In her latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, Abigail Reynolds offers a fanciful story, replete with anguish and raw emotion, exploring another possible road not taken by Jane Austen herself.
Not long after Miss Elizabeth Bennet returns home to Longbourn from her visit to the Collins’ at Hunsford Parsonage in Kent – and that poorly executed marriage proposal from Mr. Darcy – she boldly decides to take responsibility for her mother and sisters happiness. Since the wealthy Mr. Bingley has departed without proposing to her sister Jane, she agrees to an engagement with a childhood acquaintance, a very gentlemanly Mr. Covington of Ashworth House. But as fate would have it, Mr. Darcy returns to Hertfordshire with Mr. Bingley in tow – intent to help him renew his addresses to Elizabeth’s sister Jane. And just as Mr. Darcy is reinvigorated in his first attempt to repair his own difficulties with Elizabeth, he learns she is now betrothed to another man!
One would assume that Darcy’s suit was lost and he would graciously retreat to London or Pemberley. But not our bewitched champion. After brooding over several glasses of brandy, he decides to remain with the Bingleys at Netherfield Park for a week or two, for appearance sake of course, but also to satisfy his own selfish curiosity in discovering Elizabeth’s true feelings for her fiancé. At first he thought it was madness that he would deliberately put himself in for such torture, but after he learns that Covington is not such the ardent lover, visiting Longbourn but once a week, he takes it upon himself to entertain Elizabeth while Bingley woos Jane. Better still, Darcy appoints himself “chaperone” for Elizabeth and her acknowledged suitor!
Considered by most to be a good match for Elizabeth, “The man seemed pleasant enough, but he had not struck Darcy as particularly well-educated or witty, but the truth was that if Covington had been the personification of every virtue known to man, Darcy still would have despised him.” p. 44. Although Darcy’s head tells him to allow her to be sanguine with her choice, his heart cannot. Thus, he continues to pursue her and forge a most curious friendship.
As in Austen’s original, Elizabeth’s youngest sister Lydia elopes with Wickham and unbeknownst to Elizabeth, Darcy discovers the wayward couple, rescuing the Bennet family from social ruin. He witnesses Elizabeth sobbing in the arms of Covington and in a sheer act of self-preservation, decides he must escape to the Continent. “Their eyes met again for a long moment, and she looked away at first. He moved towards the door, then stopped again just at the edge of the vestibule. ’Before I go, though, Miss Bennet, I must beg your forgiveness.’ ’My forgiveness? For what?’ she asked. ‘For this,’ he said. Before she realized what he intended, he leaned towards her and kissed her, a brief, tender touch of his lips to hers.” p. 89-90. (I remember the first time I read this. I swear my heart skipped a beat!) Soon after his departure, Elizabeth breaks off the engagement to Covington, hence destroying her standing in society; Mrs. Bennet is inconsolable and all of Meryton shuns Elizabeth. Months pass and finally Darcy returns for Bingley and Jane’s wedding, only to discover Elizabeth is unmarried! He renews his addresses and although she admits she loves him, she refuses him once again because she fears her disgrace can only scandalize him and his young sister.
Summoning the intellectual passions of the period, and likening to Austen’s “poetry as the food of love,” some of the more poignant, yet scattered, virtuous moments were while reading aloud and making poetic references to William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience: The Tyger. One of Abigail Reynolds earlier works, originally self-published in 2007 as Without Reserve, Austen purists will be quite undone with Mr. Darcy’s Undoing by some of the wholly uncharacteristic manners of her Darcy and Elizabeth. As one of Reynolds’ most erotic novels yet, it overflows with eyebrow raising, sexually charged sequences, vivid sexual dreams and explicit premarital sex. Indeed, Abigail Reynolds has taken much liberty with our Darcy and Elizabeth as they go against all reason and character to satisfy their carnal desires, behaviors more suited to that of reckless Lydia and seducer Wickham. (A more recent Reynolds work, evidence of her having developed into a top sequel author, What Would Mr. Darcy Do?, portrays a very captivated Darcy and conflicted Elizabeth, sans the gratuitous sex.) Nevertheless if you take pleasure from an inventive, fiery, Regency romance, Mr. Darcy’s Undoing is sure to whet your whistle.
3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, by Abigail Reynolds
Trade paperback (352) pages
Christina Boyd lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her dear Mr. B, two youngish children and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Bibi. She studied Fine Art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Salisbury University in Maryland. Although life has taken her on a merry adventure through a myriad of careers including modeling, flight attending, marketing & sales, owning a paint-it-yourself ceramic studio… she has for the last nine years created and sold her own pottery line from her working studio. Albeit she read Jane Austen as a moody teenager, it wasn’t until Joe Wright’s 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice that sparked her interest in all things Austen. A life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Christina has read and owns well over 200 Austen inspired novels… and cannot comprehend the neglect of the collection in such days as these. Visiting Jane Austen’s England remains on her bucket list.
© 2007 – 2011 Christina Boyd, Austenprose