Author Mary Lydon Simonsen is making quite a name for herself as a writer who successfully uses Jane Austen’s characters and themes in other historical times and settings. Her latest Pride and Prejudice re-imagining is set in WWII England with the Bennet girls conscripted into the workforce to support the war effort. This tale begins when Elizabeth Bennet, a pants-wearing, lorry driver, encounters the handsome but rude Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot, Fitzwilliam Darcy. And like in Austen’s masterpiece, Darcy once again unwittingly slights Elizabeth when she overhears him discouraging a fellow officer from attending a local RAF dance. “I shall warn you there is little beauty in the girls who attend these dances, and they aren’t exactly light on their feet. If you do go to the dance, my advice is to wear your jump boots.” But upon seeing Elizabeth, Darcy is certain he has met her previously, but where? A befuddling thought indeed until they are later formally introduced through another pilot, Charles Bingley.
The original characters are as they ever were with Lydia getting caught dallying with Wickham and with real consequences; and Jane falling for the estimable, Mr. Bingley. What was most pleasing was to read familiar Austen lines, tweaked of course, to fit this 1944 story… “Because their mother was so eager for her daughters to marry, even in the midst of a war, Jane decided it was best not to mention meeting Mr. Bingley to her mother because she would have jumped from having a cup of coffee at a canteen to a courtship and, from there, to a walk down the aisle in the blink of an eye.”
Missing in action from this story is the domineering Lady Catherine de Bourgh and any real development of Mr. Collins, Georgianna Darcy, Mary Bennet or the Gardiners. But the inclusion of the very much alive Mrs. Anne Darcy, Darcy’s mother who is recently separated from his father, was a welcome twist. And THAT storyline more than made up for any misgivings for not following the original story verbatim! Although the story arc is not about social class prejudices keeping our two heroes apart, rather the decisions they struggle with because of the war. It was all too gratifying to compare both works for similarities and was gladdened as well that this touching love story was, in essence, fresh and a story unto its own. A favorite passage was when Elizabeth and Will spent a poignant evening together under a dining room table during a rather harrowing London bombing. I felt as if I was right there with them, finishing the eBook in almost one go—and well past midnight!
It would be all to easy to label this as yet another Pride and Prejudice love story… but author Simonsen has really done her research. Her skill for drawing us in is masterfully depicted as we see the war-ravaged landscape of London as well as the English countryside in grim tales of rationing, death, and gloom. I must say that Mary Lydon Simonsen has another hit on her hands. And if I might suggest, “Keep calm and read Darcy Goes to War.” You won’t be disappointed.
5 out of 5 Stars
Darcy Goes to War: A Pride and Prejudice Re-imagining, by Mary Lydon Simonsen
Quail Creek Publishing (2012)
Trade paperback (258) pages
Book cover image courtesy of Quail Creek Publishing © 2012; text Christina Boyd © 2012, Austenprose.com