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A conversation between Austen Women.



(The sun shines down on the magnificent Manor 25, Gay Street of Bath, as a carriage pulls into its well maintained lawns. The late afternoon sunlight penetrates tinted windows of a drawing room, lavishly decorated for a tea party. At the table, Catherine is seated with a longing to meet her guests. The Butler announces the arrival of two ladies, Elizabeth Darcy and Lydia Wickham.)


Catherine : It’s a pleasure to see you, Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Wickham! I hope your journey to Bath was a comfortable one.


Lydia : Oh, it was most comfortable, thank you! We are delighted to be in your company, Mrs. Tilney. Isn't that right, Lizzy?


Elizabeth : Yes, it was very kind of you to extend your invitation to us. Your manor is very ornately done up. Oh, I love those cushions, aren’t they of fine Indian muslin?


Catherine : You have quite the good eye, Mrs. Darcy. 


(Elizabeth and Lydia sit down on the plush sofa across from Catherine, with their hats intact.)


Lydia : Might I inquire who else will be joining us? My husband, dear Mr. Wickham, might have already had the pleasure of meeting them. He is a very well-connected officer, and he frequents Bath often. 


Elizabeth : (averting her gaze from her sister immediately) I heard that Mrs. Brandon will be joining us. I’ve heard that her husband too, is a celebrated officer. 


Catherine : Indeed. His stories of his voyages to the Indies are quite something! 


(The Butler announces the arrival of Marianne Brandon.)


Catherine : Upon my word, here the good lady comes! How are you, Mrs. Brandon? 


Marianne : I am doing well, thank you Mrs. Tilney. You cannot imagine my joy when I received the invitation to a tea party. I have been longing to socialise with ladies of my age. Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed to have the Colonel by my side, but you can’t blame a woman for missing the careless joys of life. 


(As the four women settle down, yet another carriage pulls up in front of the entrance. Emma Knightley steps out. She enters the drawing room with a charged aura as the butler announces her name.) 


Emma : Isn't it lovely that we could gather here today? The afternoon just gets better every moment. 


Elizabeth : Indeed it is a serene evening. I take it your journey was an agreeable one, Mrs. Knightley? 


Emma : No doubt Mrs. Darcy. I took Hartfield's finest carriages for this occasion. Also, I thought of adding a touch to our tea party with some biscuits from our local baker. Harriet, my friend, insisted I bring them lest it looked like I came empty-handed. 


Catherine: How thoughtful of you, dear. Have a seat and let Mr. Carlson (the butler) serve them to us. 


(The ladies settle in.)


Lydia : I had always wondered what parties at Bath were like. My husband loves to tell me how mesmerising the balls are. He of course never shares beyond his conquests from the military. Who can blame him? He seldom has time for amusement of any sorts. For him, the balls are about making connections, he says. 


Marianne : Is that so? Well Colonel Brandon always hosts soirees for officers around Devonshire. Has Mr. Wickham ever been posted there? 


(Before Lydia can reply, Emma inserts her opinion.) 


Emma : Oh I'd rather not discuss our husbands when we are here to spend time away from them. 


(Startled by this unexpected comment, the women sip tea in empty silence until Lizzy breaks it.)


Elizabeth : Surely our husbands take up a lot of our time and therefore our conversations. A break from discussing their lives would not be unwelcoming. 


Catherine : I quite agree. I can't remember the last time I wasn't occupied with my husband's concerns. Even before marriage, he would always be on my mind. 


Marianne : That sounds quite romantic. It shows your eternal love and devotion towards your husband. How is that distasteful?


Elizabeth : You misunderstand what I imply, Mrs. Brandon. Feeling concerned about husbands is not at all distasteful. However, taking the time and mind off of them for a while should allow us to introspect ourselves better. 


Emma : Absolutely, Mrs. Darcy! All married women deserve to take some time off for their own pleasures and amusements if society and families expect the best of us otherwise. 


(Marianne pulls out a small volume booklet of Shakespeare's sonnets.)


Marianne : (jestfully) Oh really, my dear ladies?! Has the romantic in you all faded out after marriage? 

"Love is not love,

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken."


(Marianne waves the page consisting of sonnet 116 of the volume of Shakespeare's sonnets.)


Catherine : Oh, it seems we have a sonnet enthusiast amidst the party. Are you an enthusiast for novels too, Mrs. Brandon? 


Marianne : Not quite, but I can see that you are.


Catherine: Ah yes, I have read my share of novels. As a maiden, my friend Isabella and I would spend hours reading novels of varying genres from romance to murder mysteries. 


Elizabeth : Oh I so miss the time I would spend with Charlotte, my closest friend before she married and moved to Hunsford. 


Catherine : Those were the days. I remember a time when I was so engrossed in Gothic novels. It almost led to a misunderstanding between my in-laws and I! In all honesty, literature has never let me down since I started reading as a teenager. 


Lydia : Oh? It seems there's quite a story behind that. Don’t tempt us any further. Tell us the story. 


Catherine : (hesitantly) Oh, it's just that the lines between reality and the gothic plots blurred. I intruded in someone's personal matters without consent. Let's just say, there wasn't a dead body where I thought it was hidden. 


Elizabeth : A body, my God! You must have built up such a dreadful imagination! I simply cannot believe it. But truly, the time I spent with dear Charlotte has shaped me into the woman I am today. When I was in her company, I felt free of the expectations that others burdened me with.


Emma : I am undoubtedly someone who has enjoyed her days before marriage. In fact, I always felt marriage wasn’t meant for me. But, there is no greater joy than uniting two young people and making them fall in love. Sometimes, society needs a nudge here and some pressure there to find the right people for themselves. 


Marianne : Well, I disagree with what you said, Mrs. Knightley. Sometimes societal and familial pressure fizzles out the tenderness between the two lovers. Especially when there is so much emphasis on being the perfect lady of the house. How fickle these norms are! Forgive me if I'm overspeaking, but the inheritance law is quite harsh on the women of the family. After my father met his demise, society was quite cruel towards my mother and sisters as we had no male heir left. Almost overnight, we had no choice but to move away from our sweet, humble abode.


Lydia : Truly said, Mrs. Brandon. Remember, Lizzy? When our cousin asked for your hand in marriage for obligation’s sake, simply because he was entitled to the family property after our father's passing?


Elizabeth : Yes, Heavens! No one could make me forget that tormenting moment. How furious our mother was with me because I refused to marry him. I really don't consider falling in love for love's sake to be a crime, unlike the tradition of marrying for money or status.


Emma : That’s easy for you to say Mrs. Darcy, with such a lavish house at Pemberley. But it is true that marriage for our sex is a monetary proposition. With no way to inherit or earn our fortunes, how else would the women of our society seek a secure future? I made so many matches in my time, but let me tell you, you have to consider aspects like status and money as a considerate matchmaker.


Catherine : I was surprised when I learnt that people often marry for status, over love. I always thought from a young age that I'd seldom be in a marriage where the main factor wasn't utmost love and devotion to each other. It was right here in Bath when such realities dawned upon me.


(There is a slight knock on the door. The ladies go quiet as Mr. Carlson enters with a fresh pot of tea for the ladies. Catherine thanks him as he leaves.)


Marianne : Remember the sonnet I recited? I once held onto its words like a drowning man saving his last breath. But then, the breath eventually escapes. And you submerge into the waters completely, thinking how could the breath cheat you like that. However, letting go of your body saves you. It brings you back to the surface with paramount air to take in. That is how love happened to me, it is how I understood what being in love meant. I had to let go of the sonnet a bit to realise that I could still find love the way society expects.


Lydia : That was… quite touching, Marianne. Oh, I hope you do not mind me addressing you by your first name. 


Marianne : Not at all dear! We have opened up so much in the past few hours, and let in on our intimate thoughts. 


Lydia : Since everyone is in the spirits of sharing, why don’t I do the same? I must admit that I rushed into a relationship and a wedding with Mr. Wickham at 16. I was naive, unaware of what follows marriage. My mother was understandably obsessed with getting her four liabilities married. But the environment it created in our household ingrained an ultimate goal in my mind : to find a charming husband from the military. However, not once was I told the aftermath of getting married. My sisters and I were encouraged to get married like a child is offered sweets. It is proposed as a magical finality in a young woman’s life. Am I really to blame if I were determined to chase it? I had no clue of the responsibilities that would fall on my shoulder! Ever since, I have always wondered how you (looks at Elizabeth) and Jane were never affected by mother’s constant persuasion. You, Lizzy, went on to rebel. But that may be possibly because of your maturity. I… I was just 16. (tears up slightly)


(Elizabeth comforts Lydia with a compassionate look. She is glad to see how much Lydia had matured but is enraged at how life decided to teach her its lessons.) 


(Catherine, Emma and Marianne are on the verge of tears too.)


Catherine : I sympathise with your Lydia dear. I detest fate for putting you through such atrocious situations. I even further detest people who label you without understanding that decisions taken in the moment are often influenced and manipulated. 


Emma : It’s true that the world has more often than not been harsher on us. 


Marianne : So many balls attended, and parties organised, but never have I ever conversed in such depth with anyone. 


Elizabeth : Nor have I.


Catherine : In fact, we were so engrossed in our tea party that it will almost be time for supper. I must let Mr. Carlson know that we have guests staying over for dinner too. However, I cannot say I’m hungry. The biscuits from Highbury’s local bakery have kept me full, undoubtedly the courtesy of Emma’s thoughtfulness.  


(The newly lit candles gave the drawing room’s tinted glass a kaleidoscopic effect. The sun has already g

one down. The manor’s servants have prepared a grand dining room as the party carries itself upstairs for supper.)




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