Recently I had the pleasure of taking a road trip with one of my daughters and we wiled away the miles by reading The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. What a great read! And, because his style is so distinct, I came up with the idea to do a writing exercise of one of my favorite books (well, one chapter of one) in the style of Raymond Chandler. As my daughter noted – not an easy thing to do! Especially not easy when the work you decide to write in his style happens to be 3rd person & Chandler writes in 1st person. However, not wanting to be deterred… here is the 1st chapter (more or less) of Pride & Prejudice rewritten/re-imagined in the style of Raymond Chandler.
“It’s common knowledge, or so they say, that a single guy with a few thousand wants a wife. Doesn’t matter what the guy thinks, he’s fair game, and that’s just the way it plays.
I’d been summoned to Longbourn by Mr. Bennet. I arrived early and was hustled into the parlor by an obviously overworked maid who instructed me to “Go on in to the master when Mrs. Bennet takes her leave. He’s expecting you.”
I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. And, I couldn’t help pitying him having the first-hand experience.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
A sorry huff of breath preceded Mr. Bennet’s reply in the negative.
“But it is,” she said, “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Bennet’s silence said it all.
”Do not you want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
”You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
I felt sorry for the man, but he’d given her invitation enough to go on.
”Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
Bennet made the same mistake again, asking, “What is his name?”
You’d think with five daughters in hand, the man would have been through this enough to know when to keep quiet. To my surprise, he continued with the questions. “Is he married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
It was the next exchange where I first detected a hint of mockery in Bennet’s voice. Maybe he wasn’t as clueless as he was letting on.
”How so? how can it affect them?” he asked.
”My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
Bennet tiresome? Ha! I was already taking bets with myself on Mrs. Bennet’s physical appearance. I’d heard her kind often enough.
“Is that his design in settling here?”Mr. Bennet went on.
“Design! nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
I’d heard of these Bennet girls, but hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing them myself – yet. That was about to change. The door behind me creaked open and a girl, maybe fifteen, skipped in ripping ribbons off a bonnet.
“Oh!” She stopped short when she saw me. Her fingers dropped the bonnet and began twisting a lock of her hair. Instead of the usual curtsey and quick retreat, which would’ve been proper conduct for a young lady who obviously wasn’t out yet, she fixed her bright, foxish eyes on me and said, “Who are you?”
I rose, bending slightly at the waist, a bow several times more decorous than the girl’s manner. “Philip Marlowe at your service. Miss Bennet.”
“I’m Lydia,” she said. “Number five. The youngest. Are you the new tenant at Netherfield? My mother says–”
She was interrupted by a voice, “Lydia. Who are you talking too?” Another girl entered the room. This one was dark, whereas Lydia was fair. But, the new sister – it had to be one of the five – was prettier than her younger sibling. Much prettier. She locked eyes with me. Fine, soft brown eyes, the kind that can turn a guy to mush if he’s not careful. I hoped I was being careful.
“Mr. Marlowe.” I bowed much deeper. “Miss Bennet.”
She curtsied. “Excuse us, Mr. Marlowe.” Her slender fingers wrapped around her sister’s wrist. “Lydia,” she whispered. “Come with me. Now.” They exited the room with Lydia doing her best to extricate herself from her sister’s grasp.
I was deep in thought about the two sisters when Mrs. Bennet charged out of the library, patting her ample bosom with a handkerchief, wailing, “My nerves. My nerves. Hill!” Upon spying me, she narrowed her eyes, but continued to call for the servant. ”Hill! Where are you?” The kerchief fluttered from bosom to forehead and back. “He has not one bit of compassion for my nerves.” She inclined her head toward the library. “All these years… no compassion at all. My poor nerves.”
A woman like Mrs. Bennet could twist a man’s head if he paid her any mind. However, I doubted any man, including her husband did.
Mr. Bennet appeared the doorway. “Nonsense, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.” It was then he noticed me. “Mr. Marlowe?”
“The very same, sir.” I removed my hat.
“Excuse us, my dear.” He motioned me to join him.
“Mrs. Bennet.” I bowed to her, crossed the hallway, and gratefully followed Mr. Bennet into his library. He closed the door tight behind us.
The room gave every indication that it was Mr. Bennet’s sanctuary. His chair, pulled close to the hearth, was surrounded by piles of books. The general disarray of the desk and the dusty ledgers carelessly tossed aside led me to surmise that Bennet was more interested in improving his mind than improving his lot in life.
I’d done some prior investigating of Mr. Bennet and suspected that the entail on Longbourn might have something to do with him summoning me for a meeting. He cleared his throat and started to speak when there was a gentle knock at the door.
“Father?” The second Miss Bennet peeked her head into the room. The minute she saw me, she said, “Oh, I am so sorry.”
“No, no, Lizzy.” A smile lit Mr. Bennet’s face. “Come in and meet Mr. Marlowe. He’s here to help us.” No small note of desperation underlay his words. Bennet turned a hopeful glance my way.
I didn’t know what he wanted me to do. But, when Miss Lizzy Bennet’s fine eyes, brightened by her father’s words, met mine, I knew whatever it was, I was going to do my damnedest to get it done, and done right. It’s what I get paid to do.