Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron (Jane Austen Series #10)by Stephanie Barron
The restorative power of the ocean brings Jane Austen and her beloved brother Henry, to Brighton after Henry’s wife is lost to a long illness. But the crowded, glittering resort is far from peaceful, especially when the lifeless body of a beautiful young society miss is discovered in the bedchamber of none other than George Gordon—otherwise known as Lord Byron. As a poet and a seducer of women, Byron has carved out a shocking reputation for himself—but no one would ever accuse him of being capable of murder. Now it falls to Jane to pursue this puzzling investigation and discover just how “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Byron truly is. And she must do so without falling victim to the charming versifier’s legendary charisma, lest she, too, become a cautionary example for the ages.
"Superb … Barron's ability to capture Austen's tone helps make this series one of the more literary and enjoyable of the pseudo-Austen oeuvre."
-- starred‚ Publishers Weekly
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Summons from London 25 April 1813 Sloane Street, London
Mr. Wordsworth or Sir Walter Scott should never struggle, as I do, to describe Spring in Chawton: the delight of slipping on one's bonnet, in the fresh, new hour before breakfast, and securing about one's shoulders the faded pelisse of jaconet that has served one so nobly for countless Aprils past; of walking alone into the morning, as birdsong and tugging breezes swell about one's head; of the catch in one's throat at the glimpse of a fox, hurrying home to her kits waiting curled and warm in the den beneath the Park's great oaks. Spring--in all its rains and clinging mud, its sharp green scents full-blown on the nose, and a newborn foal in the pasture below the Great House!
And in this glorious season, too, a splendid change has come upon the little Hampshire village I call my own--for my elder brother, the rich and distinguished Mr. Edward Austen Knight, as he and all his numerous progeny must now stile themselves, having acceded to his benefactor's surname as well as his estates in Kent and Hampshire--has descended in state upon Chawton Great House, with his full retinue of trusted servants, under-gardeners, grooms, coachmen, and what I am pleased to call Edward's Harem: a hopeful clutch of motherless daughters, most too young to marry and still at home.
Edward intends to spend the better part of the summer in the antiquated pile that once was let to our dear neighbours, the Middletons, Mr. John Middleton having determined to give up the place when his treaty was run. While the Austen Knights idle away June and July in Hampshire, their principal seat--Godmersham Park, in Kent--will submit to refurbishment, the interiors having grown sadly shabby without Edward's late wife's care. It is quite a treat to have one's relations--and all the elegancies of table, coach, and society--but a stone's throw from one's door; and I spun many happy webs for myself that bright April morning, as I walked through the meadows, and listened to the song of a blackbird hidden somewhere in the hedgerow. Edward's eldest daughter, Fanny, is full twenty years old--and although a trifle subdued for my taste, and possessed of starched notions quite appalling in one so young, she must be adjudged a welcome addition to the Cottage circle, whenever she may venture through the village in search of trifles and laughter. It was possible, I thought, that Martha Lloyd and I between us might be of use to poor dear Fanny, in enlarging her spirit and mind--or at the very least, her capacity for wit. There is nothing so quelling in a young woman, I find, as a want of humour; but much must be forgiven the girl--she was thrust too young into the rôle of Mother, when Elizabeth died. Fanny cannot have been more than fifteen, then; and at twenty, must feel already as though she has lived two lifetimes, in managing her father's household. She is certain to find Chawton unutterably dull, however; the Assemblies in Alton are not such as she has been used to, in the elegant Kentish circle she frequents. Was there, I wondered, any young man in the neighbourhood capable of engaging her interest?
Considering and discarding the various scions of local families as I walked amidst the dew-laden grass, I was full of pleasurable schemes that dreadful morning. Once Fanny was dismissed as too dear a prize for Alton's youth, my mind revolved the various attractions of an altogether different cut of gentleman--one Henry Crawford: for I have reached a most delicious point in the writing of my third novel, which is to be called Mansfield Park, when I must decide whether another Fanny (a sober and rather humourless young woman entirely of my own invention, though not quite my niece) is to make the roguish creature the Happiest of Men, or cast him into the Depths of Misery at a single word.
I had turned towards home after a brisk half-hour of exercise and rambling thought; when all at once it was as though a cloud moved swiftly across the sun, and my pleasure in the day was blotted out. The very air felt chill. I stopped short a good thirty paces from the Cottage door, a feeling of deepest dread in my heart--and for why? Only that a handsome chestnut hack was tethered to the post in the lane, one I recognised as my nephew Edward's mount. Why should a morning call, even one paid so unfashionably before breakfast, have the power to stop my heart?
I ran the final distance to the door.
My brother's eldest son and heir was standing before the fire, dressed not for hacking about the countryside in buckskins and boots, but for Town; his cravat meticulously tied, shirt points terrifyingly starched; a striped waistcoat trimly buttoned over primrose-coloured pantaloons. An Oxford lad of nearly nineteen, he had stiled himself a Corinthian of the First Stare; and it was this unwonted grandeur, as well as the expression of scared dignity on his young countenance, that informed me my heart had not erred. Disaster was in the air.
"What is it?" I whispered.
Cassandra came to me then, and enfolded me in her arms.
"An Express from Henry, to the Great House," she said.
"Has she gone?" I faltered. "And none of us aware?"
Edward cleared his throat. "Not quite gone, Aunt. But failing, Uncle Henry says. She is asking for you, I believe. Father says you are to travel up to London as soon as may be--in his chaise--and I am to bear you company."
"Edward!" I stared at him. "I am sure you should much rather be hunting rabbits on such a fine morning."
"So I should, ma'am," he stammered, "but under the circumstances--no exertion too great--should consider it an honour--wish most earnestly that you will accept my escort." He bowed stiffly, his face flushing with embarrassment. "Not the thing, you know--lady travelling entirely alone. Might very well be offered an intolerable insult. Besides, m'father commands it."
Edward, whom I cared for and cajoled so many years since, when his own mother died--to be offering me escort! I understood, then, the punctiliousness of his manner and dress. My nephew was representing his House--and paying off a debt of gratitude. I should be churlish to protest further; and besides, the hour was already advancing.
I uttered not another word, but dashed upstairs to throw what swift provision I could into a carpet bag. My beloved Eliza, Comtesse de Feuillide, wife of Mr. Henry Austen of Sloane Street--was dying. It seemed far too bitter a truth for Spring.
When did she first apprehend her mortal sickness, I wondered for the thousandth time as the chaise jolted and swayed over the Hog's-back an hour later?* Was it so early as my descent on London some two years since, for the proofing of the typeset pages of Sense and Sensibility? She suffered then, as I recall, from a trifling cold, and took to her bed on the strength of it; but surely that was a deliberate indulgence, to avoid the necessity of attending Divine Service of a particular Sunday?
Eliza was never very fond of Divine Service; she had seen too much of Sin, to place her faith in either repentance or redemption; and she felt certain that the clergy were the very last sort of men to lecture their brethren--indeed, she declared the whole pious enterprise an essay in hypocrisy. Eliza preferred to live her life and leave her neighbours to live theirs, without the benefit of unwanted advice or inspection; and on the whole, I confess I admire her philosophy. There is a great deal of disinterested benevolence in it.
If not April of 1811, then, the illness came upon Eliza soon after: a mass in the breast, that grew until it might almost have formed another--with tenderness, increasing pain, and suppuration. She had watched over her mother's dying of the selfsame malady, years since. She recognised the Enemy.
My incorrigible Eliza. My gallant friend. A word for gentlemen of high courage--but courage she brought to this final battle, knowing full well she would never triumph. The summer months of 1812 she spent in travel--relished two weeks in the sea air of Ramsgate in October--wished me joy of Pride and Prejudice's sale to Mr. Egerton in November (which met with decided success at its publication this winter among the Fashionables of the ton!)--and by Christmas was rapidly declining.
I might have said that he has not the mind for Affliction; he is too busy; too active; too sanguine. All the increasing cares of banking--my Naval brother Frank being now a partner in Henry's concern--and the activity necessary to a gentleman in the prime of his life, must inevitably attach Henry to the world. Add to this, that Eliza is fully ten years my brother's senior, and that the gradual progression of the disease has offered an interval for resignation and acceptance--and we may apprehend the steadiness with which Henry meets his impending loss. And yet--his summons to me surely augurs an unquiet mind, a soul in need of comfort. To part with such a companion as Eliza! --Who, though she gave him no child, brought him endless cheer and laughter from the first day he met her, as a boy of fifteen, when she descended à la comtesse on the Steventon parsonage, and dazzled us all within an inch of our lives.
"I believe Uncle Henry intends to give up Sloane Street," Edward observed as we rolled into Bagshot. "He claims he cannot bear to meet with my aunt's memory at every stair and corner."
"Better to remove from London, then," I managed, my throat constricted, "for Eliza shall haunt every bit of it."
I have known the journey from Chawton to run full twelve hours, when leisure permitted; but we were to have no dawdling nuncheon, no walking before the coachman in admiration of April flowers, no pause for fine views as we descended the final stage into the Metropolis. Barely eight hours elapsed from the moment I bade farewell to Cassandra at the Cottage door, until I found myself alighting in Sloane Street.
We met the surgeon, Mr. Haden, on the threshold--Madame Bigeon being on the point of ushering the good man out, as we ushered ourselves within--and paused, despite a scattering of rain, to learn his opinion.
"I fear she is sinking, Miss Austen," he informed me sombrely. "A matter of hours must decide it. I have left a quantity of laudanum--you are to give her twenty drops, in a glass of warm water, as she requires it."
"But Eliza detests laudanum!" I cried. "I have known her dreams to be frightful under its influence."
"Her agony will be the more extreme without it." The surgeon doffed his hat to Edward and me, and stepped past us to the street.
"Mademoiselle Jane!" Mme. Bigeon's elderly voice quavered on the greeting; she gave way that we might enter the hall, her black eyes filled with tears. "At last you are come! I feared--but it is not too late. She sleeps much, yes, but she will wake for you, mon Dieu! Come to her at once!"
With unaccustomed familiarity--such is the strength of feeling in the face of Eternity--the old Frenchwoman grasped my hand and drew me swiftly up the stairs. I could not stay even to loose my bonnet strings; and that I should be aware of such a nothing on the point of seeing Eliza, must be an enduring reproach. I am ashamed to own it.
Mme. Bigeon hesitated before the bedchamber door; it was ajar, so that I could just glimpse the outline of the bedstead, my brother Henry dozing in a straight-backed chair set up against the wall; and the silhouette of Mme. Marie Perigord--the old woman's daughter and Eliza's dresser, her constant reminder of all the glories of France that are gone beyond recall. Manon, as she is called, was seated near the bed, her sharp-featured face thrown into relief by the flame of a single candle; in her hand was a small bowl.
Her eyes were closed, her breathing heavy; a few damp locks of hair escaped from her white cap. There was a peculiar odour on the air--a sweet, sickly smell that emanated from the open wound in her breast, and the great tumor lying malevolently there; no amount of warm compresses or fresh linen could blot out the taint.
I crept softly to the bedside, young Edward hesitating behind me.
Manon rose and drew back her chair. "Monsieur--mademoiselle . . . I cannot persuade her to take any of the broth. And it is Maman's best broth, made from a pullet. Five hours it has been simmering on the stove--"
"Hush," Henry muttered, as he jerked awake. My brother's dazed eyes met mine through the shuttered gloom. "Ah--Jane! You are come at last!"
He rose, and pulled me close; the stale odour of a closed room, and clothes too infrequently exchanged, clung about his person. Henry--who is the nearest example of a Dandy the Austens may claim--had been neglecting himself.
"Praise God you came in time," he whispered.
"Mademoiselle!" Manon tugged impatiently at my sleeve. "Perhaps you will try? Perhaps she will take some broth from you, hein?"
"What does it matter?" Henry burst out, worn beyond bearing.
"But she must keep up her strength!" the maid protested.
Pointless to observe that strength would avail her mistress nothing, now.
Manon's face crumpled into a terrible grimace and she began, painfully, to weep, turning away from the awkward crowd of Austens as though we had caught her at something shameful. Mme. Bigeon swept her daughter out of the room, murmuring softly in her native tongue, half-scolding. I had an idea of the maid's high pitch of nerves, waiting in that darkened chamber through all the hours of a night and day as her mistress's life slowly ebbed, ears pricked for the sound of a particular set of horses halting in the street below. How like Eliza to hold on to the last, as though she knew I was hastening towards her!
But was she even aware of my presence?
"Dearest," Henry whispered, bending over Eliza. "Here is Jane arrived from Chawton."
Her eyelids flickered; the clouded gaze fixed for an instant on my brother's face, unseeing. How great a change was come upon that sprite, that eager, winning countenance! And how helpless I felt, unable to save her, to forestall the dreaded end!
I took up the bowl of broth and the silver spoon still warm from Manon's hand, leaned close to my dying cousin, and whispered, "Come, my darling, and try a little--to please your Jane."
* The Hog's-back is a narrow ridge that runs between Farnham and Guildford; the road traveled by the Austens on their journey to London ran along the summit and offered excellent views of some six counties. --Editor's note.
Meet the Author
Stephanie Barron is the author of nine bestselling Jane Austen mysteries. She lives near Denver, Colorado.
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JANE AND THE MADNESS OF LORD BYRON marks Stephanie Barron's tenth novel in the best-selling JANE AUSTEN MYSTERY series. It is the spring of 1813. Jane is called to London where her brother Henry's wife Eliza is gravely ill. With her passing, Jane and Henry decide to seek the solace and restorative powers of the seaside selecting Brighton for holiday excursion. At a coaching Inn along the way they rescue young Catherine Twining who is being abducted by Lord Byron, the notorious mad, bad and dangerous to know poet. Jane and Henry return her to her father General Twining in Brighton. He is furious and quick to fault his fifteen year-old daughter. They are appalled at his temper and concerned for her welfare. Lord Byron reappears in Brighton and attends an Assembly dance, again in hot pursuit of Miss Twining. The next morning, Jane and Henry are shocked to learn that the lifeless body of a young lady found in Byron's bed is Miss Twining! The facts against Byron are very incriminating. Curiously, the intemperate poet is nowhere to be found and all of Brighton ready to condemn him. It is great to have Jane Austen, Detective back on the case and in peak form. Fans of the series will be captivated by her skill at unraveling the crime, and the unindoctrinated totally charmed. The mystery was detailed and quite intriguing, swimming in red herrings and supposition. Pairing the nefarious Lord Byron with our impertinent parson's daughter was just so delightfully "sick and wicked." Their scenes together were the most memorable in the novel and I was pleased to see our outspoken Jane give as good as she got, and then some. Readers who enjoy a good parody and want to take this couple one step further should investigate their vampire version in JANE BITES BACK. Barron continues to prove that she is an Incomparable, the most accomplished writer in the genre today rivaling Georgette Heyer in Regency history and Austen in her own backyard. Happily readers will not have to wait another four years for the next novel in the series. Bantam is publishing JANE AND THE CANTERBURY TALE next year with a firm commitment of more to follow. Huzzah! Laurel Ann, Austenprose
I must say that when I ordered this book I was a little worried about getting into the story since I hadn't read any of the previous books from the series. This being the 10th in the series, I thought I would be lost but since I am a HUGE fan of both Jane Austen AND Lord Byron I had to read this book. And read I did, I loved this book so much that I might even re-read it in a few months. The story was written exceptionally well, the authoress did justice to both writers and the book is full of drama. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves to read Regency stories whether you're a fan of JA or LB or just the Regency era you will definitely love this book.
To read this series is to be transported to Regency England, to the decadence of the Prince Regent that flourished alongside the strict morals professed by the proper folk. It's as if Stephanie Barron time-traveled to 1813 to absorb every nuance of custom and conversation, then hurried back to set it all down for us. The fascinating, bizarre cast includes the Prince Regent, of course (Prinny), Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb. These last two dissolute characters, the author says, were actually tamed down in her version, and they're wild! In its leisurely, elegant way, the novel brings us to the death of Jane Austen's beloved sister-in-law, Eliza, Comtesse de Feuillide and the wife of her brother, Henry. The dying woman seems to whisper something to Jane as she expires. Regret? Jane isn't quite sure what she heard. She is writing her third novel, "Mansfield Park" and plans to publish it anonymously, as she has her first two. Miss Austen is not as absorbed in it as she would like, though and agrees to accompany Henry to Brighton to dispel the gloom caused by Eliza's death. On their way, Jane rescues a girl of fifteen, Catherine Twining, who has been abducted, bound and gagged, from the coach of Lord Byron! Byron, otherwise known as George Gordon, has just published his epic poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and every woman in England swoons when he draws near. Every woman but Catherine with whom Byron is obsessed. A most satisfactory trip through springtime madness on the coast of England in a by-gone time. Reviewed by Kaye George, Author of "A Patchwork of Stories" for Suspense Magazine
Now, before you think, "oh, this girl just doesn't like classics", let me assure you that isn't true. I LOVE the classics. Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre, Cousin Bette, Count of Monte Cristo, Madame Bovary, the Eustace Diamonds, Lady Chatterly's Lover to name a few. And I admit: I picked up this book being more a fan of Byron than of Jane Austin. (She's on my to-read list, so stop having kittens, you raging fans.) That said, I didn't enjoy this book for several reasons: 1. Characterization. While I haven't exactly read Jane Austen's work, that is not to say I am not unfamiliar with her wit. Her quotes are famous. And while Barron's Jane is somewhat snippy here and there, I don't see the tongue-in-cheek jabs that Austen is famous for. There's a huge difference between snipes and witty repartee, folks. And I don't see it. Jane's is also not the only character I find truly flawed. It seems EVERYONE TALKS THE SAME. While it's true that sayings come & go in fashion, such as "groovy" or "far out" depicts the 1970's era, why must EVERYONE here end a sentence with "I collect" instead of "I suppose" or "I guess". (If you've read the historical letters by Byron, you'd get an idea of what his "author's voice" is like, and you'd know he would never, EVER talk like that! UGH!) Which brings me to #2. 2. Verbal stutters. This is where an author ends up using the same words over & over & over again throughout the freaking book. PLEASE get a thesaurus. If I have to read "I collect" or "vulgar/vulgarity" one more time, *I* am about to get vulgar with a "collection" of expletives. 3. The pacing. It is so slow where I don't want it to be & then the author picks up the pace where I wish she'd elaborate more. When things got interesting, the scene changed & I was left gasping, "NOOOO! Come back here!" Meanwhile, the very boring characters are chatting again. And it takes them a paragraph to get their point across when only three sentences would do. (If "brevity is the soul of wit", there are some really witless people in this novel!) And they might as well be talking about cucumber sandwiches for all I care because it does NOTHING to move the plot along nor move me emotionally to care about any of the characters. In fact, I want to jump in the story so I can find murder a few characters myself. 4. I could not like Catherine Twining. It became very difficult to feel sorry for her when she inevitably died. (Who didn't see that coming a mile away?) She was a born victim, and even Jane calls her a "goosecap" repeatedly. So, tell me...how am I to feel sorry for Catherine when she gets murdered? I got the impression even Jane didn't like her much. And how am I to empathize with Jane when Jane feels responsible for her death? (That if only Jane had stayed & watched over Catherine--as Catherine requested--maybe Catherine wouldn't have been murdered, blah blah blah.) I feel the emotions here to be contrived, forced. The pace of the story is choppy, the characters seem two-dimensional, and the wordage is awfully repetitive. Overall, I feel like I'm reading the outline of a book but the book has yet to be written. This had great potential & I was very much looking forward to reading it. I am dismally disappointed.
In 1813, Henry Austen's wife Eliza dies after a lengthy illness. The Austen family grieves their loss but none besides Henry mourns the death of Eliza than Jane does; she was more a sister than an in-law. Hoping to move on from Eliza's death, Henry and Jane travel to Brighton where they believe the ocean will prove energizing. The siblings stop at an inn on their travel only to find the wrists of a teenage girl tied by a cravat in a nearby coach. A few days later in Brighton, that same female Catherine Twining is found dead in Lord Byron's bed at the King's Arms. Byron swears he is innocent in spite of his scandalous reputation. As she investigates, Jane finds the poet charming, but albeit a bit too insane for her tastes. The latest Jane Austen amateur sleuth (see Jane and the Barque of Frailty) is a terrific tale as Stephanie Barron catches the essence of the heroine, Byron, and the era. The murder mystery is well written and very entertaining, but the fun in this strong entry is Byron who enchants everyone including Jane who knows better. In the seemingly overkilled Austen recast "sub-genre" this series remains one of more endearing. Harriet Klausner