What if, during their disastrous first proposal, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet were hit by a real disaster – a flash flood that trapped them together in Hunsford Parsonage? How would they respond? How would they survive together? And would they still, against all odds, learn to love one another?
Many Austen fans will by now be familiar with Abigail Reynolds’ series, The Pemberley Variations, a group of novels which reimagine how the events of Pride and Prejudice might have been different if only one or two details were changed. In the ninth installment, Mr. Darcy’s Refuge, Darcy travels to Hunsford Parsonage to propose to Elizabeth, but this time, he makes his way through a rainstorm. After he finishes confessing his love for Elizabeth and, in the process, insulting her family, Elizabeth begins to refuse him when disaster strikes. The storm outside has become a deluge, flooding Hunsford, forcing the villagers up to the high ground of the parsonage, and blocking the road to Rosings. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are now trapped together in this house, forced to care for Mr. Collins’ parishioners and to live together in this painfully awkward situation until the flood waters recede.
I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that by the time the weather improves, these two have come together (Darcy and Elizabeth will always find a way), but then other obstacles begin to stack against them. Though Mr. Darcy is not reliant on his family’s support, they all heap their disapproval on him anyway. Lady Catherine makes an appearance to register her annoyance with the marriage, while her brother, the Earl of Matlock (Colonel Fitzwilliam’s father) appears on the scene and offends everyone with his crude suggestions about the couple’s engagement. Mr. Bennet also makes his way through the flood waters to condemn the match (Mr. Darcy has not asked his permission, after all) and then spends the rest of the novel attempting to forbid his most favored daughter from marrying Mr. Darcy.
If it seems odd to you that Mr. Bennet would become the major obstacle between his daughter and Darcy, then we are in complete agreement. I spent quite a bit of the story wondering how the author had managed to transform Elizabeth’s teasing, apathetic father into an ignorant, unreasonable tyrant bent on keeping his beloved daughter from happiness. To explain this, there is some new backstory introduced linking Mr. Bennet with the ruthless Earl of Matlock during their school days, but even that seems far-fetched. We are told that Mr. Bennet was mercilessly bullied by Matlock, and that, now, Mr. Bennet wants his daughter to have nothing to do with this horrible man’s nephew. Never mind that Darcy repeatedly insists that he cannot stand his uncle (even the man’s wife and son loathe and avoid him). Mr. Bennet will not budge. However, he’s still fine with sending Lydia off to Brighton to flirt with all the officers. Go figure.
Like some of the other books in The Pemberley Variations series, there’s quite a bit of sex going on in this one (though mostly it’s just characters talking about their intense desire and trying desperately not to have pre-marital sex). Mr. Darcy, for example, can barely contain himself most of the time he’s around Elizabeth. In fact, part of what he’s looking forward to about marrying her is that at last she’ll be his – all his! At certain times, his thoughts take a less gentlemanlike turn:
Thank God [Darcy] had insisted on purchasing that cloak for [Elizabeth]. It had not kept her dry, but from the quick glimpse of her wet dress when she removed the cloak, it was probably all that had preserved his sanity. If he had held her across his saddle in nothing but a clinging, near transparent dress that hid little of what was beneath it, he doubted he could have been held accountable for his actions. Even imagining it made his blood run hot.
Darcy also stares at Elizabeth while she sleeps, which, aside from being creepy, reminds me of something I once read in a certain popular vampire romance.
Overall though, the writing is good throughout. The dialogue is witty and truly Austen-esque in some places. Aside from some of these character issues that seemed a bit too much of a variation for my taste, the story is intriguing and has enough new twists and turns to keep us guessing as to how it will turn out this time. The flood provides all kinds of opportunity for drama and intrigue and for Mr. Darcy to act the hero. Some of the new characters like the Earl of Matlock and Jenny, an orphan girl who is injured in the flood, are a nice addition to the Pride and Prejudice world.
So, if you enjoy these “What if?” questions and don’t mind seeing Jane Austen’s characters a bit out of their natural element, you might want to give Mr. Darcy’s Refuge a try.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2012, text Lisa Galek © 2012, Austenprose.com
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