Congratulations to Elizabeth Gilliland, who won our Truth Universally Re-Acknowledged Creative Writing Contest, held in partnership with Chapel Hill Public Library. Elizabeth has won free admission to the Jane Austen Summer Program's 2021 symposium.
Elizabeth Gilliland received her PhD from Louisiana State University in 2018, where she wrote her dissertation on Jane Austen Adaptations ("Jane Austen's Hidden Bodies: Adaptation as Critical Commentary"). She is the author of the upcoming Austen University series, Austen retellings set in modern-day, with all of Austen's characters combined, plus murder!, soon to be published by Bayou Wolf Press.
Read her winning entry below!
The Portraits of Pemberley
George Wickham was found (by a freshman of no real importance) on the campus square, tied up, spread-eagle, hungover, and completely naked.
While there were many at Austen University who felt the punishment fit the crime, there were also those who failed to see the poetic justice—among them, naturally, Wickham himself, along with the small university’s president.
And, as it was rapidly becoming clear to Elizabeth Bennet as she sat in the waiting room outside her office door, whatever President de Bourgh thought, so too thought her office assistant, Mr. Collins.
“You’ve made us quite upset, Miss Bennet,” Collins informed Lizzy, glaring across his desk. “Quite upset.”
Along with having his lips permanently attached to President de Bourgh’s ass, Mr. Collins was, unfortunately, Lizzy’s first cousin once removed. Up until recently, this relation had not seemed quite so unlucky, since it was at Mr. Collins’s encouragement that Lizzy had applied to Austen University and gotten a full-tuition scholarship for academic achievement. Coming from a family with five daughters, Lizzy knew this was no small financial feat, and thus managed to hold her tongue at her cousin’s strange habit of insistingon being called “Mr. Collins,” even by his relatives.
Observing this sycophantic behavior in her cousin, however, Lizzy felt a twinge of worry about her genetic makeup. She’d already had concerns from her mother’s side, but now she had to worry about what unpleasant dormant lurkers might be hiding on her father’s side, too.
The intercom buzzed, and President de Bourgh’s imperious voice sniped over the speaker. “Is she here?”
“I’ll bring her straight in.” Collins opened the office door and glared Lizzy into entering.
With her Southern flair for the dramatics, President de Bourgh kept the back of her office chair turned toward the door, waiting for Mr. Collins to join her behind the desk with his outraged glower, before slowly turning to face Lizzy. “Elizabeth Bennet,” she drawled in her Charleston accent, “take a seat.”
Lizzy did so, careful to keep her back straight and to only cross her legs at the ankles. These old Southern women had eyes like hawks, and took any sign of comfort or familiarity as an indication of bad moral character.
“I suppose you know why you’re here?” demanded de Bourgh.
“I’m assuming it’s because of my article.”
“If you can even call it that.” Mr. Collins’s own mild accent always became much more pronounced in his boss’s presence.
President de Bourgh retrieved the offending article from the Juvenilia—the weekly university publication—and placed it on her desk. “Would you care to explain what this is?”
Lizzy observed where President de Bourgh’s finger had landed. “I believe that’s a penis, President de Bourgh.”
A pixelated penis, but still it took a full minute for the furor to die down, with President de Bourgh loudly condemning Lizzy’s forward, Yankee ways, and Mr. Collins following his boss in an awkward echo.
At last when de Bourgh’s face had started to return to its normal shade instead of a mottled tomato-red, she pressed on: “You were instructed not to write anything about Mr. Wickham’s...incident, but published it anyway. Why?”
Lizzy raised an eyebrow. “I was advised not to, but ‘instructed’? That sounds an awful lot like censorship.”
“Your point being?”
Propriety be damned. Lizzy crossed her legs, taking pleasure in the little hitch of distaste on de Bourgh’s upper lip. “Look, the article is out there. Can’t undo it. No use crying over spilt milk—or loose nuts, as the case may be.”
She’d hoped the phrasing might incur another outcry of moral outrage, but instead de Bourgh glared at her. Not so much a glare of dislike, although that emotion was certainly present in her steely gaze, but one of calculation. “You’re awfully self-assured for someone so young. Pray tell, how does someone your age get to be so confident?”
“Pray tell,” Collins echoed with a sneer, until de Bourgh waved a hand in his direction and he clapped his hand over his mouth, mortified at having spoken out of turn.
This felt like a trap. Lizzy tread carefully. “I mean, I always eat my Wheaties…?”
Alas, de Bourgh did not crack even the smallest of smiles. “Tell us, Miss-Know-It-All-Bennet, what should the administration do, rather than—as you put it—cry over spilt milk?”
“Well, I guess I’d put my effort toward trying to find out whoever tied Wickham up in the first place.”
Somehow, and Lizzy did not quite know how, she had stepped onto a hidden landmine—because de Bourgh smiled. “Marvelous plan, don’t you think, Mr. Collins?”
Even Collins seemed a bit taken aback by the abrupt shift in mood, double-checking his boss’s expression before parroting, “Marvelous!”
“Great. I’m glad that’s settled.” Lizzy rose to her feet, hoping a hasty exit might save her from whatever unpleasantness was bound to follow. De Bourgh was far too chipper.
President de Bourgh’s voice reached her before she managed to make it out the door. “You’ll let us know, won’t you? As soon as you figure it out.”
“As soon as I figure it out?” Lizzy was beginning to understand Mr. Collins’s propensity for echoing.
President de Bourgh’s smile was a full-on, cat-that-ate-the-canary grin now. “Very generous of you to volunteer to solve the mystery. Of course,we’ll need an answer by a week from today. Or we’ll have to assume that you—as a person with decided interest in seeing Mr. Wickham publically humiliated—are the culprit. And what do you think the punishment for such a crime should be, Mr. Collins?”
Collins looked thrilled at the sudden power that had been placed into his hands. “Suspension?”
“For an infraction this significant, Mr. Collins? I’d hate to think you’d gone soft.” He was practically quivering now with titillation. “Expulsion.”
“Yes, Mr. Collins, I believe that would be the most fitting solution.”
Lizzy kept her face composed, not wanting to give either the satisfaction of seeing her panic. “Then I will see you in a week...”