Bestselling authoress Amanda Grange’s latest offering, Dear Mr. Darcy, is a clever retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in the epistolary form. However, don’t be fooled by the title. This novel is so much more than just Mr. Darcy’s private correspondence, including many letters from several key players from the original novel as well as characters from Grange’s own invention to develop back story. She has also cleverly incorporated Austen’s canon Pride and Prejudice letters helping to solidify the timeline.
The novel begins five years prior to Pride and Prejudice, with the death of Mr. Darcy, Sr. and his final letter to his son detailing his hopes and dreams for him as well an introduction to Mr. Darcy’s cousin, compeer and confidant, Mr. Philip Darcy. The letters also unveil the dealings with The Living promised to George Wickham, as well as the near undoing of Darcy’s younger sister, Georgianna.
This Mr. Darcy remains true to Austen’s original: haughty, reserved and fastidious. Darcy wrote to Philip Darcy describing Bingley’s enthusiasm for his new home Netherfield Park and his own dread to attend that now infamous Meryton Assembly, “He did not care a bit that he might be mixing with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker; he thought only to make himself agreeable to his neighbors. So now we must endure an evening of mortifications and punishment as the local burghers ogle our clothes and whisper about our fortunes.” (p. 134) And, we all know how well that turned out. It is particularly illuminating (and sometimes laugh out loud funny) as letters from different characters relate the same story – but with entirely different points of view.
In addition, the letters introduce us to the Sothertons, the former family of Netherfield Park who have retrenched to Bath, as well as further develop the characters of those we even now know so well such as Mary Bennet! In a letter to her noble friend, fellow Learned Woman and Sister in Athena, Miss Lucy Sotherton, Mary writes, “My sisters demanded a jig and I was forced to accede to their wishes, though as remarked to Mr. Shackleton afterwards, ‘A jig might feed the body but a concerto feeds the soul.’ He was much struck and begged for permission to copy it into his book of extracts.” (p. 147) I could hardly keep from laughing every time Mary mentioned her daily pursuits of rational application or her collection of maxims she adds in her book of extracts!
As the familiar story of Pride and Prejudice progresses, the letters prove remarkably insightful. Miss Charlotte Lucas writes to Miss Susan Sotherton about the very eligible, but very toady, Mr. Collins. “…I see no reason why I should not be his third choice. He seems to have a comfortable home, Lady Catherine seems to be a sensible, if dictatorial, woman, and he has no vices. He has no virtues either, it is true, but his parsonage has two sitting rooms, so he tells me, and it seems to me that a wife might have one whilst her husband has the other.” (p. 190) It would appear that Mrs. Bennet was right. Those Lucases are very artful people, indeed.
Letters to and from Miss Susan Sotherton and Miss Elizabeth Bennet are timeless—just how any BFF would write: witty, intimate and gossipy. “Lizzy, you are trying me hard! First I must mention nothing of your proposal, and now I can mention nothing about Mr. Wickham’s relations with Mr. Darcy… I eagerly await your next letter. I fully expect to find that the Archbishop of Canterbury has proposed to you when you next write!” (p. 271)
Recently I saw a suitable extract (on facebook no less) that said something like, “Book hangover: Inability to start a new book because you’re still living in the last book’s world.” I confess, I am a great sufferer and Grange’s latest offering left me as such. After closing the book, I had not yet gone beyond the words delightful and charming when some unlucky recollections intruded. One, I was somewhat disappointed that one of Darcy’s dearest confidants, Mr. Philip Darcy, did not respond to Darcy’s engagement note. Not a congratulations, not even a damning letter! Nothing. Grange seemed to have forgotten him in the closing pages. It is a small criticism to be sure but it must be remarked upon as this omission simply leaves one puzzled as to how he took the news after holding such importance in Darcy’s life. Hmmmmmm? Or, maybe his silence on the subject is more telling? Nothing to repine. Moreover, I am exceedingly diverted by the speed of mail in Georgian times, particularly a few letters needing only two days for a response from London whilst in Derbyshire or Yorkshire. Then again, I suppose Darcy could have sent all his letters by express… and, I was confounded that Darcy exchanged letters with Miss Caroline Bingley— especially since they are not engaged persons nor related. But I digress.
Dear Mr. Darcy is delightful and charming. This latest retelling is fresh and true to the original masterpiece. Amanda Grange writes each letter with such an honest, elegant hand one readily recognizes the unmistakable voices of our beloved characters as they share their news. In an electronic age when the handwritten letter is all but extinct as text, email and voice mail are de rigueur, Grange’s epistolary retelling Austen’s masterpiece raises letter writing to a curious art form. Likening to Learned Woman Deidre Le Faye’s own non-fiction yet very academic, Jane Austen’s Letters, Grange’s fictional letters suggest a familiarity to even the most devout Austenite whilst driving the story to its anticipated and fulfilling conclusion. The effect is a captivating and agreeable narrative that will surely satisfy even the most astute Austen fan or Learned Woman. Amanda Grange is at the top of her game!
4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Dear Mr. Darcy: A Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Amanda Grange
Berkley Trade (2012)
Trade paperback (400) 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. For the last nine years she has 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, visiting Jane Austen’s England remains on her bucket list.
© 2007 – 2012 Christina Boyd, Austenprose