Originally self-published in 2007 as A Letter to Lady Catherine, this Pride and Prejudice spinoff has a surprising new heroine – Anne De Bourgh! Yes, I heard that collective gasp of astonishment. A whole novel devoted to Mr. Darcy’s sickly, unaccomplished, and henpecked cousin? Indeed! Judith Brocklehurst’s novel may have been given a grand makeover with a new title and prettyish new cover by its publisher Sourcebooks, but can its heroine also be transformed from a minor but memorable character in the original novel, into a heroine that readers can identify with and admire?
Destined from the cradle to be Mr. Darcy’s bride, Anne De Bourgh and her domineering mother Lady Catherine never expected any other outcome than the union of two sisters great families: the De Bourgh’s and the Darcy’s. When Mr. Darcy chooses Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman of inferior birth and no importance instead of her daughter Anne, Lady Catherine vows never to speak to her nephew again. Bored with her daughter’s company, Lady Catherine is determined to find her a husband calling upon all her social connections to introduce her to an eligible bachelor of either noble rank or equal fortune. Even though Anne has a handsome dowry of £30,000, the combination of officious Lady Catherine as a mother-in-law and the unattractive and sickly Anne as a wife sends prospective beaux’s running. After two years and all of the possible alliances with local families have been exhausted, Lady Catherine does the unthinkable. She writes to her nephew and offers a truce, invites herself to Pemberley, and insists that since he has placed her and her daughter in this untenable situation by marrying another, that it is his duty to find Anne a husband.
Dreading this new scheme, Anne and her mother depart for Pemberley – and then – provenance steps in. Along the road, Lady Catherine is injured and Anne must rely upon the kindness of a stranger Mrs. Endicott to assist her in finding a doctor for her mother and shelter in Burley, a health resort. Anne, who has never made a decision for herself in all of her life, let alone her mother, must make many choices in a town where she knows no one. On her own she begins to depend on herself and discover her own capabilities, writing to her cousin Mr. Darcy for assistance, choosing to stop taking the medicine that is making her so ill and meeting a local family the Caldwell’s who were friends of her deceased father many years ago. Amazingly, she is gaining her appetite, building her strength, and enjoying walks – something she has never been able to do all her life. When her cousins Miss Georgiana and Mr. Darcy arrive at Burley to take Lady Catherine and Anne to Pemberley, it is only Anne who departs after her mother’s insistence upon staying under the pretext of dutiful care. In actuality, she prefers the prospect of meeting the Duchess of Stilbury due for the social season over the former Miss Bennet the new Mistress of Pemberley.
Anne travels to Pemberley, and under the care of her cousins discovers that life away from the tyranny of her mother is a whole new world, and, she likes it! Not only does her health improve, she discovers that she also has a source of income from her father’s will that her mother has manipulated away for years, and that her prospects for romance look promising with the Caldwell’s son Edmund, a young man with ambition, honor, and intelligence, but no title. Her life is happier than she could ever have imagined – until Lady Catherine has her share of the conversation and the other shoe drops.
With so many Pride and Prejudice sequels, retellings, and spinoffs focused on the relationship of characters Lizzy and Darcy, following a minor character like Anne De Bourgh was delightfully refreshing. Brocklehurst fully understands Austen’s original characters and respectfully advances the story with humor, surprise, and suspense. Anne De Bourgh may have been timid and pitiable in the original novel, but her makeover by Brocklehurst has given her more than a bit of the true Darcy spirit.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Darcy and Anne, by Judith Brocklehurst
Sourcebooks, Landmark (2009)
Trade paperback (190) pages