Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (A Pride and Prejudice Variation), by Abigail Reynolds, read by Rachel E. Hurley (Audible Audio Edition) – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my tenth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.

My Review:

This Pride and Prejudice variation asks readers “What if Elizabeth Bennet had accepted Mr. Darcy’s first proposal?” After reading this question in the book’s description my first reaction was, ACK, why would she?

Like the two other novels by this author that I have read, the story begins on familiar ground at a certain point in Austen’s novel and then quickly takes a left turn—changing the course of the plot and the characters’ lives. In this case it starts at a very critical moment, the first proposal scene when Mr. Darcy so arrogantly assumes that the less-socially-endowed Elizabeth Bennet would jump at the chance to accept his generous offer of marriage. Reynolds’ Lizzy is still repulsed by the thought of this man as her husband and frozen with disgust. Since Austen’s last sentence in Elizabeth’s refusal contains the title of this novel, I was all anticipation of reliving Elizabeth’s famous put down:

“From the very beginning — from the first moment, I may almost say — of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

But no—this is where the road veers and Reynolds’ twist begins. Darcy misinterprets Elizabeth’s hesitation as acceptance and kisses her, witnessed by his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam and a gamekeeper. Unaware of her true feelings, Col Fitzwilliam congratulates Darcy while a panicked Elizabeth spins the reasons in her mind why she cannot deny it: her reputation has been compromised and if she does not marry him the future happiness of her family, and her sisters prospects will be dashed. Trapped, she cannot decline and agrees to marry him.

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds Audio (2013)Their one-sided marriage begins on rocky ground. Wrought with misunderstandings: his cold indignation, and her fear and depression, Elizabeth is hindered in her attempts to fit in and learn her new duties as mistress of Pemberley. She is not allowed to be very useful—in fact, anything she does seems to anger and annoy her new husband. After Mr. Darcy is involved in a life-threatening riding accident she dutifully cares for him day and night until she is past exhaustion. During his illness she comes to realize that she really does love him and tells him so when he is finally conscious. They are reconciled, until the laudanum wears off and he returns to his sour and confusing self. When she learns from a servant that he is leaving for London, even though he has not fully recovered and fit for travel, she is crushed blaming his dislike of her. While he is away she learns of her younger sister Lydia’s elopement with George Wickham and their subsequent marriage, facilitated by her husband. She is thankful to him for helping her family out of this devastating scandal, but he again misinterprets her gratitude for wifely obligation and not love. Her unhappiness continues until she reaches the point where she feels the only solution to their dilemma would be her death—relieving him of the disgrace of her inferior connections and releasing him to marry another.

One thing that readers new to variations must embrace immediately is change. The point in re-inventing the plot in a “what if” is the experience of revisiting beloved characters in new scenarios. You are not reading a sequel or a continuation of Austen’s story, but a re-imagining of what her characters might do if the action changed. Logically those characters would exhibit the same personality traits that Austen awarded them, but that can be changed too. Just think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. You are not in Kansas anymore. If you are open to change and can accept tinkering with Austen’s creations and complete changes in her plot, then variations are for you.

In this sub-genre of Austen paraliterure Reynolds reigns supreme in her level of creativity and fluent prose. She is very skilled at crafting tension between lovers and can think up innumerable ways to keep them apart to prolong our anticipation. Her ardent love scenes were passionately rendered, reaching the blushing point for me every time. One of the major challenges I found with the premise of this story is that I did not like Reynolds’ Mr. Darcy. He was not the honorable man that Austen had crafted, nor a man that I was attracted to. He had duped Elizabeth into marrying him (albeit ignorantly) and he is pretty oblivious to his wife’s feelings, misreading her kind intentions continually. Or so it would appear on first impressions. The couple are at continual crossed purposes, going in circles of misunderstanding and rejection, to a glimmer of brief reconciliation, then back to total despair and unhappiness. After about the third time I was as depressed as the heroine. Once I got over my fixed notions of how Austen’s characters should deport themselves and accepted Reynolds’ alternate universe for Elizabeth and Darcy, I began to enjoy their twisted, tormented souls. It was like Jane Austen morphing into Charlotte Bronte, even though neither author would approve of each other’s style.

This audio edition of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World was aptly read by Rachel E. Hurley with entertaining variations in voice to character and scene. Reynolds has crafted a clever love story and applied familiar characters to suit. That dear reader is what variations are all about. If you are prepared to be taken down the yellow brick road, this is a great introduction to the genre.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (A Pride and Prejudice Variation), by Abigail Reynolds, read by Rachel E. Hurley
Audible Audio Edition (2013)
Digital, unabridged (6 hrs and 27 min)
ASIN: B00BCXCZCU

Cover image courtesy of Audible © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com

33 thoughts on “Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (A Pride and Prejudice Variation), by Abigail Reynolds, read by Rachel E. Hurley (Audible Audio Edition) – A Review

  1. This was one of the first Austenesque fan fiction I ever read– and one of my first Abigail Reynold’s books. I have it in her self-pubbed form as well as the Sourcebook title. I liked it very much. But I totally get your blushing– reading the romantic scenes is one thing, but hearing it read out to you… Ha! Make sure the kids are not in the car.

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  2. This is one of my favourite ‘what if’ Austenesque stories, although it is not the happiest tale throughout most of the book! I love the way Ms Reynolds changes one aspect and then it has a ripple effect, changing subsequent events even more.

    It’s a shame you didn’t like this rendition of Darcy. For me, he was more likeable. I felt that at the beginning of their marriage, when Lizzy is trying to please him she is behaving unlike the spirited Lizzy that he fell in love with, and he comes to wonder whether she married him for his money. Then when he finds out the truth, that she has lied by omission to him about her feelings, is it any wonder that not only is he devastated, but also as a man for whom disguise is abhorrent it must surely make him feel initially pretty disgusted with how she’s behaved. I felt this behaviour and feelings were understandable, and I also felt that Lizzy’s behaviour was understandable in the circumstances. I felt terrible for both of them!

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  3. Abigail Reynold’s variations were my introduction to the ‘what if’ stories. I love each of hers I’ve read including this one. I enjoyed the realistic struggles they faced under the circumstances. It made the ending all that much better when things got resolved. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

    Here was my contribution for the Challenge: All Hallow’s Eve by Wendi Sotis
    Link to GR review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/730665545
    This makes 17 toward my goal.

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    • I would like to see if you can assist me in my search of another p&p variation title – where mr darcy returns to Hertfordshire to see if jane was really in love w bingley only to confuse the town folk that he now likes her. hope u can help. thanks in advance

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  4. Claire Tomalin – Jane Austen – A Life published by Viking 1997
    Golly this is my 12th review for the Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice challenge.
    How this year has flown and I have really enjoyed the challenge of reading new and rereading some of the raft of Pride and Prejudice related books I own and writing a review for each one.
    This Tomalin biography was quite a challenging read for me partly because Claire Tomalin indulges in a lot of speculation for example – was Elizabeth Hastings really the daughter of Philadelphia Hancock (she was Jane Austen’s aunt) and Tysoe Paul Hancock or was she the daughter of Warren Hastings? On page 17 Tomalin writes “Whatever the facts everyone concerned behaved with outward decorum and it is unlikely that any gossip reached Philadelphia’s brother George in Oxford, although he may have wondered privately. I was left thinking why no gossip reaches Jane Austen’s father in Oxford? There is more speculation for example earlier in the book on page 8 where Tomalin suggests Cassandra saw herself as a little mother to her baby sister Jane when both of them were cared for in the village of Steventon along with their brother Frank while their mother and father were in London. Maybe Jane held out her arms to Cass and this was the base of the life long friendship bond between the sisters suggests Tomalin? Part of my difficulty is we will never know.
    Not quite sure why this speculation seems annoying but maybe it is because a lot of the writing in this book is supported by quotes from letters and the page is littered with numbers that refer back to the endnotes section of the book. So it isa case of constantly reading and then looking at the endnotes and back to the reading of the text again and so it is a very different read from reading a novel.
    On the plus side I really enjoyed the details of the eight Austen Children – James the eldest a writer, George handicapped from birth but visited regularly by members of the family and well looked after, Edward who was adopted by distant cousins and become Edward Knight, Henry had many careers, he was in the army first then a banker and finally become a clergyman, Cassandra who described Jane as the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, after Jane in the order of birth came the two who joined the Navy Frank and become Admiral of the Fleet and last Charles who read and reread Emma in quickly. In a chapter called bad behaviour how Francis joins the navy at a young teenager is described. He left naval school and sailed for the East Indies abroad the frigate Perseverance. After a year he became a midshipman. Francis also known in the family as Frank or Fly ended his career as Admiral of the Fleet.
    Jane’s relationship with her mother is explored by first looking at how Jane and her other brothers and sister were sent away from home to be weaned in the village after Mrs Austen had breast fed them for three months or so. So first there was a very close relationship with her mother for Jane and then she was transferred to a strange person to care for and when they reached the age of reason Tomalin dryly notes on page 6 the child returned back to the Austen household. It seems extraordinary to me but the children grew up and Jane returned to the busy parsonage which was a boy’s school as well as her home. There does not seem to be any love lost between mother and daughter and Jane is reported to have treated her mother’s concern with her own health verging on hypochondria as a running joke and her letters record how her mother on a trip home to Steventon from Godmersham in summer 1798 her mother felt ill and was treated first with pieces of dry bread and medicinal bitters and then she recovered enough to eat beefsteak and boiled chicken. ( page 144) She got ill again near Basingstoke and had to have laudanum administered 12 drops at bedtime prescribed by the family doctor. Mother was up and about in December – (page 145) reports Jane in a letter I think to her sister Cassandra mother complains of an amazing mix of symptoms – Asthma, Dropsy, Water in the chest, and Liver disorder and unsettled bowels, followed by gouty swelling and sensation about the ancles. Poor woman but there is also a feeling of silly woman in all of them being listed. Hypochondria in such a heroic scale could only comments Tomalin be greeted by delight.
    There is even a synopsis in the endnotes of Mansfield Park given for readers who do not remember all the details of the book. I found that useful as a reminder and it helped when reading the chapter called Inside Mansfield Park which ends with details about the opinions of others who have read Mansfield Park. Mrs Augustus Bramston is recorded by Austen and quoted on page 239 as expecting to like MP better and having finished the 1st volume flattered herself she had got through the worst and Tomalin notes the author Austen rejoices in this reader’s extraordinary folly rather than feeling wounded.
    I liked the numerous illustrations and the full descriptions given to each one. For example an illustration of Tom Leroy is described as of her Irish friend from a letter of Jane. There then follows how he comes to meet Jane at a dance while a 20 year old law student on holiday with his uncle in Hampshire and how the fact they are falling in love and cannot as two penniless youngsters be allowed to marry and are separated.
    I had not heard about Harris Bigg Wither and how his marriage proposal is at first accepted and then rejected before. It certainly made for an exciting chapter. Claire Tomalin muses on whether Jane Bigg Wither as married woman would have also produced her novels. Would she have been happy or enjoyed the wealth of the Bigg Wither family and protection it would gave her and her family. Page 180 -183 – Well I can only think my own thoughts and declare I do not know what Jane really thought or the answer to the great what if Jane Austen had married?
    All in all an interesting informative and entertaining read.

    “Claire Tomalin – Jane Austen – A Life published by Viking 1997
    Golly this is my 12th review for the Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice challenge.
    How this year has flown and I have really enjoyed the challenge of reading new and rereading some of the raft of Pride and Prejudice related books I own and writing a review for each one.
    This Tomalin biography was quite a challenging read for me partly because Claire Tomalin indulges in a lot of speculation for example – was Elizabeth Hastings really the daughter of Philadelphia Hancock (she was Jane Austen’s aunt) and Tysoe Paul Hancock or was she the daughter of Warren Hastings? On page 17 Tomalin writes “Whatever the facts everyone concerned behaved with outward decorum and it is unlikely that any gossip reached Philadelphia’s brother George in Oxford, although he may have wondered privately. I was left thinking why no gossip reaches Jane Austen’s father in Oxford? There is more speculation for example earlier in the book on page 8 where Tomalin suggests Cassandra saw herself as a little mother to her baby sister Jane when both of them were cared for in the village of Steventon along with their brother Frank while their mother and father were in London. Maybe Jane held out her arms to Cass and this was the base of the life long friendship bond between the sisters suggests Tomalin? Part of my difficulty is we will never know.
    Not quite sure why this speculation seems annoying but maybe it is because a lot of the writing in this book is supported by quotes from letters and the page is littered with numbers that refer back to the endnotes section of the book. So it isa case of constantly reading and then looking at the endnotes and back to the reading of the text again and so it is a very different read from reading a novel.
    On the plus side I really enjoyed the details of the eight Austen Children – James the eldest a writer, George handicapped from birth but visited regularly by members of the family and well looked after, Edward who was adopted by distant cousins and become Edward Knight, Henry had many careers, he was in the army first then a banker and finally become a clergyman, Cassandra who described Jane as the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, after Jane in the order of birth came the two who joined the Navy Frank and become Admiral of the Fleet and last Charles who read and reread Emma in quickly. In a chapter called bad behaviour how Francis joins the navy at a young teenager is described. He left naval school and sailed for the East Indies abroad the frigate Perseverance. After a year he became a midshipman. Francis also known in the family as Frank or Fly ended his career as Admiral of the Fleet.
    Jane’s relationship with her mother is explored by first looking at how Jane and her other brothers and sister were sent away from home to be weaned in the village after Mrs Austen had breast fed them for three months or so. So first there was a very close relationship with her mother for Jane and then she was transferred to a strange person to care for and when they reached the age of reason Tomalin dryly notes on page 6 the child returned back to the Austen household. It seems extraordinary to me but the children grew up and Jane returned to the busy parsonage which was a boy’s school as well as her home. There does not seem to be any love lost between mother and daughter and Jane is reported to have treated her mother’s concern with her own health verging on hypochondria as a running joke and her letters record how her mother on a trip home to Steventon from Godmersham in summer 1798 her mother felt ill and was treated first with pieces of dry bread and medicinal bitters and then she recovered enough to eat beefsteak and boiled chicken. ( page 144) She got ill again near Basingstoke and had to have laudanum administered 12 drops at bedtime prescribed by the family doctor. Mother was up and about in December – (page 145) reports Jane in a letter I think to her sister Cassandra mother complains of an amazing mix of symptoms – Asthma, Dropsy, Water in the chest, and Liver disorder and unsettled bowels, followed by gouty swelling and sensation about the ancles. Poor woman but there is also a feeling of silly woman in all of them being listed. Hypochondria in such a heroic scale could only comments Tomalin be greeted by delight.
    There is even a synopsis in the endnotes of Mansfield Park given for readers who do not remember all the details of the book. I found that useful as a reminder and it helped when reading the chapter called Inside Mansfield Park which ends with details about the opinions of others who have read Mansfield Park. Mrs Augustus Bramston is recorded by Austen and quoted on page 239 as expecting to like MP better and having finished the 1st volume flattered herself she had got through the worst and Tomalin notes the author Austen rejoices in this reader’s extraordinary folly rather than feeling wounded.
    I liked the numerous illustrations and the full descriptions given to each one. For example an illustration of Tom Leroy is described as of her Irish friend from a letter of Jane. There then follows how he comes to meet Jane at a dance while a 20 year old law student on holiday with his uncle in Hampshire and how the fact they are falling in love and cannot as two penniless youngsters be allowed to marry and are separated.
    I had not heard about Harris Bigg Wither and how his marriage proposal is at first accepted and then rejected before. It certainly made for an exciting chapter. Claire Tomalin muses on whether Jane Bigg Wither as married woman would have also produced her novels. Would she have been happy or enjoyed the wealth of the Bigg Wither family and protection it would gave her and her family. Page 180 -183 – Well I can only think my own thoughts and declare I do not know what Jane really thought or the answer to the great what if Jane Austen had married?
    All in all an interesting informative and entertaining read.

    Thank you the review of Abigail Reynolds book. I am looking forward to reading an Abigail Reynolds book by the end of the year.

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  5. I appreciated that you showed the distinction between Jane Austen sequels and Jane Austen variations. I think we need to start having clearer subgenres of Austen-related novels since there are so many novels out there.

    I enjoyed the review as well. I agree that Abigail likes to make Darcy and Lizzy jump through all the hoops before they can get together : )

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  6. Great review Laurel Ann, the book sounds interesting. I tend to prefer variations and re-imaginings for the very reasons you state, I’m much more critical of something that proposes to be on par with the original. At the same time, because the story does diverge I think it’s more important for the characters to remain recognisable, the key traits must remain true to the original, their personalities only changing as far as it is believable for the circumstances to warrant, or it doesn’t really work.

    My reviews for this month are for modern adaptations/tributes…,

    An old favourite and it’s latest sequel:

    A Weekend with Mr. Darcy (Austen Addicts #1) by Victoria Connelly https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/324510568

    Happy Birthday, Mr Darcy (Austen Addicts, #5)
    by Victoria Connelly https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/731260314

    And a new read, at least to me:

    Me And Mr Darcy by Alexandra Potter https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/732934364

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  7. My October review is “When They Fall in Love… Darcy and Elizabeth in Italy” by Mary Lydon Simonsen, 2013 paperback edition. I so enjoyed Ms. Simonsen’s “Darcy on the Hudson”, (my September review) that I chose to read another of her variations of P &P. this time set in Florence, Italy, and sounded wonderfully romantic! It was indeed a delight and includes lively discussions of art and the culture of that Renaissance city. In this story Mr. Darcy had married a very eligible and beautiful lady, following Elizabeth’s harsh rejection. Seven years have passed and over this time Elizabeth has changed her opinion of him beginning with his letter, followed by a visit to his great estate, and then his facilitation of Charles Bingley and Jane’s marriage. (And initially, she was not even aware of Darcy’s influence and help to her poor sister Lydia.) She has never married and lives with the Bingleys as the governess for their young daughter, Cassandra. Darcy has been living in Italy following the death of his wife, and invites the Bingleys to vacation with him at his villa in the hills above Florence, his invitation includes Elizabeth, and she goes along in her role as caregiver and teacher of their child. Mr. Darcy also has a daughter about the same age and she ends up tutoring both girls who become friends. Elizabeth had met the former Mrs. Darcy at a social at the Bingley’s a couple of years after their marriage, and witnessed what she thought was a tender moment between the couple, leaving her with the impression that Mr. Darcy had indeed moved on and no longer cared for her. Their meeting again now after so many years, their interactions as they tour the wonderful art of Florence, and coming to know each other again, or perhaps really for the first time, make for a tantalizing story and we wonder if they will ever realize their true feelings for each other and come together!

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  8. Even if the marriage of Lizzy and darcy occur in the circumstances mentioned in this book, still I dont think lizzy would bend down so much so as to end her life. Austen made lizzy far stronger for this.

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  9. You have to stop telling me about all these books I need to read; my list is too long already. So far I’ve only read retellings and sequels, but haven’t gotten to any reimaginings. This one and Carol’s above look like good reads. I agree that they have to get the characters right or it won’t work. Sigh. On the list they go.

    My first October review is the 1940 movie: http://aem-physicsgirl.blogspot.ca/2013/10/in-which-different-accounts-of-mr-darcy.html
    It seems fitting to look at P&P and Zombies and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre for Hallowe’en, so I’ll come back and post that link then. Assuming I remember to publish the post!

    Which brings me to my August and September reviews. Not only did I forget to link to them here, but I forgot to publish them to begin with. That’s been dealt with, so here you go:

    In August I had to eat my words a bit about the 1995 version (but only a small morsel): http://aem-physicsgirl.blogspot.ca/2013/08/this-is-too-much-to-remember-at-night.html

    In September I went all scholarly and reviewed an annotated version and a sourcebook: http://aem-physicsgirl.blogspot.ca/2013/09/in-which-physicsgirl-improves-her-mind.html

    (I’m also going to post these links on your August and September posts to keep my ducks in line.)

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  10. How devastating that Elizabeth ended up wanting to kill herself! I like to think that Darcy would eventually come around if he and Elizabeth had married without her refusal. I’ve been curious about Reynolds’ variations for a while and this is the one I really wanted to read, so thanks for reviewing it!

    I read “Intrigue at Highbury” by Carrie Bebris for October. Here’s my review:

    http://theneverendingreadinglist.blogspot.com/2013/10/mr-mrs-darcy-sleuths.html

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  11. I too was reading Abigail Reynolds this month! She is one of my favorite authors, and two of her newest books prove she is just getting better all the time. I reviewed Mr. Darcy’s Refuge and Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections:

    http://alexaadams.blogspot.com/2013/10/mr-darcys-refuge-and-mr-darcys-noble.html

    Thanks for this review of the audio. I have a couple of car trips coming up, and I think I’ll buy a copy for the occasion. It’s been a while since I reread this book.

    I also reviewed Pirates and Prejudice by Kara Louise:

    http://alexaadams.blogspot.com/2013/10/pirates-and-prejudice-by-kara-louise.html

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  12. It is a trust universally acknowledged that friendships forged over a love of Jane Austen last forever!

    Bride & Prejudice
    The movie Bride & Prejudice is a great example of how the story of Pride & Prejudice transcends cultures and generations. It presents us with a new and unexpected twist to the beloved novel.  The dancing and singing is admittedly quirky at times though is true Bollywood style.  Even the novel’s opening line has been cleverly changed  to “all mothers think that any single guy with big bucks must be shopping for a wife!” Yes that’s right – at every corner of the globe, mothers everywhere are still trying to get their daughters married. It continues to resonate, because it is SO true!  

    Various twists to the original story kept us entertained and were enjoyable.  Charlotte appeared much more grounded in this adaptation. Even Lydia was more forgivable. But, what we appreciated the most was Balraj as Bingley. We found him more likable and less simplistic which added depth to his character.  Would the flamboyancy of Mr. Kohli make Jane Austen laugh out loud?  We think so! Oh, the circular bed scene, such fun! Could anyone love that bikini underwear? 

    What kept things interesting was not to only have Darcy be of a higher class, but also from another culture. Would Lalita’s parents be ok if he were not of Indian culture? Well…how much money is he worth – that is the real question? Or is it all about love? The answer, is that any mother wants BOTH love and money!

    Overall, a fun 2 hours spent on a clever Pride & Prejudice adaption, made even better when shared with your friends.

    Jacinta & Nicole

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  13. Pingback: The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

  14. Pingback: Austenprose’s Top Jane Austen-inspired Books of 2013 | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

  15. Pingback: Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, by Lara S. Ormiston – A Review | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

  16. just found your website and i am ridiculously obsessed and have about added about 100 books to my to read list. I love a P&P variation and to be honest, love Abigail Reynolds so much I have read them several times. This is my favourite, no idea why! Love it.

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