maternal grandparents were your lordship and your ladyship,” he said with that boyish grin which made him appear ten years younger. “However, I wish to know more of the song, Mrs. Darcy.”
“The settlement was full of Irish and Scottish residents. Evidently, they both had a version of the song, which they gladly taught to him. By the time he returned to England, he had mixed up some of what they told him, but he enjoyed singing the song for first one grandchild and then another. As Mrs. Frances Bennet was the youngest of GG’s children, she heard it more often than her older brother and sister, and she shared it with us often.”
“I like the idea Alice has a unique lullaby,” he admitted. “Thank you for providing my daughter a future. Such was one of my promises to her as a babe in the cradle, but I have always feared I had tempted the Fates one too many times.”
Elizabeth wished to ask what other promises he had made to Alice and why the Fates would wish to destroy something so sacred for a child, but she swallowed her curiosity once more.
“Sleep well, my dear,” he said as he bent to kiss her tenderly.
“You as well, sir.” Elizabeth wished to tarry. To kiss him again and maybe one more time. Yet, she knew she could not share her bed with a man who took his pleasure elsewhere. Therefore, she turned quickly and entered her room, refusing to look back at the man who she had once thought would appreciate her efforts to please him.
I have just finished reading this book and I must say I think it could be your best yet! I absolutely loved it! I especially loved Elizabeth’s determination to be the best mistress of Pemberley and I loved how Mr Bennet had planned for her.
It’s funny how you sing nursery rhymes to your children without actually wondering where and how they originated!
I am so glad you enjoyed this book. It has quickly become one of my favorites. I feared many would walk away from it before they read it because the story implies Darcy married another first.
As to the nursery rhyme, I sang it over and over again with my first grandchild. He stayed with me his first year, and we are still very close. I would sing it softly as I rocked him to sleep, even made up some verses. Being from Appalachia, it was one I had heard as a child.
I love to add bits and pieces of the research to my stories.
Cecil Sharp is the one most people quote as THE song collector, sidelining Maud Karpeles who worked with Sharp on that Appalachian song-collecting trip. And there were many other collectors too, including Frank Kidson in the UK and Alan Lomax in the USA.