I have read a few Austenesque books in my day. Am I jaded? Hope not. I usually know by the end of the third chapter if it has wings: a fresh concept skillfully rendered, Austen allusions or her characters reverently portrayed and humor in the form of wit and irony, please. I know. It’s a tall order. I’m fastidious. But occasionally, and more frequently as of late, “every feature works.” Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart was a welcome surprise. It charmed me right down to my be-ribboned dancing slippers. Let me extol upon its charms.
Pragmatic heroine Claire Prescott is not nearly as keen on Jane Austen as her romantic young sister Missy who has earned a grant to attend a week-long Jane Austen seminar at Oxford University in England. Even though she has read Pride and Prejudice, she can not understand her sister’s passion for Mr. Darcy, that romantic icon that has fluttered thousands of hearts for the last two centuries. When pregnancy complications prevent her sister from attending, Claire steps in to present Missy’s paper despite her immediate need to hunt for a new job and attend her negligent sports crazed boyfriend Neil.
The dreaming spires of Oxford are captivating, but James Beaufort, a fellow attendee is most certainly not. Even though his noble mien just might rival Mr. Darcy in the rich, handsome, and haughty department, he is not Claire’s type and personalities clash. Meanwhile, a chance meeting with Harriet Dalrymple, an eccentric elderly woman who casually presents her with what could be the Holy Grail of Austenalia, the manuscript of First Impressions, the lost first draft of Pride and Prejudice is not what she expected. Surprisingly, this manuscript’s plot is different from Austen’s published novel and Claire is wary of its authenticity and Harriet’s claim to be one of the ‘Formidables’, a secret sect of Janeites safekeeping Austen manuscripts and letters thought to have been destroyed years ago. When James Beaufort’s attentions change their tact, her room is ransacked, others interested in the manuscript begin to threaten her and Neil’s unannounced arrival in Oxford complicates her confusing relationship with James, Claire, like Austen’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet must reevaluate her first impressions.
Sparkling, engaging and subtly humorous, brava, brava, brava to Beth Pattillo for knowing her Austen lore and cleverly weaving it into a contemporary romance that will enchant Austen fans and romance readers alike. What true Janeite could not be enthralled reading the long lost First Impressions manuscript, having a romance with a Mr. Darcy doppelganger and spending a holiday among the dreaming spires of Oxford University? *swoon* It was such a heady rush that this Anglophile was reading until the wee hours.
Pattillo has succeeded in surpassing the charm and creativity of her last novel Jane Austen Ruined My Life and supplied us with a much more satisfying ending. My one trifling quibble, which I deign to mention, is that Miss Austen spelled Mr. Collins’ home Hunsford Parsonage, and not Huntsford. Easily overlooked in comparison to the scope of one of the best contemporary Austenesque novels that I have ever had the pleasure to read. Oh, and where can I sign up to be a ‘Formidable’?
5 out of 5 Stars
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, by Beth Pattillo
Guideposts, New York (2010)
Trade paperback (263) pages
Cover image courtesy of Guideposts © 2010; text Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com