No matter how much I outline and plan, I tend to be a chronic over-writer, adding in way more material than I actually need for the final story. It always stings a little to have to kill one of your darlings, but for the sake of the cohesiveness of the story overall, I felt this scene was better off out of the book. BUT you can still read it here as a fun extra. :)
A little background on this scene — there has been a scandal at the school involving quite a few of our main characters, so Reverend Thomas Bertram is brought in to “set the students back on the right path.” Reverend Thomas won’t play much of a role until Book 3, which is why I ultimately cut the scene from The Portraits of Pemberley, but I had a lot of fun writing this anyway. Hope you enjoy!
Inside the bustling AU stadium, Lizzy joined Nora, Tilney, and Caty as they found an empty row of seats and slunk down, folding her arms in non-verbal protest. After the incident with the Portraits of Pemberley site, the administration had put together an impromptu assembly to “scare the students straight.” Although such a thing couldn’t technically be mandatory on a school-wide scale, many instructors — such as Professor Elias — were requiring attendance at the event in lieu of class for the day. So not only would Lizzy be forced to sit through this sham, but she’d also have to write a lengthy journal post afterward about what was sure to be a real shitshow of an assembly.
The only member of their group who seemed even remotely excited about the event was Caty, who had urged them to get as close to the stage as possible. “I heard a rumor they got Reverend Thomas to come in.” At her friends’ blank stares, Caty elaborated, “Thomas Bertram, father of Marla Bertram, author of the diary that Mrs. Norris burned?”
Lizzy just shook her head at her friend’s over-eagerness. As much as Caty might have claimed to put the Marla Bertram stuff behind her, she was clearly still obsessed with the mystery. “I’m glad one of us is going to get something out of this — though I hate to point out, I doubt he’s going to tell us anything about Marla.”
“I know, but it’s still a connection to my first great unsolved mystery at Austen University.”
“Isn’t he known for being some super-evangelical Christian who hates women and the LGBT community?” Tilney asked.
Caty grimaced. “That part is, admittedly, less exciting.”
Lizzy slumped down in her own chair. She had a terrible feeling that this was going to be one of the worst hours of her life thus far, and that included a root canal and her sister Mary’s Madrigal choir ensemble performance. It wasn’t that she was personally opposed to religion — she’d always gone to church growing up back in Colorado, if not zealously than at least regularly — but in her experience, the South had a way of using Christianity as a weapon. Reverend Thomas’s reputation, as well as his apparent connections to President de Bourgh, did little to indicate that he might bring a nuanced, sensitive approach to the discussion.
This assessment proved to be correct as soon as Reverend Thomas took the stage. His baleful eyes glared out from behind his glasses, amplified to larger-than-life proportions on the screens on either side of him so those in the upper stands of the stadium could see his expression. “Sin,” he seethed, “is an insidious disease. Once it has permeated our flesh, it will infect every last cell in our body in an attempt to destroy us.”
This auspicious beginning was followed with gems such as comparing sin to a cake: “If you knew that a piece of excrement had been baked into the cake, you wouldn’t try to eat around it. You would throw the whole cake out!”
Followed by a caution to purge sin from all of their reading, viewing, and listening materials, with his particular recommendation of bonfires for tangible materials: “We must purge the sin through fire or be doomed to hellfire ourselves!”
But by far, the worst part of Reverend Thomas’s sermon was when he turned his focus to the victims of the Portraits of Pemberley site: “It is a terrible thing for a woman to be exposed to the world in such a way. Our bodies are sacred and should be kept private, only to be shared with one’s spouse in the bonds of marriage.
“The people behind such a site must certainly be held accountable. But we must also ask ourselves, what can the women of this campus do to become the moral leaders and set the tone for what this university should be? When women dress provocatively and send compromising photographs of themselves, they turn themselves into sexual objects, and objects are not treasured as the holy vessels of wifehood and motherhood. If a woman is modest — in dress, word, and action — she allows men to see her as a being of grace and integrity. Then, and only then, if someone attempts to devalue her by turning her into a sexualized figure can she be held completely blameless — but I think you will find that most men will recognize her chastity and integrity and treat her accordingly.”
Long after Reverend Thomas had left the stage and the crowds moved as slowly as herds of cattle dispersing the building, Lizzy, Nora, Tilney, and Caty sat in numb, silent shock at what they had just witnessed.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Caty said at last, breaking the silence.
Tilney gave a visible shudder. “I kind of hate myself for being a man right now and being in any way associated with that. I’d like to remove myself from the club, if possible.”
“I’d rather remove him from the club, and anyone else who thinks like him,” Nora spoke up, surprising them all. She wasn’t nearly as vocal as Marianne about any of her beliefs, but it was almost as if Nora felt the need to speak up since Marianne wasn’t there to do it.
Lizzy realized it was her turn to speak, and she took in a steadying breath. There were a lot of ideas circulating in her mind of how to confront this nightmare of an assembly — opinion articles in Juvenilia, a petition to prevent Reverend Thomas from ever speaking at a university event again, and many others. But those felt like long-term plans. Right now she needed a quick and immediate short-term solution.
“Ice cream,” she said finally. “I need ice cream.”
Just where is Marianne? And what was on the Portraits of Pemberley website? Check out the rest of the novel to find out!
Elizabeth Gilliland is a writer, Dr., wife, mom, and lifelong Jane Austen fan. She is a playwright (whose plays have appeared off-off Broadway), a screenwriter (with a master’s in screenwriting and production), an academic (with a PhD and a dissertation on Jane Austen adaptations), and now a published author! When she isn’t writing or grading papers, she is most likely reading a good book, binge watching the latest hit, working on a puzzle, or hanging with her cute kid.
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