Today I am sharing a previous blog I wrote for This Book For Free. This one is very special to me, not only due to my delight in talking about the Darcys, but because this subject is one very dear to my heart. Shoshana must have agreed since she has invited me back on January 12!
One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting my grandparents in Lake Isabella, CA. My grandfather held a nightly ritual of sitting in his lawn chair and gazing up at the stars. Sitting beside him as we stared into the vast, glittering expanse, waiting for one to fall so we could make a wish while attempting to trace patterns and images is one of my fondest memories. Grandpa Baker knew nothing of astronomy and I never did take up the study in later years, but we loved gazing. I still do.
Writers frequently incorporate our passions, memories, and life experiences into our writing. Part of the fun for me is taking these characters birthed by Jane Austen and giving them a deeper personality and history. In Lizzy and Darcy I instilled a common interest in stargazing. Naturally there is the clichéd romantic element of handholding lovers lying under the nighttime sky. However, I honestly didn’t approach it from that angle. I remembered how pacifying it was to sit in the still darkness with someone I loved, listening to the sounds of crickets, feeling the cool breezes, and trying in vain to recognize more than the Big Dipper. Those comforting, relaxing, and fun nights came alive in my story without me initially realizing where it came from.
Can you even imagine how amazing it must have been to walk under a canopy of heavenly bodies in an age before the air was clogged with haze? When the only sounds would have been natural ones undisturbed by machines clamoring? Picturing Darcy and Lizzy walking along the spacious lawns of an English country estate was too vivid an image of tranquility and romance to pass up!
But I then wanted to take it a step further, and that is where research came in. Staring into the sky above and counting stars is as old as Adam and Eve. I knew that since before Galileo there were scientists mapping the planets and stars. What I was not so sure about was when functional telescopes and star-charts first appeared. I wanted Darcy to be more than just a casual observer. Could he have a telescope at Pemberley? Could he have studied astronomy at Cambridge? Would he know the constellations and planets?
Thankfully the answer to both is yes!
Telescope invention is traced to the Dutch as early as 1608 using optics created by the Egyptians 400 years earlier. Galileo later expanded and perfected the device. Isaac Newton made more improvements some decades later, and then William Herschel offered the largest leaps in technology in the late 1700s. While it is true that bigger is better in terms of seeing farther away, smaller telescopes were quite the norm. Having a reasonable sized telescope standing on a balcony, as I do in my novel, is perfectly plausible.
The connections between astronomy (and all the sciences) and Cambridge University are too numerous to name. Many of the great scientists and astronomers through the decades, including Newton, either studied or taught at Cambridge. Often both. Mr. Darcy, a graduate of Cambridge and man deeply interested in new inventions and science, (as I have written him) would definitely have taken a class or two.
So there I had the facts to back my idea! I created a Darcy who happily discovers his new wife also enjoys stargazing, even if it annoys him that she (like me) can’t figure out the patterns. Scenes burst forth with intimate conversations, romance, and humorous happenings occurring. My childhood fondness came alive in this small but significant way, thus I can glance upward into the heavens and thank my grandpa for giving me a love that manifested in my books.
Perhaps this history lesson and tidbit from my life has intrigued you enough to pick up “Loving Mr. Darcy: Journeys Beyond Pemberley” when it is released on Sept. 1. Or “Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One” that is already available. But for now, tell me of a favorite stargazing experience! Perhaps on the beach in some tropical locale? Or on a mountaintop where the stars are so close you can almost touch them? Or just in your backyard. I would love to hear your memories.