I was getting myself organized the other day – no small task – the better to focus my plans for finishing my current writing project and settling on how I want to take my blog forward. And though I have a long list (okay, a scattered stack of post-its) of possible blog topics, I decided today to go “off list” and open up a question for discussion rather on the matter of comeuppances. This notion has been niggling at me for some time, having started with a few reader reviews and then reinforced a couple weeks ago through a comment in a JASNA presentation.
Reader reviews can be a blessing and a curse. I ask for them! I look forward to them and welcome them, both because I’m only human and want feedback on my efforts, and I can become a better writer from the thoughtful comments I get. I am chuffed by the “good” ones, the ones that offer praise or delight. I feel a bit hurt by the negative ones, especially those when someone judges a story is poor without any constructive indication of what its failings were. But just as in a tango, it takes two – someone to write a book, and someone else to read it – for this storytelling thing to work. A connection with readers is rewarding in the end, and a large part of why I write.
That’s actually a whole other discussion, only introduced here by way of explaining that I was checking my author page at Amazon a while back when I saw a few reviews of my early novel publication, Caroline’s Comeuppance, which gave me pause. This Pride and Prejudice sequel of a sort, written and posted serially for an Austen-based website in its original iteration, revolves around the fate of Caroline Bingley after Mr Darcy gets engaged to Elizabeth Bennet. Here is what a few of those reviews had to say:
What ComeUppance? (3 stars) – The book was a good read but I was waiting for Caroline to get what she deserved but instead she got what she didn’t deserve….a great guy who was all the things she ever wanted. There was no repentance on Caroline’s part. I was disappointed.
You Call That A ComeUppance? (4 stars) I didn’t expect the story to be as it was. Caroline hardly got a “comeuppance”, ending up with a guy who was handsome, had a lot of money, and had a great personality. Way, way, way too good for her. Plus the fact that she didn’t really change that much to “earn” him.
Misleading Title. (3 stars) This book was enjoyable. I would have preferred a little more humiliation for Caroline in part one, and a little more humility in part two. Would that all life’s disappointments–our comeuppances–had such a pleasant outcome.
My vanity here demands that I add a disclaimer: these were not my only reviews, which in general offer good comments and with as many five-star ratings as four- and three-star. Even those disappointed with Caroline’s comeuppance seem to like the book overall. But these three reviews are illustrative of my discussion point. They made me wonder about the notion of characters “getting what they deserve.” I had to go further than my initial inclination to defend myself with, “But this is an Austen-based romance, of course it has to have a happy ending!” I had to reflect on these readers’ viewpoints.
Then, two weeks ago I attended my JASNA region’s autumn meeting, where we spent a lovely “day at the movies” – taking a look from several different topic angles at various film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Our opening segment was “A Collins Cornucopia” where we viewed scenes of Mr Collins from P&P adaptations from the 1940 Laurence Olivier-Greer Garson version right up through the 2005 Keira Knightley-Matthew Macfadyen film. And as much as we all cringed or laughed at Collins as he bumbled through his introduction to the Bennet family, his “courtship interruptus” dance with Elizabeth and his subsequent proposal to her, at the end we were asked to consider that, absurd as he is, Mr Collins should be considered as a man of his times, expressing widely-held notions of the period, and actually quite right when he tells Lizzy during his proposal that his hand (in marriage) is not an unworthy one by the strictures of convention.
And here is the statement by our presenter (finally coming back to comeuppances) that reminded me of my book reviews and reignited my pondering. After priming us with laughter in the clips, Linda Dennery offered that Mr Collins is described in the novel with exactitude –as Lizzy Bennet opines, without one agreeable quality. “Yet Jane Austen does not punish him for being as he is. He earns a degree with no study, gains a patroness and curacy, marries a knight’s daughter and eventually will inherit Longbourn. He is either a child of good fortune or a genius at self preservation.” We make sport of Mr Collins’s absurdity, she concluded, even as Jane Austen makes sport of us!
I started off-hand to consider other of Miss Austen’s characters whom readers find wicked, evil, stupid, or otherwise absurd and ridiculous .
Wickham, you may offer, ends up “punished” with Lydia, and vice versa. And maybe that’s true to an extent seen through our sensibilities – but in the end, they get a better profession/living than is warranted, they are still supported by people who have good reason to detest them, and I doubt very much they are induced to change their ways much or learn anything. Lucy Steele ends up with Robert Ferrars (okay, so I wouldn’t want him) but also with the place and money she desires, as Mrs Ferrars does not disinherit this son for choosing to marry the little schemer – and in the end, they are probably better suited in temperament than if she had married Edward. And Fanny Dashwood certainly hasn’t suffered for being as she is.
What about Augusta Elton? Frank Churchill? Mrs Norris? William Elliot will still become a baronet and inherit Kellynch. Mary Musgrove still gets indulged in her way if only to stifle her constant whining. I have one acquaintance who asserts that what Marianne Dashwood would most have “deserved” would be to end up with Willoughby after all. But what of him? He may regret Marianne, but do you really think he will suffer long with the former Miss Grey and her £50,000? Was Caroline Bingley a horrible woman deserving of a distasteful fate or, like Collins, was she simply a person of her time and convention?
Do they all, as Linda asked of William Collins, get “punished” by their creator for being as they are? Or do they get “better than they deserve” in the words of one of my reviewers for Caroline? Perhaps they get realistic endings, given the conventions of their society and the whim of fate? We all know people today whose choices we cannot respect, or who are pompous or condescending or just plain ridiculous – but who always seem to land on their feet. Are they all children of good fortune, or geniuses of self preservation?
One other reviewer (5-star) of Caroline’s Comeuppance had this to say:
“That the book has a happy ending doesn’t bother me in the least…Others may repine over the lack of extreme comeuppance the main character receives, but while it would certainly gratify P&P fans to see that happen, it would not be realistic… Society in that time and place just did not work that way. With her money and connections she was going to marry well. Anything less would have come off as wish-fulfillment for the author…and admittedly most readers, myself included.”
I’d love to read some of your comments on the subject! Not of my fate for Caroline, mind you (though you are welcome to address that if you’ve read the story and feel inclined) – but the larger question surrounding Jane Austen’s novels and the fates she dealt to all of her characters based on “just desserts” or not. Were they just? overly kind? realistic? What do you think? Did Miss Austen simply record what she observed and knew, or did she enjoy her own laugh as she made sport of us all?
If you share your thoughts, leave your email address within the comment [using (at) and (dot) so as not to create an actual link] and you will be entered into a drawing for a giveaway! I’m giving away one ebook copy of Caroline’s Comeuppance, one ebook copy of Pride Revisited, and one ebook copy (both volumes) of my latest two-volume novel, A Fitzwilliam Legacy (three separate winners, one book each.) Giveaway entries will end Friday, 15 November, and winners will be announced next weekend. If you have a preference as to which book you’d like, be sure to note it when you leave your email address.
[Caroline’s Comeuppance is available at amazon.com and lulu.com in ebook format. It’s also available in an older edition as a hardback book, but I don’t recommend purchasing it. I was naive in releasing this, my first publication, and ended up with a “set” price distribution package that costs way too much for its value, no matter how much I like my own book!
And while we’re on the subject, please check out my other books at my amazon author page, http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00BQMSJ36. Pride Revisited is a book of short stories that fit into the Pride and Prejudice plot; and my very recent release, A Fitzwilliam Legacy – a two-volume novel where in Volume I: Seasonal Disorder and Volume II: New Year Resolutions, you can consider whether I gave better fates than deserved to Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana Darcy, Kitty Bennet, Anne deBourgh and a host of other characters at a Christmastide house party. And it goes without saying, but I’ll say it: feel free to offer me honest reviews on any of these at Amazon, Goodreads or on my blog. Writers need and want to hear from readers!]
“The good end happily, and the bad end unhappily, that is what fiction means,” right? You know, the reason I cannot watch It’s a Wonderful Life, even though I love the movie, is because it bothers me so much that the evil banker gets away with stealing $8,000 from George Bailey, and nearly ruins (and kills him, since George was going to commit suicide over it) him. But people rarely get what they deserve in life, in my cynical observation of it, and Jane Austen was writing about life. Some of her ‘bad’ characters got punished (Mrs. Norris and Maria Bertram plagued each other intensely, I am sure), but these were not Gothic novels. Nobody is going to get any extreme consequences, no matter what they do. Nor do they get any extreme rewards for goodness, either – Lizzy marries Mr. Darcy, and he is a pretty big prize, but he is not a prince, and they do not go on to rule England, or even Derbyshire, together. They just live happily ever after. Not to mention that I think people tend to exaggerate when they think of what *should* happen to someone like Caroline. Jane Austen sentenced her to mortification, which for Caroline was probably pretty awful. She does not really need worse punishment than that, and anything worse would make the book less realistic than it is. Same with the other ‘bad’ characters (Okay, I don’t like Mr. Collins, but I don’t think he is a bad character who needs to be punished for his crime of being a pompous jerk. More worrying is that Charlotte is punished, but that is a whole different argument). I am of two minds, Miss Quinn, as to whether you punished Caroline or not. 😉
As I already have copies of your first two books, if I win one I want the Fitzwilliam Legacy, which it has not been in my budget to buy until the end of this month, so I will wait to see if I win it.
Wow, thanks for your opinion, S ! I appreciate your “explaining yourself so fully” – and I agree with many of your points. (The one where I most differ actually involves Charlotte. I don’t see her as being so benign as most people do, and think she got exactly what she deserved with Collins… but that’s a whole other discussion, LOL)
Good luck with the draw!
I think Jane Austen tries to give a balanced view of real life – some people may be ‘bad’ and get what they deserve, or from our own point of view we may be totally astonished that someone who should get their ‘comeuppance’ never will and get everything they don’t deserve.
I have only just come across your blog for the first time today so I haven’t read any of your books yet. Maybe Caroline’s not getting Darcy was her comeuppance – will have to read the book
meikleblog at gmail dot com
vesper1931, I am very glad you found my blog today! Thanks for joining in. I hope you will come back again, or follow it for future posts. (Actually, I haven’t been consistently active on it yet either. I am finding that this whole writing and marketing thing is hard to balance in terms of time with a full-time non-writing job that pays the mortgage! But I’m planning on changing that…)
I hope some day you will enjoy CC… or my other books.
By the way, good point that not getting Darcy may well have been her comeuppance! After all, even if she later ended up with someone else (not saying one way or the other, LOL) – that had to sting, losing her to someone she found inferior!
oops, sorry… that should have been “losing him” in the next-to-last line
When I read a review, I try to remember that it is an opinion. Sometimes it is just a preference of like or dislike and not a true reflection of the book itself. I can see how some people might think that Caroline does not deserve any kind of happy ending. Others will disagree. I personally like the idea of her life altering enough that she deserves a happy ending. I look forward to reading your variation. Thank you for the giveaway! I would love to win Legacy or Caroline. cherringtonmb at sbcglobal dot net
Absolutely, BeckyC – re reviews being opinions. I hope I always read them that way, and take something useful from each whether it is in agreement with or dissenting from my own. I just appreciate when people take the time to offer them with constructive comments. I don’t know about whether Caroline’s life altered enough to “deserve” a happy ending — but perhaps if you win the drawing for an ebook, you’ll find out soon enough! 😉 Thanks for participating in the discussion!
I think Jane Austen saw the reality that no matter how absurd a person may be it does not mean that only bad things will befall them. Hope to win.
Thanks, schilds! So far, it appears commenters agree in principle. What we think deserved for a comeuppance may not always be in the cards, LOL. Good luck in the drawing —
In my opinion, Caroline did deserve to be taught a lesson for meddling into her brother’s affair with Jane Bennet. But as she got off lightly on this, there may be something in store for her in future as the saying goes, “what goes around comes around”. Speaking of which, her behaviour (though not pure evil) also reflect society then and now. Not all bad deed goes unpunished and not every good things we do will be rewarded.
Thanks for the giveaway, Tess. I would love to get Caroline’s Comeuppance as it is your only book which I don’t have.
That is certainly what I have found in my life, Luthien84 – that not all bad deeds go unpunished and good things aren’t necessarily rewarded. And who knows but what, to an outsider, looks like a reward or punishment, may in fact be the opposite to the person experiencing it, LOL. Good luck in the drawing – if you win I’ll be happy to send you the ebook of CC. Thanks so much for supporting my books and my blog with your opinions –
I think that on the whole Austen wasn’t so much kind to her characters as realistic. I think in those times you’d have to tolerate others so much more than we have to today. For example, Mr Bennet tolerating the society in Meryton by laughing at them. How many of Austen’s characters actually get their just desserts? The only ones that spring to mind for me are Mrs Norris and Maria Rushworth from Mansfield Park.
Also, the more you read Austen-inspired works the more negative you find yourself feeling towards certain characters. If you look at Caroline, for example, she’s a bit of a snob, she tries to put Darcy off Elizabeth because she’s after him for herself and she separates her brother from Jane – she may believe Jane doesn’t have feelings for Bingley, or she may just have felt it was a marriage that wouldn’t help the family in their social climbing, I’m not sure. None of this is likeable, but it’s not evil either, and in Pride and Prejudice she sucks up to the woman who beat her in securing Mr Darcy’s hand so she makes some recompense for her behaviour.
Thanks for the giveaway opportunity! I’m at frawli1978(at)gmail(dot)com
Ceri, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here! I agree that Jane Austen wrote the kinds of endings for her characters that she observed all around her – and I also agree on Caroline Bingley’s character. As much as I dislike her, I also recognize that she was a woman of her day and hardly unusual, nor would she have been censured by most of society for employing her arts as she did. Scheming yes, in a way that was pretty much sanctioned by society I might add… but evil, no.
Good luck with the giveaway — looks like you’ve a great chance at this point, LOL!
I agree with the five star reviewer. An unhappy ending where Caroline got what we modern readers feel she deserves would not be in keeping with Austen or reality. And you did put her through some things she absolutely hated, things that knocked her down a peg, all of which this reader thoroughly enjoyed. That’s comeuppance enough for me.
Thank you, Kate! That was how I felt but we all have our ideas of what a comeuppance is, I know — I enjoyed putting Caroline through a few of them in writing this story, but even I couldn’t see her ending up like Maria Bertram or some other such thing. (And I’d like to think that the guy Caroline ends up with will be enough of a match for her to keep providing small comeuppances for life, LOL)