Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict
Read Laurie Viera Rigler's posts on the Penguin Blog.
The time-bending parallel tale to the national bestseller Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
In Laurie Viera Rigler's first novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, twentyfirst-century Austen fan Courtney Stone found herself in Regency England occupying the body of one Jane Mansfield- with comic and romantic consequences. Now, in Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, Jane Mansfield awakens in the urban madness of twenty-first-century L.A.-in Courtney's body. With no knowledge of Courtney's life, let alone her world-with its horseless carriages and shiny glass box in which tiny figures act out her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice-Jane is over her head. Especially when she falls for a handsome young gentleman. Can a girl from Regency England make sense of a world in which kissing and flirting and even the sexual act raise no matrimonial expectations?
A piercing sound, like a ship's horn but higher, shriller, shakes my frame. I open one eye, then the other; the lids seem stuck together. From a gap in the curtains a tiny, knife-thin strip of light slices the darkness.
I clap my hands over my ears, but the sound is relentless. As is the pain. It feels as if an entire regiment of soldiers marches behind my eyes.
"Barnes?" My voice is a faint croak, too weak for Barnes to hear. No matter; she will of course be roused by the high-pitched horn. Only a corpse could sleep through such a cacophony.
Why hasn't Barnes put a stop to that blasted noise? I fumble for the bell pull behind me, but my hand feels only bare wall. Odd. I shall have to get out of bed and find Barnes myself.
I swing my legs over the side of the bed; they hit the floor instead of dangling a few inches above it. Could a headache make one's bed seem lower than it is? The worst of my headaches have been heralded by broken rainbows of light before my eyes, but never have I experienced such a lowering sensation. Lowering indeed. I can almost laugh at my facility with words this morning, despite the sorry state of my head. And my ears. How harsh and insistent is that sound.
My feet touch bare wood floor instead of the woven rug in its customary place. And my bed shoes? Not there. I fumble in the dark and crash my right hip into a great lump of wood; blast it all toI clench my teeth in an effort not to scream. This is enough punishment to put even the punster in me to rest. Barnes must be rearranging furniture again. Except
There are numbers, glowing red, on top of the offending lump of wood. 8 0 8. What is this wondrous thing? The numbers are in some sort of a box, the front of it smooth and cold beneath my fingertips; the top of it scored and bumpy. I run my fingers over the bumps, and the shrill sound stops. Oh, thank heaven.
Blessed silence. I move toward the thin strip of light to open the curtains wide; surely the sun's rays shall reveal the source of this odd geographic puzzle that has become my room. But instead of the thick velvet nap of the curtains that have hung on my windows these five years at least, my hands grasp what feels like coarse burlap. Perhaps Barnes slipped in early and exchanged them so that she could beat the dust from the velvet ones. First the rearrangement of furniture, then this. I have never known her to engage in such haphazard housekeeping.
I grasp the edges of the burlap curtainswhy are my hands shaking? I pull them open.
There are iron bars on my window.
I hear myself gasp. This is not, cannot, be my window. Indeed, as I wheel around to take in the space behind me, I see that this is not my room. Head pounding, I survey the tall, unornamented chest of drawers; the wide, low bed devoid of hangings; the box with the glowing numbers atop the chest. There is no pink marble fireplace, no armoire, no dressing table. There is, however, a low table bearing a large, rectangular box made mostly of glass and a shiny-smooth, gray material that I have never seen before.
My knees shake, almost buckling under me. I must move to the bed; just a minute of sitting down will be a restorative.
I sink down atop a tangle of bedclothes, and the glass box roars to life.
I jump back, clutching the covers. There are small figures talking and dancing inside the glass box. Who are they? Is this some sort of window? The figures are small, so they must be some distance away. Yet I can distinguish their words and their features as clearly as if they were right in the room with me. How can this be?
"I remember hearing you once say," says the beautiful lady in the window to the gentleman dancing with her, "that you hardly ever forgave. That your resentment, once created, was implacable. You are very careful, are you not, in allowing your resentment to be created?"
The gentleman dancing with her says, "I am."
"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?" asks the lady.
"I hope not," says the gentleman. May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"Merely to the illustration of your character," says she. "I'm trying to make it out."
I know these wordsI have read them! It is the Netherfield Ball from my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice, and the gentleman and lady are Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. To think that Elizabeth and Darcy are real people, and that I am watching them, right now, through a window! This is something I cannot explain, nor can I make sense of the fact that they are apparently far away yet completely distinguishable.
I shall call out to the lady and see if she can solve the mystery. "I beg your pardon, Miss Bennet. We have not been introduced, but I seem to be your neighbor, and I am lost. Can you hear me?"
But the brightly lit figures in the window make no sign of having heard me, though I continue to hear their conversation as clearly as if they were right here in the room with me.
I reach out my hand to the glass box and touch its hard, shiny surface. I tap on the glass to see if I can get the attention of the figures inside; no luck. I move my face closer to the glass to see if I can get a better look, but indeed the figures look flatter and less real somehow the closer I am to the window. How very curious.
But that is not the worst of it. Odder still is the sound of my own voice, which is, as a matter of fact, not my voice at all.
"Hello? Miss Bennet?" I say, marveling at the tone and accent of what issues from my own mouth, and not at this point expecting Miss Bennet to hear me. The voice is not my own, the accent having hints of something almost of Bristol and perhaps a bit like Captain Stevens sounded when he was imitating people who lived in the Americas. How incensed my mother would be if she could hear me speak like a barbaric American. Delightful thought.
I glance around the strange room again, and at the glass window with the people from Pride and Prejudice conversing with one another as if I were not here trying to get their attention, and all at once I understand: Of course. I am having a dream. Nothing like the other dreams I have had in which I also knew I was dreaming, but a dream nevertheless. What a relief to know that I do not have to ascertain where I am or find my way back to my own room; all I have to do is wake up.
In the meantime, I shall divert myself by finding out if Barnes is here, and, if so, where; surely she would delight as much as I in the wondrous sight and sound of Lizzy and Darcy dancing in the glass rectangle.
I shall put on my dressing gown and explore. Where might the gowns be kept? I open a door, revealing at least two yards of hanging garments, none of which look like my own clothes. I pull out a long, filmy, sashed thing; it might do. If only there were a looking-glass.
Ah, there it is; on the other side of the door to this vast repository of garments. I pull open the door and see a petite, pale-haired young woman in the glass. She and I gasp in unison. I wheel around, for the woman must be behind me, but there is only the empty room. Except for Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy, that is.
I turn back to the mirror and the truth literally stares me in the face: I am looking at my own reflection.
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