The latest spin-off from Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice is the debut novel Darcy and Fitzwilliam, A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer, by author Karen V. Wasylowski. Divided into two volumes, volume one, entitled Fitzwilliam Darcy, A Gentleman, 1815 begins shortly after the marriage of Mr. Darcy to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and his cousin Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam’s return from the Peninsular War. Cousins by birth and best friends by choice, we find unresolved deeds and unrequited loves threatening their brotherly bond, as well as test those of all involved. Volume two, entitled Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, an Officer, 1817 begins with the now “famous Colonel of Waterloo” falling madly in-love with a pretty faced, American born widow of a baronet. Mad cap scenarios abound amidst serious story-lines; even a putrid fever attacks England, eventually claiming Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, and nearly that of Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, unnerving the Darcy’s so powerfully that it leads to the eventual truce between the two estranged families.
Although this might sound like pretty heavy reading, I assure you, there are more than a few fanciful, and often bawdy exchanges to lighten the load, i.e. upon the Colonel’s first night back with the Darcy’s, the three are musing how Mrs. Darcy has taken to calling her husband Fitzwilliam “William” to avoid any confusion with his cousin’s surname “Fitzwilliam” and the good Colonel rewards her disclosure with, “It could have been worse – much worse. You see, the gossip in the family is that his father could have married Lady Diana de Carsie… and then of course, our boy here would have been the one and only DeCarsie Darcy.” p. 35
Like many Austen inspired-authors, Wasylowski has added several new characters and taken the liberty of tweaking much of Austen’s canon characters and particulars, to better fit with her campy vision. But surely you will grin as you recognize the shrill voice of Mrs. Bennet, now enamored with her new son-in-law, as a cascade of admiration spills forth as she loudly observes Darcy’s aristocratic demeanor and even comments on the size of his large feet. “You know what that indicates, do you not?” only to reply to everyone’s relief, “The mark of a great mind.” p. 40
But all is not light and easy. Soon Elizabeth discovers that Darcy has had past sexual congress with Caroline Bingley, who “had been much younger when she initiated her ultimately unsuccessful campaign to barter morals for an advantageous match. Alas when push came to shove, she was only a tradesman’s daughter, and always would remain one.” p. 57 This leads to the newlywed’s first “contretemps” – a porcelain throwing, pillow ripping demonstration by a jealous, rage-fueled Elizabeth.
Fast-forward to volume two. London, a city mad with patriotic fever and Richard’s valor on the battlefield has elevated him to celebrity. Just as he seems to be fated to single gentleman status he comes upon Lady Amanda Sayles Penrod and it’s love at first sight. Despite their mutual attraction, Amanda knows she could never marry the Colonel, fearing she would lose access to her young son, who she has lost custody of through some bizarre lawsuit from her cruel mother-in-law. The Colonel later explains to Darcy that they were “passionately in-love for a few minutes anyway.” p. 252 However his acceptance of his loss is short lived, as the Colonel embarks on a mighty chase for her hand persuading her into a secret marriage.
With much madcap verve as author Marsha Altman’s Pride & Prejudice Continues series, Karen V. Wasylowski bravely undertakes this sequel and truly has flashes of brilliance. By all means I usually delight in reading of Darcy and Elizabeth’s supposed lives after Miss Jane Austen’s finis – and give much latitude to many debut authors wild imaginings – but I must confess, by the end of this 481 pager, I was quite undone! It might have been how Elizabeth was cast as the insecure yet “sweet, beloved elfin wife” of Mr. Darcy who often displays her anger most unbecomingly. Or it might have been how Darcy is described as, “shy to the point of seemingly indifference.” (Personally, I really cannot abide a “shy” Darcy. Aloof to the point of offense? Prideful? Yes. But never shy.) Or how Darcy and the Colonel both refer to their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as the Grande Dame, Marble Countess, and even Queen of Hubris but is portrayed as an aging, demented and even confused busy body. Or, how their boyish nicknames of “Brat” and “Old Bastard” interchangeable with “Old Fart,” became tiresome and abrasive. Even the “throbbing agony” of passion filled love scenes became redundant and offensive to my sensibilities. But all this was nothing to reading the likes of Darcy and Fitzwilliam’s bandy, “You farted on my head.” “You peed in my face.” p. 205; “No mouth farts, please.” p. 472; and even, dropping the “F” bomb! I am all astonishment. Surely the master of the great estate Pemberley, and the respectable Colonel, son of a Peer, regardless of privacy would never engage in such banal, coarse exchanges! I hate to be critical of anyone’s efforts, especially a debut author, but there you have it. Despite its beautiful book cover, sometimes it’s best to say when the Emperor is wearing no clothes. Clearly, Karen V. Wasylowski’s Darcy and Fitzwilliam, is nekkid as a jaybird. Indeed.
2 out of 5 Regency Stars
Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentlemen and an Officer, by Karen Wasylowski
Trade paperback (481)
© 2007 – 2011 Christine Boyd, Austenprose