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.”
Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Mr. Darcy’s Diary, by Maya Slater
Orion Books, London (2007)
Trade paperback, 248 pages
- Watch an interview of author Maya Slater as she discusses her book, Mr. Darcy’s Diary
- Read the publishers blurb about Mr. Darcy’s Diary at Orion Publishing Group online
- Read an online interview of author Maya Slater as she discusses Mr. Darcy’s Diary
- Read a PDF file of an extract of the novel Mr. Darcy’s Diary