Imagine the Bennet family’s worst fears—the death of Mr. Bennet and the loss of his entailed estate to his cousin Mr. Collins—had come true in Pride and Prejudice. How would Mrs. Bennet and her five almost dowerless daughters survive? Would the unconventional Miss Elizabeth Bennet abandon her resolution to marry only for love, not money? Author Susan Mason-Milks addresses these questions in Mr. Darcy’s Proposal, her “what-if” variation of P&P.
The same day that Elizabeth Bennet discovers Fitzwilliam Darcy’s interference in her sister Jane’s romance with Charles Bingley, she learns that her father is seriously ill. Darcy finds Elizabeth in anguish and offers to escort her home. She accepts but denounces him for separating Jane and Bingley. She also condemns Darcy for his conceited behavior from the time they first met. Darcy, who has long admired Elizabeth, is shocked—he had been certain of her good opinion. Returned to her family, Elizabeth finds that her father is dying. Darcy soon calls on her and proposes marriage. He promises to provide for the Bennets once their estate passes to Mr. Collins, and to repair the rift between Jane and Bingley. When Elizabeth tells him that she is considering his offer, chiefly for her mother and sisters benefit, Darcy is undaunted. She hesitantly accepts his proposal.
Newly married, Elizabeth and Darcy settle at Bingley’s estate near the Bennets’ home. Though Darcy is humbler and kinder than Elizabeth had thought, his hauteur still makes her uneasy. So does her growing attraction to him, as their marriage remains unconsummated. After her father’s death, Elizabeth finds some comfort in Jane and Bingley’s engagement, and in Darcy’s pains to find a new home for her mother and sisters. But the transition to life at Pemberley, Darcy’s estate, is difficult. Elizabeth loves her new home, but Darcy often interferes in her responsibilities as its mistress. Fearing that her marriage was a mistake, she stifles her resentment and attempts “to . . . make the best of” things. p. 86.
Elizabeth and Darcy grow closer while he teaches her to ride, but Elizabeth’s suspicion that her husband has an illegitimate child leads to a heated confrontation. When she questions Darcy’s motives for marrying her, Elizabeth’s regret is immediate and profound. Just as she realizes that she loves him, Darcy rebuffs her. At the same time, Elizabeth learns that her underage sister Lydia has eloped with Darcy’s archenemy George Wickham. Will Darcy support the Bennets during a second family emergency? Will he ever believe Elizabeth’s professions of love?
Mr. Darcy’s Proposal realistically portrays the difficulties of marrying a man of consequence. Darcy, with all his wealth and property, likes “to command rather than ask.” p. 135 He tells Elizabeth of his plans for a special license and a modest wedding service without seeking her views. He also restricts her country walks. After Elizabeth encounters Wickham near Netherfield, Darcy makes her take the carriage wherever she goes out. When she naps under a tree after a long walk at Pemberley, Darcy insists that Elizabeth walk with a companion or stay near the house. Though he declares that she can staff and decorate their home as she pleases, Darcy disparages the lady’s maid Elizabeth chooses, alters her arrangements with the cook, and reorders the furniture that she moves.
Mason-Milks’ novel is also noteworthy for its inclusion of intelligent minor characters, many of them female. Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth’s aunt, quickly perceives Darcy’s goodness and sincerity. She sees what Elizabeth cannot—that Darcy can forgive her after their falling out. Lady Matlock, Darcy’s aunt, decries her sister Lady Catherine’s vendetta against Elizabeth and offers to sponsor her when she enters London society. Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s daughter, disapproves of her mother’s rudeness and admires Elizabeth’s confidence and strength in countering it. Having lost a doting father herself, Anne also respects Elizabeth’s grief. Darcy’s sister Georgiana understands that her brother “commands” because he has run Pemberley for years. She quickly absorbs Elizabeth’s advice about infusing emotion into her singing and playing, and she eventually composes her own music and asks for more rigorous instruction.
Mr. Darcy’s Proposal is a satisfying and honest retelling of P&P that maintains respect for the novel’s characters. Mason-Milks is to be commended for bringing out some of the harsh realities underlying Austen’s work, and for creating a somewhat atypical portrait of Elizabeth, to whom Darcy at one point says, “You are usually much more outspoken in your opinions . . . the woman who used to be afraid of nothing—where has she been recently?” p. 273 This retelling parallels the nuances in P&P, adds its own shade to that “light and bright and sparkling” work, and gives Austen fans much to look forward to as a result.
4 out of 5 Regency stars
Lucy Warriner is a North Carolina animal lover and dance enthusiast. She is also an ardent admirer of Jane Austen.
© 2007 – 2012 Lucy Warriner, Austenprose