From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
If Jane Austen thought that her novel Pride and Prejudice was too light, bright, and sparkling and wanted shade, then author Maya Slater has made up for any deficit by crossing over to the ‘dark side’ in writing her re-telling of the story entitled Mr. Darcy’s Diary. Not only are we privy to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s most intimate and revealing secrets, we see the story of Pride and Prejudice told wholly from the male perspective, and gentle readers, be prepared. It’s a man’s world in Regency England, and dare I say, Fitzy is no saint!
The story opens with Mr. Darcy as a house guest of the Bingley’s at Netherfield Park the night of the Meryton Assembly. Caroline Bingley is up to her ususal kow-towing activities and insists upon embroidering slippers for Darcy, even though he inwardly fumes that he has no use for them. He is ruminating over sister Georgiana’s letter, and sees no solution to her predicament, the particulars of which are not yet known to us. The party arrives at the Assembly rooms and there is little of interest for him. Seeing the dance unfold from his perspective is an interesting vantage; the rooms, the music and the “superfluity of raw young ladies eager for dancing partners were all disenchanting to him”. His breeches are too tight so he does not sit down. Beyond the perfunctory dances with his two hostesses, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, he saw nothing in the room to tempt him. No mention is made of his slighting our heroine Elizabeth Bennet, but this is Mr. Darcy’s diary after all, and an event of no consequence to him would surely not be recorded in his diary.
The diary continues in this first person narrative as Mr. Darcy relays his thoughts, concerns and observations over the timeline of events in Pride and Prejudice. It is not hard to image that Darcy might have written a diary, since he is so eloquent in communication in the original novel as seen in his famous “Be not alarmed madam” letter to Elizabeth Bennet addressing the charges laid before him after her rejection of his first marriage proposal. It might well be one of the most compelling and convincing letters in literary history, so like most young ladies whose imagination is very rapid, I will jump from one well written letter to surmising his ability to write a diary in a moment. He is after all, Mr. Darcy. He “has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise.”
A diary by literatures most alluring hero is an intriguing concept, but when I originally read the title, I had to blink. Not only is it exactly the same as the US paperback edition of Amanda Grange’s previously released Darcy’s Diary, there are several books sharing the same premise; Darcy’s Story: Pride and Prejudice Told from a Whole New Perspective, by Janet Aylmer; the Fitzwilliam Darcy trilogy by Pamela Aiden, An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain; Darcy’s Passions, by Regina Jeffers; The Confessions of Fitzwilliam Darcy, by Mary Street; and the one that started this Darcy avalanche, The Diary of Henry Fitzwilliam Darcy, by Marjorie Fasman. Wait! There appears to be another in the queue, Mr. Darcy’s Dream, by Elizabeth Aston due out in February 2009. Enough! Do publishers think that Janeites have the memory of a hairbrush and can be so easily duped? Do we really need yet another retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective? Oh rot and bother I say!
And so it was with a cynical and heavy heart that I cracked open yet another Darcy discourse ready to rip it to shreds like Lydia Bennet’s famous bonnet. Grumble. The first few entries of the diary were pleasant enough. The language and style was respectful to Austen’s, the story line consistent with Darcy’s view, and the characters well thought out. A good beginning. My interest builds as I realize that I am reliving Pride and Prejudice from a new perspective, and told by an author who understands the novel, is well researched in Regency history and can turn a phrase quite neatly. Better and better. Whoa! Darcy has just admired a housemaid’s ‘pleasing embonpoint’, removed her starched white apron and tumbled her on his bed! (Ok, I just heard the pounding exodus of Austen purist as they run out the back door.) The hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. This is not the Darcy that we know from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, and the author has just made her point.
Uncertain if I could get past this bit, I trudge on. We follow Darcy to London with his faithful valet Peebles in tow. Their Jeeves and Wooster relationship is amusing. I smile. Darcy unknowingly crumples up his leather gloves in a coat pocket, scuffs his boots, and wants to wear the wrong clothes for the wrong occasion. It is of little consequence to this wealthy and overly confident man, but Peebles is beside himself. I laugh. In addition to Charles Bingley, we are introduced to Darcy’s friend, George Byron. Yes, the poet and notorious, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Byron. He lives up to his reputation and influences Darcy into dubious deeds that most Regency men of his position in society amuse themselves with like cards, drunken debacles, and escapades with women. At this point we are experiencing Darcy from a totally male point-of-view, but the transition into events that Austen would never have included in her heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s female world, are more acceptable because this author’s skill at making Darcy’s diary so believable and amusing is effortless. By the midway point in the diary, it has become a page turner, and I am totally captivated.
So how did author Maya Slater woo a Janeite who openly admits contempt for renovators who sex up or steal Austen’s good name? She actually did not have to. Once I abandoned my expectations of reading another prequel, sequel or re-telling bent on ripping off Jane Austen’s stories or characters, I realized that this was not Elizabeth Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, but Mr. Darcy’s, and Maya Slater was not renovating Jane or sexing up Lizzy but telling a man’s story. What other authors have attempted in their Darcy re-tellings by mirroring Jane Austen’s text word-for-word, has been replaced by sheer creativity and respect.
Slater expands our understanding of the plot and characters that Jane Austen introduced, and makes Mr. Darcy’s Diary unique and yet blend-able to the original story. It made me laugh-out-loud repeatedly as she expounded on the smarmy antics of Caroline Bingley whose continued attempts to worm her way into Darcy’s affections fall flat, fume over the officious arrogance of his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, hiss at the deceit and destruction caused by that lout George Wickham, and revel in a love story that I read as freshly and intensely as the first time this writer experienced the original many years ago. That, gentle Austen readers, is quite an achievement. Even Mr. Darcy might consider Maya Slater worthy of inclusion in “the half a dozen women in the whole range of (his) acquaintance that are truly accomplished.”
4 out of 5 Stars
- Mr. Darcy’s Diary: A Novel, by Maya Slater
- Orion Books, London (2007)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (248) pages
- ISBN: 9780753822661
- Genre: Austenesque, Regency Romance
ADDITIONAL INFO | ADD TO GOODREADS
We received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Orion Books © 2007; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, austenprose.com.
Excellent review Laurel Ann! I am compelled to order the book immediately, and have just done so! I also followed your fine advice on Paula Shulman’s “Enthusiam” and throughly enjoyed it…I felt like a teenager all over again, and especially liked that it was not a sequel or a re-write of Austen, but just a fun tribute…so thank you for alerting me to it!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t think Slater’s book was given a fair shot by the Austen community. First it came out alongside more well-established retellings (Mary Street, Pamela Aidan, Amanda Grange, Jane Aylmer, etc), then it was given a silly cover which turns out suited the style, but put people off.
Though extreme at times (Darcy sleeping guiltlessly with Bingley’s maid, setting Bingley up with a mistress, being involved in an orgy), it’s always interesting and she makes a good argument for it being in period. Darcy goes along quite guiltlessly, very flabberghasted that anyone would find a problem with his reckless bachelor decisions, until Elizabeth sets him straight. It’s filled with details other authors aren’t bothered with because they are focused on things we already know – where he goes, what he does with his time on-screen in the novel, how he feels about Elizabeth. Slater takes time to fill in a lot of blanks and goes out of her way to give Darcy’s life considerable color. I got lost on some of the Regency references, which is pretty impressive and was a bit tiring after awhile (when would Darcy get a clue?) so it’s not a perfect book, but it’s an interesting read, which is more than I can say for a lot of Darcy retellings.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Maybe the author has mistaken the title of her work, maybe she wanted to write “Mr. Wickham’s Diary”!!!!
Yes, I am one of those old-fashioned-and-close-minded Janeites that have “run out the back door” at the very words “tumbled her on his bed”, “setting Bingley up with a mistress, being involved in an orgy”!!!!
I have not read this book and I have not the last intention to do it, so my comment could be a little out of line.
Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy is not a sex-addict, he likes and prizes intelligent women.
If the author wanted to describe a particular kind of manly behaviour during the Regency, she could have created her own Mr. X with his own story.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m with Loredana–it’s not “prudish” or “purist” to expect that, when an author borrows someone else’s character, to have the character act like we have come to expect. The Mr. Darcy who proposed (arrogantly and with great pride, yes) to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford though he knew his family and friends would object to the connexion would not “tumble” a maid. He isn’t interested in cheap sex. He’s interested in *marrying* the woman who makes him horny. (Sorry for the vulgarity–but when in Rome, etc.) When he tumbles the maid, takes part in an orgy, etc. he becomes a boring, generic well-endowed Regency Romance Hero. He’s no longer Darcy.
Jane Austen WAS a parson’s daughter and I don’t think it’s too far out of line to expect that the characters SHE created, including the men, went to their wedding beds virgins. Also remember, despite his ten thousand a year, Darcy was not really aristocracy. The gentry had different values. It’s like expecting a kid from Nowheresville, Ohio to act like Paris Hilton’s crowd just because they are both living in America in 2008.
I’m still waiting for a hot smutty Lizzy-and-Darcy wedding night story. The smutty stories written so far have been mostly rather silly. Lizzy and Darcy, together, are hot. Darcy and a maid is someone’s Mary Sue fantasy. I’ll make up my own self-insertion fantasies, thanks.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This has sold me! Now there is another book to add to the old queue :p
LikeLiked by 1 person
It’s not Mr Darcy’s Diary now, but The Private Diary of Mr Darcy! My book is being published in the US under a new title (by WW Norton in June 2009). It will have a very different cover too. I’d be interested to know which one readers prefer. You can see both on Amazon.
I think the book is better served if you keep the premise in mind – not that this is the story of Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy. He’s not supposed to be! The idea is that this is the diary of the man and his relationship that gave Jane Austen the IDEA for Pride & Prejudice.
As such, it makes much more sense for Darcy to behave as a typical Georgian gentleman, and even to stray ‘out of character’ for Austen’s Darcy.
Of course, I’m still not completely certain it was the right book for me – I missed actual tellings of key scenes in Darcy’s relationship with Elizabeth. But as a window into the time, I think this serves quite well!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for sharing your insights Lana. This is one author’s imaginings of Darcy’s private life. It may be different than readers expect from their impressions to Darcy in P&P, but it is a fun look into Regency society and a “what if” story.
Lana – You make a very subtle point: my Mr Darcy is indeed a ‘real’ person whose story seems uncannily reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Darcy’s, as I explain at the very end of my book.
As for your point about my omission of key scenes from Pride and Prejudice, I take it you have in mind Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth, which I did indeed leave out. I gave my treatment of this episode much thought, and it seemed to me that a proud young man, who had been roundly rejected, could not bring himself to write a word-for-word account of his humiliation – at least not immediately after it had happened. Instead, I make him express his indignation, shame and misery, and allow the details of the rejection to emerge gradually, in flashbacks, over the next few weeks.
Laurel Ann is right: I have not hesitated to present a Darcy who appears new and different. But I think of him as the same character as the hero of Pride and Prejudice, but presented through new eyes – his own.
i have just finished Mr. Darcy’s Private Diary and was wondering about the editors note that comments about the finding of moleskin books in a bureau. Someone needs to write a book that contains the entire contents of those books, if indeed they trully exist. It would make a pretty good movie. Would also like to know the ‘year’ this bureau was sold.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Ilene, the author’s note in the back is a fictional enhancement to the novel, but it would be wonderful if it was true. It would indeed make a great movie. Thanks for visiting.