From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:
Recently I was offered the opportunity to review Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey for Austenprose. I knew this book was generating a good deal of discussion in the JAFF world.
I’m always up for books that are labeled “controversial” as they are great conservation starters. What could be more interesting than a book that stimulates discussions and sparks minds?
A life altering event inextricably links a fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy while simultaneously creating an almost insurmountable divide. This Pride and Prejudice deviation takes the reader on a journey through a labyrinth filled with misunderstandings, bias, guilt and fear – not to mention, laughter, animal magnetism and waltzing. As Elizabeth says, ‘she shed enough tears to float one of Lord Nelson’s frigates’ but as she learned from her father ‘unhappiness does, indeed, have comic aspects one should never underestimate.’
Though the path for our protagonists is much more arduous than canon, the benefit remains the same; a very happy Janeite ending for these two star-crossed lovers. Along the way there is retribution, redemption and reward for other characters – including a few that recall players in two grave injustices as written by Ms Austen in ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ These grievances prompted this long-time struggle for women’s rights to write a tale that provided these women vindication.”
NOTE: For those that do wish to read the book, I encourage you to stop reading my review. I’m discussing the novel openly which may lead to their being spoilers you wished you hadn’t read.
Those that are familiar with Pride and Prejudice will notice several differences from the original text right off the bat. The first difference is that the events of the first half of Goodly Creatures take place five years before the original, so the characters are younger than we are used to. Additionally, Darcy has entered a marriage of convenience with his cousin Anne de Bourgh. Mr. Bennet is also going blind and heavily relies on Elizabeth to help him with handling the correspondence and finances of Longbourn. I’m pretty liberal with my Austen fan fiction reading, meaning I’m open to the majority of different scenarios that authors come up with. None of the above really bothered me as far as changes go. If anything it excited me to see how Darcy and Elizabeth would overcome the obstacle that is Anne.
The majority of the discord that surrounds this works seems to stem from the character of Edmund Fitzwilliam. He is also one of the major reasons for my dislike of the novel. Edmund is Darcy’s cousin (Col Fitzwilliam’s older brother) and is the subject of much of this initial conflict of the first section of the book. He enjoys watching Elizabeth at the theater because of her childlike features.
“This chit was just the way he liked them – tiny and not at all womanly. Her face, what he could see of it, was dominated by large, expressive eyes, the way children’s are before they grow into their features – eyes so very appealing. How he would delight in seeing them helpless.” (p 25)
Edmund’s fascination with the childlike qualities Elizabeth exhibits would be enough to make me uncomfortable, but there is more. Anne mentions that she sees Edmund’s fascination with Elizabeth and “it did not surprise her. During her time spent with him over the winter, she had noticed his preference for the very young.” (p 29)
I’m going to come back to these quotes in a minute, but in order to make my point I need to explain more of the plot. Anne strikes up a friendship with Elizabeth (which we later find out is behind Darcy’s back) because she enjoys Elizabeth’s confidence and personality. She feels that she can learn how to grow a backbone with the friendship of this witty young woman. One afternoon Anne picks Elizabeth up from the Gardiner’s townhouse in London and is brought back to Darcy House. Anne “goes to get a dress to show her,” essentially leaving Elizabeth alone. Edmund walks in and Elizabeth quickly realizes all is not right. The door is locked and he pushes her into the next room with him, which is his bedroom. It’s quickly realized that Anne helped orchestrate the event of getting Elizabeth alone with Edmund to “visit her.” Edmund rapes Elizabeth and then leaves her. In Despair, Elizabeth leaves the house and runs into Darcy, who follows her home (because he’s worried about her). He has no idea of the events that have transpired that afternoon but realizes something isn’t right. About 2-3 months after the rape Elizabeth finds herself with child. When her aunt and uncle reveal their increasing suspicions, she asks them, “How is it possible to have a baby if you are not married?” (74) My heart instantly broke for this re-imagined version of Elizabeth Bennet; moreover were the passages that followed in which she blamed herself for the rape. Claiming that it was her “silliness and pride” that allowed for it to have happened. Not only does Elizabeth blame herself, but her aunt and uncle chastise themselves for what they believe were digressions in their chaperoning duties. This was shocking. Where is the blame for Edmund, or Anne for that matter?
Let’s go back to the first quotes I mentioned. It’s obvious from the start that Anne knew Edmund had a thing for Elizabeth and for young girls. Anne claims that she only thought Edmund wanted to talk to Elizabeth, yet it’s honestly not possible for Anne to have made the astute observation that her cousin enjoys young females, yet think he just wanted to talk to Elizabeth alone. Being the daughter of Lady Catherine, don’t you think she would know the rules of propriety that do not allow men and woman to be alone in a room un-chaperoned? The transgressions and lack of discipline that these two characters display made it more and more difficult to read Elizabeth’s self-admonishments about her own behavior. NO. It is NOT your fault that you were raped. All rape victims should know this, and be told it continually until they believe it. In Elizabeth’s case she’s told she can marry Edmund or have her child raised by her aunt and uncle as their own. The decision is eventually made that Darcy and Anne will raise the baby as their own, giving Elizabeth a small fortune in exchange.
Darcy too has reservations about his cousin’s preferences for younger girls. So imagine my surprise when a 15 year-old Elizabeth Bennet shows up at Darcy House to inform them all about her pregnancy and has to deal with the scowls coming her way from Darcy, as he concludes the fault of the rape was hers by thinking that her “poor behavior was probably the result of improper and haphazard training…”(p 91) Even with all evidence to the contrary he places the blame on the wrong person.
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that for that time period, women were blamed in cases of lost chastity, whether or not it was rape. Men were the head honchoes of the world and could do whatever they wanted. I applaud Massey for bringing this point up. My confusion lies with why this is being told as a Pride and Prejudice variation? Why are the characters we know and love being changed into these unrecognizable people just so attention can be given to a serious social issue and how it was dealt with in Georgian times? I feel that the characters are being molded and changed to fit this story that essentially has no place in Pride and Prejudice. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make others aware of the difficulties women faced during this time, but I don’t see its place with these characters.
Not only were the changes of the characters bothersome to me, but there were times where the story veered off onto other tracks which made no sense in the general context of the overarching plot. Elizabeth is at one time given a history of the Irish Revolution. I’m not sure what that had to do with the rape plot, or helping her find love with Darcy, or anything else for that matter. Rather, it read like passages from history novels thrown in a story influenced by Pride and Prejudice.
The final nail in the coffin was when Edmund seemed to want to make Georgiana his next victim.
“Little Georgiana had also come to the forefront with this newest addition to the household. For the first time he noticed his eleven-year-old cousin’s appearance. She was very different from the baby’s mother but still another delightful variation of an appealing little girl. Miss Elizabeth had been a joyful, intelligent and impertinent sprite with whom he could engage in a battle of wits and ultimately defeat. Georgie was more like a spirited thoroughbred colt – all legs and a long elegant neck – waiting for someone to break her in.” (169)
I literally was almost physically ill after reading that passage.
As a book reviewer for over two and half years now I’ve come to realize that books fall into three categories: books you like, books you don’t like, and books you can’t finish. Unfortunately Goodly Creatures fell into the latter category for me. I’m not here to write a review bashing the novel or the author, but lay claim to the feelings I had that led to me being uncomfortable enough not to finish the book. In addition, it is not my intent to discourage anybody else from reading this book either. I’ve spoken with others who mentioned that they enjoyed it—everyone has their own tastes to discern from. I look forward to continuing my journey in the JAFF world and discovering new books and new authors that appeal to my tastes.
Since I didn’t complete the book I feel it’s unfair for me to give it a rating.
Goodly Creatures: A Pride and Prejudice Deviation, by Beth Massey
Trade paperback (636)
Book cover image courtesy of CreateSpace © 2012; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2012, Austenprose.com
Oh! that’s too bad. Believe me I totally understand not wanting to finish a book (50 Shades of Mr Darcy.) I hadn’t heard of this book but like you have read lots of JAFF and somehow when it’s free and online, I am more generous and less critical with what authors do with Austen’s characters. Did you not like it because of inferior writing quality –or mostly how the major issues were handled? This does sound like an incredible stretch. But I don’t mind a stretch as long as it’s not written badly. I could be persuaded to giving it a whirl. My collection has everything else ;)) Thoughtful review.
Hi Christina! I didn’t like it for multiple reasons, the biggest being the fact that I couldn’t shake the creepy feeling I got when reading it. The quote I use in my review of Edmund staring at Georgiana literally was the nail in the coffin. I just couldn’t go any further.
The second biggest issue was where I felt things didn’t add up. After the rape Elizabeth has a difficult time being around men. (Totally understandable) She’s having a discussion with a character about the author of The Faerie Queen having to flee for his life in the middle of the night. Elizabeth’s reaction is imagining the man with in his nightclothes fleeing. Maybe it’s just me but for a woman who was raped and can’t stand being around men I don’t see her imagining them half naked.
Other things like the comment Elizabeth didn’t know you could have a child out of wedlock. Much is discussed about her reading habits in the book and the unconventional choices she reads. I can’t imagine she would be that naive yet that well read.
Besides that I couldn’t take Darcy constantly believing that Elizabeth was at fault for her rape even with the evidence stacking up against his cousin.
This story would have been different (maybe even likable) if it wasn’t being told with Austen’s characters. It honestly felt like Austen’s characters were being used because there is such a large fan base of readers that will check out anything involving her characters.
Ahhhh. I understand fully now. I’ve read a few regrettable books like that. Bummer. But thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough, thoughtful review and respond to my question so quickly.
My pleasure! :D
My Elizabeth Bennet heals and learns to live by an adage her father once told her: ‘unhappiness does, indeed, have comic aspects one should never underestimate.’ The scene Kim describes above about ‘The Faerie Queen’ is a perfect example of my attempt to convey that theme in ‘Goodly Creatures.’ It is also a perfect example of how Kim missed my forest in her review and fixated on one tree right up until she stopped reading. Lizzy and Mrs. Gardiner’s cousin, Jamie Wilder, are discussing his family’s history and recent tragedy in Ireland. Edmund Spenser comes up because of his rabid attack on Ireland where he wrote that Ireland needed to be ‘pacified’ by the English until its indigenous language and customs had been destroyed, if necessary by violence.’ My Elizabeth is processing another’s woe to put her own troubles into perspective. She imagines a man running from an angry mob in his nightclothes and finds the image humorous. She is not dwelling on her rape. It is months later and she is back out in the world engaging in conversation with a friend. At the point Lizzy and Jamie exchange this dialogue, Edmund Spenser has been dead for over 200 years. Elizabethan nightclothes were not particularly revealing—even Regency nightclothes were not revealing. I can tell you as a rape survivor, I never once felt even a twinge of PTSD when talking about men’s pajamas. In fact, pajamas were never even part of the equation because he did not change into them before he attacked me—the same was true for my Lizzy.
Truth be told, Austen’s characters should only be used for fluffy romance–forget about ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Mansfield Park’ or the serious themes Jane indulged in with all her novels–even ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ It is ‘author bad behavior’ and you will get put on that shelf at Goodreads if you go in the direction I did, but please feel free to make Darcy a werewolf, a vampire, a zombie hunter, a guardian angel or my personal favorite–have Lizzy attacked but her virginity preserved so it can be taken by Darcy at the appropriate moment.
Now you have me curious about Elizabethan pajamas… :) I don’t think anyone would it consider it ‘bad author behavior’ to write about whatever is interesting to you, even difficult topics like rape and pedophilia. It might be considered a bit funky, however, to engage in an argument with a reader who did not enjoy your book (funky and pointless, really). Taste in reading is entirely subjective, and any reader is entitled to his or her opinion, even if that opinion is not the one you would want him or her to have.
In a way, isn’t it fantastic that your book has sparked such a vibrant discussion here?
To be honest, I think if you take one of the most loved characters in English literature and make something like this happen to them you can expect to generate some powerful feelings. People feel like they know Lizzy and so reading something like this is more personal to them than if they’d read it about a previously unknown character. I would find it much easier (although not easy) to read a rape account of a stranger than of a friend. You refer to her as ‘My Elizabeth’ but the point is she ISN’T yours, so you can expect people to feel aggrieved if they think dramatic licence has been taken too far. There is a massive difference in something entirely non-canon but light hearted happening to a character and the direction that you took it. Didn’t Austen herself say that other pens than hers should dwell in guilt and misery? She specialised in light reading, so to me it logically follows that people who like her work are probably going to be looking for something light.
I have read a book I think you might be referring to in your message, where Lizzy is sexually assaulted short of rape and I think that would probably be less upsetting for some people because you have made the rape in your book probably about as upsetting as you could – she’s very young – it’s a pre-meditated attack – betrayal by a previously trusted female – forced to comply and in a situation where she can’t even fight back – has the worry of disgracing her family and the potential of social ruin for them all – she has lost her virginity which was a very big deal socially back then and she is left with extreme lasting consequences. To imply the only difference is that Darcy doesn’t get to take her virginity is an over-simplification of the difference.
I also think that your book should have some kind of warning in the blurb so that it’s clear the type of serious theme that is addressed rather than have people be taken by surprise by it. I am sure that there are lots people who would still want to read it, but those likely to be upset by it would be less likely to stumble across it looking for a light read.
I had the same difficulties with this book. I only recently discovered that Pride and Prejudice adaptations and sequels exist, and I have found much to like. Essentially the common factor in my new love for all these Austenesque writings is the commitment to keeping the characters the same while changing the circumstances and situations in which they find themselves. Even the sequels seem to keep the personalities and make-up of the characters true to Jane Austen’s rendering while creating new adventures for them. Goodly Creatures just deviated too far from the “norm” for me. While set five years in the future I still had trouble believing Elizabeth would be basically abandoned by her Aunt to Anne (shudder) Darcy. Elizabeth at 15 seemed almost an ingenue and socially dull-witted. I find it hard to believe she would be so wide-eyed and gape-mouthed even if seeing so much splendor and society for the first time. She and Jane also exhibited manners and sense socially, which would be learned over time, with the intimation from Jane Austen that their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner were good role models for them. I do not see them being lax with Elizabeth in London, nor so impressed with wealth they would trust Elizabeth to just anyone. And Anne was so cowed and restricted by her mother I find it hard for her to be that self-sufficient as a wife; to marry her to anyone would be to transfer that void of personality to the husband instead of her mother (unless it was a love match that might transform Anne’s heart and temperament). By the time I got to the rape I called it quits. It just simply is not a book for my shelf.
Very well put, Renee! I agree with you on your response to Elizabeth at 15. I too was surprised to see her so awed by society and the Ton. Thanks for your comment!
Thanks for your honest review. It’s hard to take such a beloved classic and try to make it something different. Sometimes we just have to leave the classics as they are! Thanks for your thoughts! xo
You are very welcome. Thanks for the comment, Julie.
I read the sample and decided I couldn’t face reading the whole book, I am so fond of Elizabeth as a character that even the sample (which includes the rape and her finding herself pregnant) gave me bad dreams. I’ve not liked some of the things that have been done to Lizzy by JAFF writers but this was the most distressing event certainly and I’ll never attempt this book. I was interested to read your review, I agree with you that Anne noticing her cousin’s interest in young girls and then leaving a young girl unprotected with him as if she believes nothing untoward will happen doesn’t quite make sense, I felt quite sickened by it.
I possibly could have read this book if the characters hadn’t been those from P&P, but to be honest, there is so much misery in the world when I read the news that I’m not going to go searching it out in my fiction.
Hi Ceri! I totally get you on the misery in the world statement. The news can be a huge downer sometimes. I too agree that if it wasn’t using the P&P characters I could have liked it more. I just could imagine the characters of Austen doing the things they did. Anne being an accomplice to rape? Unfathomable. And Darcy’s resistance in accepting his cousin was a rapist? Like I know Darcy was arrogant and looked down upon lower social classes but I just couldn’t believe him to be that….blind.
Thanks for the comment. Appreciated hearing your view!
Gulp! Brilliant review, LA. I think you must be spot on when you say the writer simply hijacked a popular fan base to get readers; clearly it has zero to do with the “real” P & P characters.
Thanks, Diana. I never made it to the part of the book where the original events of P&P took place. Maybe the original characters are there somewhere?
What a disturbing book — I didn’t want to finish reading your review as I had to imagine such silliness and misery with beloved characters.
There was a lot of misery. Very sad read indeed.
Very thoughtful and honest review, Kim. Thank you!
Thanks, Meredith. :)
Thanks for your insightful and honest thoughts, Kimberley. Personally, I hate it when I do not finish a book. I feel as if I just wasted several hours of my precious reading time that I can’t get back.
Sorry, didn’t realize I misspelled your name until after I hit submit. :/
Aww that’s ok Jakki! It happens fairly frequently!
I agree – a book unable to be finished is sad :(
I actually read the entire book long ago. While the plot is disturbing, as any plot with rape should be, I do not believe it was written as a Pride and Prejudice variation simply to gain readers. Believe it or not, the book has a rather lovely ending for Darcy and Elizabeth. The Elizabeth in this novel not only overcomes the obstacles in regards to the rape, but to her prejudice against Darcy.
I read many reviews done by this site, but I guess I just can’t understand why you would review a book you did not finish? It seems to be unfair to the novel and the writer to judge a book based on a partial reading.
Just my opinion…
Hi Angie – thanks for your comment. I don’t doubt that there could be a happy ending for Darcy and Elizabeth. I would hope there would be a light at the end of the tunnel after all the misery and darkness that happens at the beginning of the novel.
I personally couldn’t shake the feeling of my skin crawling while reading certain parts and chose not to finish. I don’t believe that the characters Austen created were the ones put forth in this novel. Again – my personal take on the characters I read.
As I stated in my review, due to the fact that I didn’t finish the novel I didn’t think it fair to give it a rating and didn’t. I do however think that other people who read JAFF novels have a right to know the darkness in this novel before they read it themselves. I’m sure there are people who will still give it a try even after reading my review. I do also state in my review that I know people who enjoyed it. To each their own.
When there are disturbing elements in the novel, such as rape and child molestation then it is only right that a reputable reviewer bring it to the fan base at large. I can’t read about it as there has been situations like this to someone close to me, it was very difficult to read Kimberly’s quotes from the novel.
I appreciate Kimberly writing this!
And that is my opinion.
Hi June – you aren’t the only person who has said that reading about rape is difficult and uncomfortable. There are a few people on goodreads who weren’t aware of the rape storyline and had adverse reactions to it. I’m not saying that rape shouldn’t be a storyline in novels ever, but it’s definitely something that needs to come with a warning label.
Thanks for your comment!
Hi Angie, as the editor of Austenprose I will take responsibility for the decision to post Kim’s response to this novel.
Even though we have never posted a review of a book that was not completed before, I felt that the intensity of the subject and how Austen’s characters were used was important information to JAFF readers. I encouraged her to write about the strong feelings that it evoked and use quotes to back up her opinions.
We aim to be fair and objective here. Kim gave an honest and balanced opinion of what she completed allowing readers to understand the critical points and make their own decision. Because she did not complete the book, we withheld the star rating that we have always added at the end of reviews.
I hope this is helpful. LA
Kimberly, I appreciate your excellent & forthright review of Beth’s book. I wish joy to those inclined to read it & success to Beth. But as the grandmother of three granddaughters (& until this point I thought a fairly well traveled, urban & with it Grandmother) I feel well warned. While I’m as aware as ever of the attitudes of that era, I’m not inclined to read Jane’s characters even temporarily misdirected into supporting or condoning what sounds like pedophilia. However happy Darcy & Lizzy may end up in the end. It doesn’t sound at all the same to me.
I will say though that the book doesn’t condone pedophilia. It’s bought up a lot when Elizabeth’s rapist is the focus of the story. His thoughts were very in your face and caused a lot of discomfort for me.
Thanks for your comment!
Hi Kimberly, I didn’t mean to imply that the novel condoned pedophilia. I’m sure the villain gets his comeuppance. But unknowingly, with less excuse for his naivete than the young Elizabeth had for hers, the worldly Mr Darcy seems to been have put in the position of condoning it.
Didn’t he seem to blame the underage Elizabeth for her own plight? That’s condoning it in the real world -knowingly or unknowingly. That’s why I dislike the sound of the plot so much. I can’t imagine Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy behaving in such a fashion.
Thanks for your review. I’m glad I read it all the way through so that I knew there was a rape. I try to be open-minded about JAFF too, but am not at all comfortable with that type of subject matter.
Hi Beth! I think that’s one of the main reasons we went with posting the review even though I didn’t finish the novel. Rape is a difficult subject for some people to deal with/read about. I’m not saying it’s something that shouldn’t be discussed or written about, but it’s a topic that should come with a warning label. Thanks for your comment!
The subject matter that you mentioned in the review actually made me feel ill, as I come from a fostering background where a lot of kids go through this before being taken into the system, and I’m glad that I shall never attempt to read this!
Hi Heidi – I’m sorry for the ill feeling that anything I wrote caused you to feel. It’s definitely a subject matter that’s more difficult for some to read about then others. Thanks for the comment!
I think this is a very well thought out and balanced review, Kimberly. I was unable to finish this novel as well. Not only did I find the rape/pedophilia bits disturbing, I felt like there were long passages on literature and social issues that did nothing to forward the plot and that characters had inexplicably completely altered from how they are in the original.
Hi Jessica – definitely agree with you. I started reading the part about the Irish revolution and was impressed with the authors knowledge but didn’t see how it furthered the plot any.
Thanks for the comment!
Hi Kim: I REALLY appreciate your critical candor in this review. On a book I recently reviewed, I also took exception to the author’s deviating away from Jane Austen’s original artistic intent regarding major characters from Pride and Prejudice. I suppose I’m a Jane Austen purist and although I allow liberty for drastically altering the personalities and characters from the authentic, this doesn’t quite qualify to be the time and place. I am gratified to be associated with a group of individuals here at http://www.austenprose.com that comment with a sense for personal and artistic integrity in what is being reviewed. Trust is a must
Thanks, Jeffrey! I’m on the complete opposite side of the Austen spectrum and am usually super liberal with storylines, as long as the characters closely resemble the ones Austen created.
Truly appreciate your comment. And yes, trust is a must!