Everyone has a secret or two in their past that they would rather forget. In Regency times, where a breach in propriety could ruin a reputation with a withering look, people had many secrets to hide. Are we surprised to learn that the residents of Pemberley, the palatial estate of the Darcy family in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, have a few of their own tucked away in the library or residing at a local cottage? Author Jane Odiwe wants us to explore that possibility in her new novel Mr. Darcy’s Secret. Will the happily ever after really happen for the newly married Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, or will a family secret ruin the fairy tale?
At the conclusion of the original novel Austen left riffs running and a few positive connections for the couple. As Elizabeth arrives in Derbyshire and settles into to her new duties as mistress of the great estate of Pemberley, she attempts to reconcile her husband with his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh and build up fragile Georgiana Darcy after the emotional upheaval of the failed elopement with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth resists the innuendo of local gossip Mrs. Eaton to a Darcy connection of a secret affair and illegitimate children until she discovers a cache of love letters hidden in the library. Her doubts about the man she married deepens further when Darcy insists that Georgiana marry quickly, and for title and fortune, and not for love.
Elizabeth stared at Mr. Darcy in disbelief. Not for the first time in the last few days did she stare at the man she had married to consider how little she really knew him. She had been so sure of his character in Hertfordshire and now, for the moment, she could not reconcile any of her former beliefs. Looking at him, his countenance flushed from his passionate speech, his face solemn and sober, she realized it was useless to debate the matter. Without further ado, she excused herself…(114)
No, life at Pemberley is not all sunshine and syllabub. Georgiana is torn between her family duty to marry the man of her brother’s choice or the man she truly loves, Thomas Butler, a young and aspiring landscape gardener designing a new garden on the estate. They have everything in common that true lovers should possess, which Elizabeth recognizes, and her husband does not. How could he be so calculating with his sisters happiness and not with his own? These inconsistencies in his character, the love letters and the familiar resemblance of a young boy in the village threaten Elizabeth’s trust in her new husband and Georgiana’s happiness.
With two plots churning, Jane Odiwe has crafted an intriguing and unique continuation of Austen’s classic that will charm and delight Janeites and historical romance readers. As we travel from Hertfordshire to Derbyshire to the Lake District of Cumberland, we enjoy the awe inspiring picturesque scenery and equally jaw dropping characterizations. Be prepared to see romantic icon Mr. Darcy knocked off his pedestal and conceitedly independent Elizabeth Bennet passively submit to her doubts. Is that a bad thing? Only, if you are determined that these characters should not change, grow and evolve beyond the last page of Pride and Prejudice.
I laughed at the creativity of giving Caroline Bingley a crush on a bohemian artist who she so wishes to impress that she embraces the peasant lifestyle and rents a rustic cottage near him while he is on holiday in the Lake District. He happens to be a wealthy and titled bohemian artist so we know she has not strayed too far from her aspirations of social grandeur. Georgiana plays out to be a bit of the rebel that we always knew she was by falling in love with one man while engaged to another, and thoughtless Lydia Wickham makes a cameo appearance to discover a secret that could ruin a Darcy’s happiness. Oh yes. Mr. Darcy is not the only one harboring secrets in this tale. Hiding or disclosing them is the mettle of true character. Who fesses up? Only those with the true Darcy spirit will tell.
4 out of 5 Stars
Mr. Darcy’s Secret, by Jane Odiwe
Trade paperback (368) pages
Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks © 2011; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2011, Austenprose.com