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Commentary (Left to Follow)

Otherwise known as license to ramble!

Left to Follow isn't quite my first fanfic ever (that would be this chapter), but nearly, and really the first one written from within fandom, in response to fandom. And it is my first Austenfic, which seems appropriate for today. Er, yesterday by now, but it was today when I wrote this. Okay.

I'm going to assume everyone who reads this has already read the story and knows how it ends (or they...wouldn't be reading?), so spoilers, I guess.

LEFT TO FOLLOW (2005)

I originally intended the story to be a much longer and more elaborate take on Darcy's childhood. Fanon's insistence on his perfect parents (especially his mother) and their perfect marriage and his perfect childhood always bothered me, because it seemed to have nothing to do with even the sparse descriptions we get in canon ("my father, particularly...") and everything to do with this idealization not just of Darcy but of every Darcy ever. This was before certain segments of the fandom took a turn for the grimdark, so this version of the Darcys was pretty much inescapable and rapidly (if randomly) became my foremost pet peeve. I wrote this story partly to deal with a personal crisis, but mostly out of sheer annoyance.

I'm not sure if anybody ever "got" the title. Originally, I took all my titles from (increasingly ir)relevant quotes, and this one came from the passage where Darcy basically says it's all his parents' fault -- they were good people, especially his father (this is me side-eyeing Lady Anne as some kind of sacred mother figure elevating Mr Darcy's less pure character), but spoiled their only son, and while they taught him what was right, they sort of left him to do whatever with it. The exact quote is, if I recall correctly, "I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit." Anyway, though I started in on the longer story, I was a fairly immature nineteen and it was ridiculously trite and melodramatic; I canned the rest. I have a lingering fondness for this part, though, so I've kept it.

Her parents welcomed her home with open, if startled, arms.

Now I'm trying to imagine what startled arms look like.

Her father — who had grown to like her husband in spite of himself

I originally tried Lady Anne's own point of view, among others, but it only fell together once I switched to the unnamed earl's. I had no real idea of his personality, so it was much easier to conflate his perspective with Mr Bennet's than Lady Anne's with Elizabeth's or her mother's with Mrs Bennet's -- or, heaven forbid, Lady Catherine's with Kitty's!

Even though it was forced by the "trick," I think this is where I got the first vague idea of the Darcys and Fitzwilliams maybe not getting on, though I hadn't come up with a reason why.

— instantly asked,“I hope Mr Darcy is well?”

“Very well,” she said dully. Her father’s eyebrows raised; he could hardly believe the pale, shrinking creature before him was his daughter.

The weird nameless these-are-the-Bennets-really format also let me get around the Fitzwilliams' title. I was starting to really despise fanon at this point and didn't want to use the ubiquitous Matlock (damn you, Andrew Davies, and your fanon-creating ways!), but the "Lord ___" I occasionally saw was ... no. I stole Alison's "Lord Carden" from Forces of Passion for awhile, then went with Earl Fitzwilliam/Viscount Milton as a nod to reality, then felt awkward about the whole real people thing and borrowed from other towns in Derbyshire (Newbury, Holbrook), then figured it'd be best to adapt real titles. Jane Austen's brother married a granddaughter of the Duke of Ancaster, so I used Earl of Ancaster for a bit, and eventually I decided to give him a title from another Austen work and make him the crossover linchpin. MP is my favourite, so I went with Lord Ravenshaw of the failed theatricals and dead grandmother. Now I use Ancaster vs Ravenshaw to distinguish between the old LTF verse and the current P&P/MP one.

Yet she had fled Pemberley, which she had loved from the first time she had seen it

I've always been really vague on this backstory. I don't imagine it was actually very much like Elizabeth's, though.

fled her husband, and come here, begging refuge. The sight of his proud daughter begging had nearly reduced him to tears,

Elizabeth is certainly proud enough, but this is really about dignity, which I don't see as a particular preoccupation of hers. I meant this to be the first hint that this isn't Elizabeth. Also, in the extremely unlikely event that something like this did happen, I doubt Mr Bennet's initial response would be trying not to cry.

not to mention the pale, eerily quiet bundle in her arms.

Okay, another weird fanon idealizing thing is this idea that Darcy is the ultimate in ~manliness~ and emerged from the womb that way. It annoys me a lot more than the Regency Holy Family thing these days, but at that point I just took a perverse pleasure in sneaking him past as a sickly baby because NOBODY WOULD EVER GUESS. (And they didn't. A lot of people were still confused afterwards, actually. I think it was Margaret F who explained exactly what I was trying to do in the story -- and just about every other one I wrote, too. And Jack! I nearly fell out of my chair squeeing when they were just 'hey y'all, this is what Elizabeth means.' I remain convinced that they and Kent have a direct line to my brain.)

She had stolen the heir to Pemberley into the bargain; her son as well as Darcy’s, but there were few who would look at it that way.

I'd seen this plot before, and the thing that always bugs me is that children belonged to the father. Not that this was the case -- I mean, it does, but that's not what I'm talking about. NO WAY would Mr Bennet be able to tell Darcy that the children were Elizabeth's and she could take them wherever the hell she wanted -- that really reflects modern convention much more than the Georgian reality that Darcy and Elizabeth's children are legally Darcy's property. So even though this is using the device, I wanted to acknowledge that, under the law, Lady Anne is kidnapping her son.

But she was his daughter, and he gladly welcomed her back into their home.

Obviously I had to make the earl and Lady Anne close to pull off the twist. Really, though, I don't think it's likely. I mean, we know nothing directly about him, but we do know his other daughter believes daughters are never of any consequence to their fathers. That always gave me the impression that Lady Catherine and her sister weren't of any consequence to their father -- if it were just her and not Ly A, I think she'd be pretty damn resentful and probably refuse to acknowledge it. But fanon notwithstanding, I don't see any indication that Lady Catherine resented Lady Anne or Mr Darcy at all. And she's not really one to hide it.

“Why have you come, child?” She had once been the baby of the family,

This is the single biggest hint, and I probably rewrote it a dozen times to make it fit the Bennets. It still squeaks a bit -- Elizabeth must have been the baby for a year or two, but that's hardly enough to be remembered as the baby of the family 20+ years later. I've always imagined Lady Anne as the youngest for a considerable time, though.

and he had never stopped thinking of her as his baby; perhaps because she had somehow always been the one at the centre of the family, the one who held everything together,

Originally I imagined everything revolving around her in a sort of Black Hole Sue way.

because she was one whom everyone loved.

Yup. Later on, I imagined her as more as a delicate, highly-strung socialite. Her family revolves around her because they're constantly trying to keep her from falling off the deep end in some horribly public way. Mostly Lady Catherine, I think -- I can't help but see her as the ultimate in bossy, smothering, though basically well-meaning big sisters, where the others would be a lot less altruistic about it.

He felt his heart breaking as he looked at her, eyes blank and face ashen.

blah blah drama blah blah. For some reason, I always write things I dislike reading. Sometimes as meta-ish fix-it fic, but a lot of times just ... because. My Anne de Bourgh fic really does consist of a lot of tropes that annoy me in Anne de Bourgh fics. Um, except ace!Darcy. I've never seen anybody else do that.

Her child could not be more than six weeks old, and he knew that motherhood was already such a bittersweet experience for her; she fiercely loved her son, but he had been born so early, and he was so frail. Even the most hopeful did not expect him to live more than a few years,

Our hero! ... Okay, I might have taken way too much enjoyment out of this. No, really, I grinned this huge grinchy grin the whole time.

and she herself had nearly died in the birth.

Early death + twelve-year gap between (living) children equals reproductive problems to me.

“I am sorry, Papa,” she said, dark eyes wide and dry.

They had to be dark because of Elizabeth, but I wanted to do it anyway just to get away from the golden-haired blue-eyed Madonna.

She had always been the favourite, and everyone knew it. “I did not know — it was so awful — I —” she stared down at her hands.

One of my favourite lazy writing devices: hyphens equal emotion!

“I think I shall be able to forgive him this, and go back; just not now. After everything that had happened; we had a dreadful quarrel before it happened, and I did not know he was still —”

Random affair is random! I think my brain automatically went there because of a popular fandom game I call "who's the illegitimate half-sib?"  Wickham is the general winner, not without reason -- I played with that a bit by making Mrs Wickham mistress to Mr Darcy, but by sheer (mis)chance Wickham was fathered by her husband. So he could have been Mr Darcy's son, he just ... wasn't, and he knows it, and this is why he doesn't hesitate to seduce Georgiana (bastard!Wickham makes that squickier by several orders of magnitude). I've also seen Georgiana and used it myself, though when it comes to true crack I've got to vote for Mrs Gardiner. She can't be much older than Darcy, she grew up in the area but wasn't born there, and seems to have been given a good education. MY ARGUMENT, IT IS IRREFUTABLE.)

She looked up at him desperately. “You do not blame me?”

“Oh, no,” he assured her instantly,

I've apparently been trying to address victim-blaming from the beginning. I was a lot more explicit in First Impressions, though. Though actually that was an outtake, so I guess not.

briefly imagining the tortures he would like to subject his son-in-law to — although it briefly crossed his mind as peculiar that it should be Darcy, easily his favourite among his sons-in-law

This was also meant to be a hint. I mean, the whole "huh, Darcy, really?" thing was just echoing the readers' reactions. I, uhm, have a fondness for meta characters -- you know, the ones who voice the audience's reactions for them but without annoying fourth-wall-breaking self-consciousness. I think Milton in new!SC is a more effective one, though, probably because he has a personality. Even if that personality is douchebag. Anyway, while my version of Mr Darcy is a clear winner over my version of Sir Lewis, who is basically an elderly, aristocratic Mr Collins, Mr Bennet seems to like Darcy and Bingley about equally.

(although he had no objections to his eldest daughter’s husband, except that he was rather spineless),

That is, Sir Lewis. And yup, exploiting fandom's Bingley hatred for fun and profit since 2005.

who had committed this all too common transgression. Why, even Catherine’s stodgy husband

Also Sir Lewis. This wasn't really fair, I admit, because this reads as if his eldest daughter and his daughter Catherine are different people. I think I was trying to allude (only not really) to Kitty marrying a clergyman in Austen-Leigh's biography and assuming the reader would (1) know about that, and (2) stereotype the clergyman as stodgy. And people did, but it wasn't fair. Mea culpa.

had seemed more likely. Darcy was respectable, and good-tempered, and even kind;

We don't hear a lot about Darcy's father, but I get the definite impression of a man who is charming, personable, and open-hearted. Everybody liked him. Even Wickham seems sincere about how spectacularly likable he was (my personal headcanon is that Wickham deliberately imitated his godfather's mannerisms with considerable -- if superficial -- success). He doesn't honestly sound that much like Darcy apart from a certain high-mindedness and generosity. I, of course, took that vague implied inconsistency with fanon and ran wild with it; in the rest of the 'verse, Mr Darcy's relationship with his clever, withdrawn son is pretty constantly troubled, while he has a natural affinity with little Wickham (this is not due to any nefarious plots -- Darcy, while intelligent and compassionate, is really a very difficult child, and Wickham is a legitimately nice boy, not a child of the Corn; my readership, needless to say, was intensely resistant to the idea). Anyway, it was a bit difficult to come up with a description that would actually apply to my Mr Darcy and canon!Darcy, so I ended up using this vague one.

Also, the earl isn't being quite fair here. Mr Darcy is extravagantly kind, not "even kind" -- but he has reason to be tetchy about his son-in-law's virtues, of course.

but he supposed all men could make mistakes.

Boys will be boys, y'know. :(

Suddenly, he intensely wished that he had more strenuously opposed the marriage;

This pushed the Darcys-and-Fitzwilliams-don't-really-like-each-other idea still further. On the face of it, it's an excellent marriage -- the major aristocratic divides really, really weren't between the titled and the untitled (that's another fandom thing I was trying to push back against) and by every other measure the Darcys are smack dab in the middle of the aristocratic world. So there's no canon-based reason for the earl to oppose it, just the "make people think he's Mr Bennet" one. I fanwanked it as "well, they just don't like each other" and came up with reasons later on.

he had really made no more than a token objection, after her reassurances that she truly wished it. And it was by all accounts an excellent match.

Aside of tricking, this is the aforementioned defiance of the OMG NOT A PEER THE SHAME thing that was really common back then.

His wife fussed over her,

I didn't have any idea of the countess' personality then, so she was just a generic motherly type person. Later on, she was ... um. Yeah, not so much.

and their youngest grandson,

Going with what we see in canon, he'd actually be the youngest grandchild, period. Darcy and Anne have to be around the same age if they were in their cradles at the same time, and the engagement was planned from his earliest hours, not hers. So in all probability Anne is the elder, if only by a few months, and Darcy would be youngest until Georgiana. But I'd already dreamed up some OC cousins by then, and one of the girls (Cecily) is younger.

had her rooms made ready, and called for a nurse. Their daughter had had the foresight, despite her distress, to bring her maid with her (a grim-faced martinet reminiscent of his fearsome childhood governess), and handed the now quietly crying child over to her.

This Lady Anne is a lot more together than the later one, actually.

“I am sorry, Sarah, to bring you into this.”“It’s fine, madam,” Sarah said sternly, taking the child out of his daughter’s arms.

It was incredibly difficult to never refer to him by name.

She looked decidedly reluctant to be parted from him, and Sarah added, “We must take care of the young master, ma’am. Wouldn’t do to have him catching something, now would it?”

She smiled wanly.  “No, of course not. You will take proper care of him?”

“Of course, ma’am.”

Random thought: does this count as a Bechdel pass? They have names and they're not talking about a man, per se -- but I don't think women talking about a baby boy really catches the spirit of the test.

Sarah had been her maid as a young girl, and had gone to Derbyshire with her upon her marriage.

I enjoy inserting random tidbits of historical accuracy into melodramatic Austen fanfic.

There was no doubting her devotion, naturally, but he was still rather uneasy until she left the room.

“Have you heard from Catherine, Papa?”

I almost used "Kitty" to muddy the waters still further, but (1) constantly referring to her as "Kitty" is a sort of minor annoyance (Austen uses "Catherine" a lot) and (2) I reallllly can't see anybody referring to Lady Catherine as Kitty. So I relented, though I didn't consider it a real hint.

He smiled. “Yes, she has settled into married life very comfortably; more comfortably than her husband, I daresay.

I tried to begin with ridiculously subtle hints and then make them increasingly obvious throughout the story. This was meant to be one of the obvious ones -- the sort of jokey implication that she's quite happy herself but difficult to live with doesn't fit Kitty at all. 

They have a little baby, not much older than your own.”

Yup, insisting on older-than-Darcy!Anne right away. And I'm not even trying to hide ~the reveal~ at this point. If this were Elizabeth, Kitty would have to (1) hang out with Elizabeth and Jane for awhile, (2) become less irritable, insipid etc, (3) get to know Mr Clergyman, (4) get married, (5) get pregnant, and (6) carry the baby to term, all before Elizabeth had hers. Not exactly likely. Elizabeth could have miscarried before this point (if it were) and I later assumed Lady Anne had, but it's not really implied in the story.

He frowned. “To think I do not know the name of my own grandson. What did you call him?”

Yeah, that doesn't really make any sense. She might have left before she had a chance to write to him about the baby, but it's clear from his earlier reflections that he's actually heard about it from her. So it's just an excuse to set up the reveal.

“I thought to name him after you, Papa,” she said, with a sweet smile, “and Mr Darcy did not protest.”

One of the things I ended up trying to do with my thoroughly imperfect Mr Darcy was to be ... well, fair to him. He comes off pretty badly because the story is skewed towards Lady Anne's and then baby Darcy's points of view, but I did envision him as a genuinely good-hearted, open-minded, easy-going man -- sort of like a more dynamic (...and adulterous) Bingley. So when she insists on naming their first surviving son after the family that his family is generally all IRISH COOTIES!! about, he's just "hey, if it makes you happy."

“Edward?” he asked thoughtfully.

I thought of using "Thomas" to keep the deception up, but (1) there wasn't much point by now, and (2) GAH FANON BAD.

“My dear, I am more pleased, and flattered, than I can say.”

She laughed, for the first time since her arrival. “No, not Edward,” said Anne

I am informed that this is the point at which my audience went "what the fuuuuuuuuuuu ... wait. He married Anne de Bourgh? But her father's dead ..."

“his name is Fitzwilliam.”

"huh? her father's name wasn't ... It's his parents! OMG DARCY IS THE BABY!!!!

The total shock still makes my day when I'm feeling that I haven't filled my sadism quota a bit down.

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