Author of the Dido Kent mysteries
Book End – A Gentleman of Fortune
Warning: Book Ends contain spoilers so please don't look at the notes of a novel you are planning to read.
The quotation which appears in Dido's anonymous letter - 'The world is not theirs nor the world's laws' - is used in Emma. Emma herself applies it to Jane Fairfax. Perhaps when Jane Austen put this line into the mouth of her most spoiled and privileged heroine she had in mind Shakespeare's original line in Romeo and Juliet. But some commentators have suggested she was thinking instead of Samuel Johnson's use of it in his compassionate essay on the subject of 'fallen women'. This possibility fascinated me because, although I love Jane Austen's witty accounts of the search for a suitable husband, I am constantly aware when I read her novels, and those of her contemporaries, of what a very serious business this match-making was. I cannot get out of my head the poverty, the life-long misery, which some women faced if they did not make a suitable match, and the distaste, the sense of debasing herself, which must have been involved when a woman chose to marry a man she did not care for in order to avoid poverty. It was this darker side of the marriage market which I wanted to suggest in my story.
And there can be no doubt that some women at the time were keenly aware that young girls were – in a very genteel manner – being 'offered for sale'. While reading A Voice of Discontent, Jennifer Kelsey's wonderful commentary on the literature of the period, I was reminded of this sentence from Charlotte Smith's novel Montalbert (1795): 'Dragged to a scene, where she considered herself exposed as an animal in a market to the remarks and purchase of the best bidder, it was with extreme reluctance that Rosalie entered the ballroom.'
Emma was very much in my mind when I was writing A Gentleman of Fortune and readers who are familiar with Jane Austen's work will no doubt be aware of this from the opening line. The secret engagement will, I am sure, not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Also there are references to governesses, a strawberry party, a barouche-landau, a dead aunt and word play…
I'm very fond of making and discovering anagrams and this was a popular pastime in the early nineteenth century. As far as I have been able to discover, games then seemed to consist of taking a jumble of letters and forming a word from them. Now we tend to like to turn one word into another and it was because I particularly enjoy doing this myself that I introduced the element of word-change into the game at Brooke Manor.
Kendal Black drop was a particularly potent opium mixture that was made here in the North of England. Readers familiar with the lives of the Romantic poets will probably recognise it as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's favourite recreational drug. One of his bottles is pictured here. It is displayed by the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and there is a tradition that there are still a few drops of the mixture left in the bottle.
The trompe l'œil violin still exists at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. It was painted around 1723 by Jan van der Vaart. And it is very impressive; it had me completely fooled when I first saw it.
Dido's other two vague references to Shakespeare in this book are both from Hamlet. 'Ay there's the rub' is from the famous soliloquy in Act 3 scene 1. And 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark' is in Act 1 scene 4.
Photo courtesy of the Wordsworth Trust.