Congratulations to Maddie Ellis! She won second place in our creative writing contest, A Truth Universally Re-Acknowledged, held in partnership with Chapel Hill Public Library. Maddie Ellis is a rising senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, studying English and journalism. Maddie's story follows Kitty Bennet at Pemberley University. She will be awarded free admission to this years Jane Austen Summer Program as well as a grab bag from Chapel Hill Public library.
Read her entry below!
If there is one thing Kitty Bennet has learned in her first year at Pemberley University, it’s that there is no such thing as universal truth. Her philosophy course has taught her as much. It introduced her to theories like absolutism, relativism, something called the chronological imperative, empiricalism — and all were different, somehow! In the classroom, her pink pen left scribbled question marks next to, well, everything, marking what she would need to study with her sister Mary’s help.
She called Mary almost every night. Mary had always wanted to seem deep and intelligent, like if one of those philosophers that had been sequestered in a small English town surrounded by a family straight out of a Jane Austen story — a movie version, of course.
When the dial tone cut off, and she heard Mary’s groggy voice say “hello,” Kitty dove straight into her questions. No need for pleasantries.
“What is the chronological imperative?” Kitty asked, pen poised, ready to write down her sister’s words verbatim.
But all she heard was Mary’s loud guffaw from across the phone line.
“Kit —” she finallysaid in between breathless laughs, “— it’s the categorical imperative.”
“That’s what I said!”
After an hour of Mary explaining the theories of Kant versus Hume versus Descartes, Kitty was convinced she would never be able to tell the difference. But she just might be able to pass her next reading quiz.
“How is home?” Kitty finally asked, interrupting one of Mary’s long-winded explanations. “I stopped listening to you about five minutes ago.”
Mary attended Longbourn College, a mere 10 miles from their home. Instead of living on campus, Mary opted to stay at home, near her parents, her piano, and most importantly, her books.
“The same as they always,” Mary started. “Mom is obsessed with her homeowner’s association meetings, the town council, and checking for new members in the neighborhood Facebook group."
“At least one thing in our life will never change.”
“Did you see her latest emails? Apparently someone new moved in, a young man who posted to the Facebook group seeking a recommendation for a lawn service — so obviously he is single,” Mary mocked in their mother’s familiar melodramatic tone. Their mother likely reasoned that a request like that translated to a “wife-wanted” ad.
“I don’t understand why she can’t just text us all,” Kitty sighed while pulling out her laptop and opening her inbox. 52 new messages blinked across the top of the browser.
“Please, you know she is hopeless with that phone. And you know Mom’s favorite modes of communication are ones that deliver her message to the masses and lets her add links and photos for evidence. Emails are perfect, especially with everyone at school and only Lydia and I to keep her company.”
Kitty scrolled to the bottom of her screen, to the start of the email chain between her family. John Bennet was out of town for the next week, and instead of, say, calling her husband, Mrs. Jan Bennet much preferred emailing him, with her five daughters copied so they could follow along.
My darling girls,
This young man, Charlie Bingley joined the neighborhood Facebook group exactly three days ago, and posted in it TODAY needing a recommendation. He’s clearly here to stay. I’ve already told your father to invite him over for dinner in a few weeks and I expect you all to be here (even you, Elizabeth, St. Andrews is only an hour drive away!!!!)
John Bennet, I wasn’t kidding in my earlier message. You need to reach out to him — ASAP as possible!
Love, Mom From: John.Bennet5@gmail.com What house could someone possibly move into, I didn’t notice any being up for sale? From: Bennet_Mamaof5@gmail.com The one down Netherfield Lane, on the corner there. The BIG one! Will attach a picture shortly. From: John.Bennet5@gmail.com Oh yes, yes. I seem to remember meeting a young man a few weeks ago when he was touring the property. I told him the price was way over-inflated right now. Best to give it another few months. Guess he didn’t listen.
From: email@example.com Oh yes, I remember him! Silly to buy a home right now, especially in this neighborhood. Must not be very bright. Or must be rich enough not to care. From: Bennet_Mamaof5@gmail.com John, you DIDN’T. If this is true, not only did you disapprove of his move and likely chased him away from our family forever, you have forsaken our poor daughters to another summer of singleness. Elizabeth just once, I would like for you to think about your future beyond these dreams of becoming a writer. Just once! Would it be such a crime to think of your mother first, once in a while. From: John.Bennet5@gmail.com I feel quite confident that Charlie didn’t move into our neighborhood for the purpose of marrying someone, much less specifically our daughters. From: Bennet_Mamaof5@gmail.com And I am quite confident that he could be persuaded to if you set me upon him. But YOU must first introduce us!
The exchange went on for about 10 more messages, each subsequent email just as unproductive and unnecessary. If her parents weren’t each over 50, and if they hadn’t been married for 30 years, one could almost mistake their teasing for flirting. Almost.
Finally, her father indulged their poor Mom.
Oh I knew you were just vexing me! But John, so SOON. If you hadn’t wasted my time —
The emails ended when Mrs. Bennet set a time and demanded that all of her daughters be in attendance. At that point, arguing would be futile.
“Oh Mom,” Kitty finally said, still on the phone with Mary. “You know she is just going to force Jane and Lizzy on him, the beautiful, intelligent ones.”
Kitty was the gossip, the one who couldn’t do her homework without her sister’s help, and the one who was constantly upstaged by even her youngest sister, Lydia.
Another dinner, another single man, another event where Kitty went ignored. Maybe some of those philosophers were wrong. Maybe one thing was universal.