I am so glad to present you the latest book by Mark Brownlow: Port & Proposals. Why I am so glad? Because I really like Mr. Bennet and I cannot wait to read the sequel to Cake & Courtship. I am actually finishing this book and I can tell you that Mr. Bennet shows a lot about himself and how he cares about the people around him, even if he would prefer to just read and study his butterflies.
All Mr Bennet wants to do is read books, eat cake, and study butterflies. But life has other plans for him in this Regency tale of love, regret, and second chances.
Family troubles and a promise to his middle daughter, Mary, force our father of five out of his library to deal with reticent bachelors, stubborn curates, and glib officers. Though his greatest challenge may be to face up to a past he cannot seem to forget.
Mark Brownlow presents a Pride and Prejudice variation full of Mr Bennet’s wit and wisdom that plays out against the backdrop of Vols II and III of Jane Austen’s famous novel.
What do you think? Mark is not giving a lot away but we can see that Mr. Bennet and Mary as key in this story. I am really looking forward to reading more about Mr. Bennet’s thoughts and deeds.
I am pleased to (re)introduce you to the author, Mark Brownlow:
Mark Brownlow is a British-born writer living in Vienna, Austria. He has published three Regency tales narrated by Mr Bennet: the novels Cake and Courtship and Port and Proposals, as well as a short story (A Third Proposal). He has also authored two novellas in the Charlotte Collins Mysteries series: The Lovesick Maid and The Darcy Ring take place in Jane Austen’s fictional village of Hunsford. You can find Mark at LostOpinions.com.
Science degrees from the Universities of Oxford, Aberdeen and Reading prefaced a short-lived career as a research academic. Since turning from facts to fiction, Mark has also worked as a translator, marketing consultant, business writer, and copywriter. None of which kept his soul happy in the way that creative writing does. When not writing, he works as a travel journalist and part-time lecturer in medical and scientific English at a local university.
If there is no pen to hand, he can be found discussing football with his sons or sharing a glass of wine with his wife in front of a costume drama.
Why not following him and discovering what else he writes?
Due to the current situation, I was not able to have a chat face-to-face with Mark to talk about his latest book. However, I really hope you like this interview and the excerpt that he is sharing with us!
Ana: Hi Mark!
Mark: Hello, Ana! It’s lovely to visit again and thank you for having me!
Ana: Tell us a little about your new book, Port and Proposals.
Mark: The novel gives Mr Bennet’s unique perspective on events across the last two volumes of Pride and Prejudice. But rather than just observe those around him from the comfort of his library, he finds himself drawn out into the wider world and confronted by individuals and situations that cause him to reflect on his own life and character.
He also makes a promise to Mary. Unfortunately (for Mr Bennet), this obliges him to dabble in the mysteries of relationships when she begins a friendship with a local curate.
So we can consider it Mr Bennet’s story and Mary’s story, all against the backdrop of the second half of Pride and Prejudice.
Ana: Why choose Mary as a main character?
Mark: When people are perhaps not the best versions of themselves that they could be, I often wonder why. One of the reasons for writing about Mr Bennet was exploring where his cynicism and sardonic humour come from.
Mary sort of sits in no man’s land between the beauty and intelligence of her older sisters and the general silliness and confidence of her younger ones. So Port and Proposals scratches beneath the surface and gives her a chance to step out of the shadows a little. Mr Bennet starts to see her differently, and the reader perhaps with him.
I’ve noticed a growing number of books that explore Mary’s story, so perhaps we’re all curious about what lies behind the morals and poor singing.
Ana: When you last visited, Mark, you spoke about the enduring popularity of the Darcy/Elizabeth story in Austen-inspired variations. So will we see more of these two in Port and Proposals?
Mark: More than in Cake and Courtship, for sure! We see Elizabeth’s letters from Hunsford, for example. And her relationship with her father is an important element in the story. As for Mr Darcy, well, the timeline mirrors Pride and Prejudice, so you can imagine where he appears.
Ana: Do any of the new characters from Cake and Courtship make a reappearance?
Mark: I wrote Port and Proposals so people would not need to read Cake and Courtship. But Mr Bennet’s friends from the Meryton Natural History Society are there for him. And Mrs Hayter, who Mr Bennet knows from his younger days (and that’s all I’m prepared to say about that!)
Ana: Were there any challenges with delving into Mr Bennet’s mind again?
Mark: Definitely. We have the lighthearted world of Mr Bennet’s humour and somewhat cynical view of life. Yet, as your readers will know, the Wickham-Lydia incident occurs in the time covered by the novel. So there’s a balance in mood to be found. Which was made doubly hard by writing in 2020, which was not exactly conducive to optimistic, free-flowing joyous creativity, shall we say?
So for all the witticisms and Mr Bennet’s wry comments on people and society, the novel inevitably has a slightly harder edge in parts. Even Mr Bennet must take things seriously some of the time.
Ana: Do you think 2020 has encouraged more people to escape into Austen-inspired worlds?
Mark: I recently read The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner and a quote stuck in my mind. One character describes Jane Austen’s books so:
“A world so a part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic.”
We have all needed a tonic this year. Having said that, focusing has been difficult. I know I haven’t read as much as I wanted to.
Ana: Will there be a third novel with Mr Bennet?
Mark: Port and Proposals brings its various stories to an end alongside the ending of the Pride and Prejudice timeline. But I’d like to see what becomes of Mr Bennet after Lizzy and Jane marry.
Jane Austen wrote that he “…missed his second daughter exceedingly; his affection for her drew him oftener from home than anything else could do. He delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected.” Which leaves plenty of room for a story. And perhaps with more Darcy!
Ana: Thanks, Mark!
Mark: Thank you again for having me, Ana, and compliments of the season to you and all your readers.
In this excerpt, Mr Spigott (the curate) calls at Longbourn. Mrs Bennet’s mind is already making plans for the young bachelor:
“Arise all, arise,” I shouted on entering the house. “We expect a visitor imminently.”
The noises began quickly, reaching their peak in slammed doors and the clatter of eager feet on wooden floors. Lydia found me first, no doubt propelled by curiosity and a wish for first claim on any gentleman who might cross our threshold.
“A visitor, Papa? How exciting. Is it a gentleman? Where is he?” My youngest stopped before the hall mirror, smoothed down her front, then pinched cheeks already flushed by her rapid descent of the stairs.
“It is a gentleman,” I said. “And he is on foot right behind me.”
Lydia rushed to a window, head craning like a heron seeking a plump fish.
“A visitor!” Mrs Bennet approached from the kitchen waving what looked like a piece of pie. “Who is it? Why was I not informed earlier? Husband?”
“Calm yourself, my dear. It is only Mr Spigott come on some religious undertaking.”
“Mr Spigott?” Lydia turned away from the window to frown at me. “How very disappointing.”
“A visitor!” Kitty skipped down the stairs, all the while twisting some ornament into place in her hair.
“It is Mr Spigott.” Lydia spoke as if announcing a harmless, but embarrassing, skin condition.
“Oh,” said Kitty. She turned back upstairs, closely followed by her sister.
“Poor Mr Spigott,” I said. “It appears he lacks the approval of our two youngest daughters. Though I might count that in his favour. Will you welcome our guest, my dear? He should be here in a moment, and I would retire to my study; I have endured enough conversation for one day.”
As I moved to go, my wife placed her free hand on my arm. “Perhaps he has come to visit Mary?”
“So he said, yes. We spoke at the turning. He has pamphlets.”
“Pamphlets?” Mrs Bennet nodded as if the word had a deeper meaning. “Yes, I was certain he smiled at Mary only last week in church.”
“A smile? How very bacchanalian. And in a house of God, too.”
“It is a sign.” My wife pronounced the last word with a distinct capital S.
“You do not think he was merely happy?”
“What has Mr Spigott got to be happy about? No, he was making his affections clear.”
“And did she return the smile?”
“Of course not.” Mrs Bennet scowled at me. “It would not be proper.”
“It would not be Mary,” I said with some conviction.
“He is only a curate, but, well, beggars cannot be choosers.” Mrs Bennet looked about her before lowering her voice. “As you know, Mr Bennet, all my daughters are my favourites. Yet Mary is my least favourite. We will not easily be rid of her.”
“Rid of her?”
“Oh, you know very well what I mean.” My wife shook my arm with vigour. “Mr Spigott may be her only opportunity. If we cannot find a husband for Jane with all her beauty, what chance do we have with Mary? I never imagined we would find someone willing to court her. We should put him at ease and welcome him to our home.”
“And does Mary have any say in all this?”
A half-hearted knock put an end to our whispered discussion.
Mrs Bennet waved the pie again, which showed great fortitude in refusing to disintegrate. She bid me open my mouth, shoved the food inside, then licked her fingers before opening the door.
“Mr Spigott!” My wife looked the curate up and down like a horse trader viewing a lot at the cheaper end of the auction. “You are most welcome. Do come in. We all so look forward to reading your pamphlets.”
“You do, Mrs Bennet?” The curate removed his hat, stooping as he entered. He put me in mind of a young stork: tall, somewhat spindly, and still a little surprised at the world around him.
“I shall be at my desk,” I mumbled through pastry, nodding my own welcome to our visitor as I left them.
Let’s face it, Mrs. Bennet would rarely be any different when it comes to marrying her daughters off, don’t you think? More or less like Lydia’s behaviour? Kitty is perhaps a bit more retrained, at least in this excerpt but you never know.
I highly recommend you to check the other stops on this tour. It may be a short one but you can learn a lot!
- December 7th: Babblings of a Bookworm
- December 8th: My Vices and Weaknesses
- December 9th: Diary of an Eccentric
- December 11th: Probably at the Library
- December 14th: Austenesque Reviews
Mark Brownlow is giving away one ebook copy of Port and Proposals to one of the readers who comment on this post. I would love if you can ask something you are interested on to Mark. Good luck!