Cut From the Classics: Sarah Pebbletush -The Toast

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Cut From the Classics brings your favorite novels to life as never before. Each week we present a profile of a character who originally appeared in the first draft of a major work of fiction, but was subsequently cut from the final draft. This insight into each author’s process brings a fuller, richer sense of their body of work.

Book: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Publication Date: 1813

Character: Sarah Pebbletush

Pride and Prejudice holds a unique place of distinction in the literary world. Not only has it sold over 20 million copies since its original date of publication, but it continues to be enjoyed by recalcitrant schoolchildren and fiction-adoring readers alike. This work of romantic and social satire was written by Jane Austen, a clergyman’s daughter with a keen insight into the romantic goings-on of English society.

The novel follows the Bennets, a family of modest means living in a fictional Hertfordshire town near London. They are comprised of a put-upon, emotionally absent father, an overbearing, vulgar mother obsessed with making good marital matches for her five daughters, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia, and Kitty.

We see the Bennet’s world through the eyes of the intelligent, vaguely jaded, and sardonic protagonist, Elizabeth. Through Eliza (as she is called by her intimates) we learn of the novel’s inciting incident: the arrival of a wealthy bachelor neighbor, Mr. Bingley, who takes up residence in the nearby stately home of Netherfield Park.

Mrs. Bennet does her best to marry off one of her daughters to the gentleman in question, a plan that sets into action a series of romantic upheavals. Her eldest, Jane, falls in love with Mr. Bingley, but her mother’s boorish behavior nearly spoils their happiness. Elizabeth’s pride is hurt by Mr. Darcy, the standoffish friend of Mr. Bingley, which prevents her from realizing what a good match the two of them would make. The youngest daughter, Lydia, brings scandal to the family name after eloping with Darcy’s enemy, Mr. Wickham.

In a testament to its popularity, Pride and Prejudice (Indiebound | Amazon) has spawned various television and cinematic adaptations, including a 1996 BBC miniseries that introduced Colin Firth to an American audience and Helen Fielding’s popular modern adaptation Bridget Jones’s Diary (Indiebound | Amazon), which reintroduced Colin Firth, just in case anyone had forgotten.[1. Lesser-known adaptations include the children’s picture book Nobody Likes Mary: Mary, Enough, Jennifer Parker Domes, Pint-Sized Puffin Press, 1983.]

But there is another aspect of the novel unknown to all but the most dedicated Austen scholars. In the book’s preliminary drafts, Austen included a tertiary character who acted as another barrier between Elizabeth and Darcy. This character–Sarah Pebbletush–has been identified by culture theorists and critics as the first iteration of the popular romantic comedy trope, “the unnoticed best friend.”[2. I’ll Be There For You: Friendship from Falstaff to Friends, Derek Lemur Lions, Dakota Bookery Press, 2009.]

The heiress to a considerable fortune acquired by her father, the inventor and manufacturer of “Pebbletush Spittoons,” what Sarah lacked in grace and form, she made up for in ribald humor and a good heart.[3. There is a critical argument that this character was based on a friend of Austen’s, chamberpot heiress Lady Maria Stoneybottom of Small Handfoot, Hampshire.] Described by Elizabeth as “dark, and filling her poor corsets near to bursting, with matchstick-end eyes and a laugh like the cock at dawn,” Sarah was not a beauty. Elizabeth’s uncharitable description goes on for three pages of shockingly cruel prose, which stands in stark opposition to the tone of the heroine later readers would come to know and love.

Pebbletush’s first appearance in the novel takes place during the infamous party scene at Netherfield. To celebrate his move into the neighborhood, Bingley throws a gathering for the locals, with punch and dancing. It is at this meeting that Darcy slights Elizabeth, beginning their romantic misunderstanding. However, in the original draft, Sarah also attended the party, serving as Darcy’s “amie d’ailier”[4. Literal translation: “a friend of the wing.” ], cajoling him into better spirits by wearing the crystal punch bowl as a hat.

When Sarah catches Darcy moping, she does her best to encourage him to dance with “one of the many excellently turned out ladies here.” Darcy takes umbrage at this and uses his ire as an excuse to insult Elizabeth. Originally, Sarah’s suggestion that he take “someone” to the dance floor was meant to underscore the shopping trip Sarah had taken the day previously to buy dancing slippers in a bid to capture Darcy’s attention.[5. “‘I shall have the grey,’ cried Sarah to the attendant. ‘Grey is Darcy’s favorite color.’ Whether or not this was true, no one can say, as Sarah was quite color-blind.” Pride and Prejudice, Draft 1, pg. 37, Jane Austen, 1812.]

It is believed that Austen excised Pebbletush for fear that her stolid, faithful nature and kind heart might misdirect the reader’s sympathies from Elizabeth. In the first draft, it is not Darcy who fetches Lydia and Wickham from obscurity, but Sarah. She makes the journey knowing how Darcy hates to “do things” and wishing to spare him pain.[6. “History’s Hipsters,” Lon MacVie, Urbanologie Press, 2011.] So terrified that her affections will not be returned, Sarah quickly marries an aged Hungarian count, when Mrs. Bennet loudly announces her suspicions of Sarah’s intentions. The count immediately dies of pleurisy. Scholars who have read the first draft of Darcy’s marriage proposal to Elizabeth, where Sarah stands at his side to tell jokes to lighten the mood, consider it one of the most tragic scenes in 19th-century fiction.[7. “You Had Me At Good Morrow: Tearjerkers from Austen to Ephron–How Do You Like Me Now, Derek?’’ Vanessa Lemur Lions, Self-published, 2012.]

Austen herself seems to have been at a bit of a loss as to how her creation would be best utilized in the novel. There are stand-alone fragments of text that indicate she struggled to find a place for Sarah for some time. An abandoned sequence titled “Wherein Sarah Makes Eliza More Beguiling” details in a surprisingly modern fashion Sarah’s attempts to “amend the countenance” of the practical Elizabeth in order to make her more alluring to Darcy, familiar to contemporary readers as the “makeover montage.”

Further fragments whose sole purpose seem to be finding a place for Sarah in the story are even more confusing. The most tantalizing includes a chapter where Sarah and Bingley fall in love, only for the normally placid Jane to drown Sarah in a bowl of cooled salmon broth during a picnic lecture at Pemberley.[8. “Histrionics, Hijinks, and How They Dined,” Helen Poulet, Eatery Today, Issue VIXV, 1998.] This segment is not shocking to readers alone. Tellingly, the fragment in question features more editorial notes than any other, including “???” in Austen’s own hand several times in the margin.

Ultimately, rather than pull focus from the protagonist, or drive a secondary character to murder, Austen removed Sarah entirely from the text. In her place, she added the more obviously villainous Caroline Bingley. who is eager both to encourage her brother to direct his romantic attentions anywhere but on Jane, and to procure Darcy’s heart–and fortune–for herself.

While Sarah Pebbletush does not grace the pages of one of England’s great romantic novels, there is little doubt that her existence alone serves to demonstrate Austen’s evolution as a writer of satire. One might go so far as to say that the term “chick lit” and “let’s go shopping” themselves owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Pebbletush.

Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance humorist living in Brooklyn. Her work is on the internet.

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