Note Concerning Pandemics and Other Topics

I wrote this novel in 2015. I didn’t write it in response to current events like the COVID-19 pandemic, shelter-in-place orders, and rapidly changing times.

Back in the spring and summer of 2015, I wanted to write a futuristic, slightly dystopian version of Pride and Prejudice and sat down with Jane Austen’s book in my hand and crafted a story, chapter-for-chapter. I re-imagined the tale in a darker future, but kept essential elements, like a tightly-knit family, the ‘drawing-room’ settings, and Elizabeth and Darcy’s frequent misunderstandings.

I worked out the world settings that would lay in the background but aren’t blatant—that wasn’t the point. They underlay the story. In this tale, disasters like antibiotic resistance and crop failures have caused massive population declines, along with a global pandemic, called the Luxor virus. In this contracted world, citizens have fled urban areas to live in smaller ones, banding together, almost tribe-like. Governments have failed to cope, and it is the federal government that has power (the story is set in the United States).

Democracy appears dead-in-the-water. There is a President-for-Life and a federal militia. Every citizen is required to wear a monitoring device, called an FID band (Federal Identification Band). It’s a smart-watch-like device that tracks every citizen’s movements. Travel is restricted, and few people fly or get visas to visit other countries. But transportation is important, so Darcy owning a rail transportation company, and his aunt, Catherine de Bour owning a shipping company highlight their wealth, as do the fancy cars they drive.

Netherfield isn’t a rich man’s estate, but a scientific institute. It’s part of a loose association of private research institutes that attempt to identify native plants and promote biodiversity. Currently, we have the seed vault, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, that stores samples of different seeds from around the world. But in this futuristic world, scientists have to ‘hunt’ for new ‘old’ plant species because too much genetic tinkering and too little diversity has led to worldwide crop failures.

Citizens either work from home or live nearby—those who work at The Netherfield don’t live far away or live in on-site dormitories. Children are homeschooled and do a standard, government online-program. Even university students live and study at home. It is rare for a college student to leave home. Young adults only move away from their parents’ house when they pair-bond with someone or marry.

Into this world comes Chaz Bingley, who is a wealthy investor. He brings his sister, Lois Hurst, and friend, William Darcy. At The Netherfield Institute, he meets the workaholic, Juno Ben. Will has a run-in with LizE Ben at an Institute party concerning wine. They both dislike the other. The ‘players’ are set-up as we expect.

Juno is caught in the rain because the family’s cantankerous biofuel car ‘Bob’ conks out on the way to visit Lois one night. Juno catches a cold, but subjects the entire Bingley family to quarantine because of health regulations concerning viruses. Will finds he is oddly attracted to the impertinent LizE, who has ridden over on a horse to check on her sister.

The Ben cousin, Mr. Collins, is a clergyman, but not a Christian one. He’s found a new ‘old’ religion to follow and comes to Meryton to find converts. Catherine de Bour doesn’t have any children but does have two efficient employees. Anne Oakham is her personal assistant. Mr. Jinks is an odd-jobs man who fulfills every role needed from chef to entertainer all rolled into one.

I finished writing this story on vacation in Hawaii, poolside on a lounge chair ordering garlic fries and root beer, not at a correct social distance. So much has changed. I had no idea that in five years, some of the background details would be real: a pandemic, quarantine, working and schooling from home. But this ageless story holds up.

Elizabeth ‘LizE’ Ben works as a botanist at The Netherfield Institute. William Darcy is the CEO and owner of Darcy Rail, a massive transportation empire. Between them, the same sparks fly as these two spar in the same opinionated, proud manner until they realize how wrong they have been and take steps to correct their prejudices.