My letter to Mrs. Bennet broadcast on national radio
It’s important to acknowledge successes as well as failures in writing. (There are enough of the latter, after all.) So I’m very happy to report that an extract from a piece of mine was broadcast last Saturday on ‘The Book Show’ on RTÉ radio, Ireland’s national broadcaster.
Over the past few months, The Book Show ran a contest in which they invited listeners to write a letter to a character from a novel. Ireland’s Fiction Laureate, Anne Enright, picked a winner from the shortlist.
The entry that I submitted was a letter to Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. The show’s producer tells me that they received a huge number of letters to Pride and Prejudice characters so I am extra-pleased that mine was selected for reading. (See the end of this post to read my entry in full.)
A special episode of The Book Show was recorded in front of a live audience in Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre on October 21st, and the recording was aired on October 28th. At this event – at which presenter Sinéad Gleeson also chatted to Anne Enright and fellow authors Lisa McInerney and Paul Howard – the shortlisted and winning entries were read by professional actors Derbhle Crotty and Dermot Magennis.
The winning letter was written by Aoife Kavanagh, who wrote a letter to Holden Caulfield from JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Congratulations to her!
You can listen to the show here. My piece begins at 0:23:20 and the winning entry begins at 0:49:34 – but I urge you to listen to the whole show, there is some great work and super-interesting writerly discussion in there.
Lastly, here’s my written piece in full. Hope you enjoy it.
A letter to Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Dear Mrs Bennet
I see you standing at the breakfast room window. Your hand shades your eyes against the morning sunlight. A group of young women with cloaks billowing walk down the drive on their way into Meryton town. Their laughter reaches you across the crisp Hertfordshire air. Wrought-iron gates creak and your daughters disappear down the stony road.
Mrs Bennet, your husband’s surname is the only name we know you by.
You were once a slender-waisted Miss Gardiner, daughter of the town’s lawyer and celebrated beauty. You fell in love with a soldier. In your mind’s eye, you still see his red coat and brass buttons.
The redcoat left for the Napoleonic wars and you found love again. Mr Bennet was handsome, with a country estate could be inherited by sons only. Your mother’s satisfied nod on your engagement day assured you that those sons would come.
What your mother’s look did not say was that they might not stay.
The first pains came after a few months of marriage. You lay on your side in your bed, knees drawn up with cramps. Your maidservant, a girl of seventeen, wrung her hands in the doorway. You screamed and she ran for the housekeeper. Later, the maid carried away bundled-up sheets, the fabric pale against your scarlet blood.
It happened again, and again. You started to recognise the stabs in your abdomen. You had the housekeeper arrange a bedroom in the farthest corner of the house. More scarlet sheets.
When you reappeared downstairs after these absences, you could not bear the pain in your husband’s face. You began avoiding each other’s eye.
You grew nervous, agitated. What had they looked like, those ghost babies? Desperate, you bullied your maidservant into revealing that the sheets – too badly stained to wash – and what they contained were taken to a corner of the farm’s remotest field and burned. Thoughts crossed your mind of sneaking down there. But what would you look for?
You taught yourself not to think about the corner of the field.
The living children you finally bore brought you both joy, even though they were girls. In one way, the curse seemed to be broken. The wet-nurse looked askance as you took the babies from her, wanting to feed them yourself. You came to life again.
But you learned to dread the look on the midwife’s face. You would let your head fall back onto the pillows, willing her to say the word that would secure your family’s future prosperity. It never came.
By silent, mutual agreement, your husband stopped visiting your bedroom. Every night you passed by the dark panelled oak of his door, dulled with the passing of time. You hated the sound of the sharp click as it closed behind him.
I see you, Mrs Bennet. I wish I knew your first name.