In a continuation of Pride and Prejudice, we revisit the former Miss Lydia Bennet who, to avoid total disgrace, has married Mr. Wickham, that rake-hell and tormenter of Mr. Darcy. As she embarks on her latest quest, we read from Mrs. Wickham’s personal journal as she lists her ‘modest’ goals in life:
“My wants in life have always been modest. A few pretty gowns, a sprinkling of diamonds, a matching pair of footmen (so, so fashionable) and of course a respectable roof over my head, some land and a handsome, attentive wealthy husband. These are the dreams of any well brought up female. I cannot imagine how they became entangled with outlaws, royal plots, and fraudulent bankers…”
Mr. Wickham has recently perished at Waterloo and the widowed Lydia, chafing under her enforced mourning period, takes up in London with best friend Selena and her dim-witted army husband, Miles. She begins her ambitious quest by teaming with these friends to practice the one useful skill her late husband taught her: Cheating wealthy patrons out of money at card parties.
Told in the first-person narrative, Lydia’s reckless sojourn takes her from Pemberley to Longbourn to Brighton to London to Bath, to Paris to Italy, and finally to ________, not necessarily in that exact order. Along the way, she is manipulated like a chess pawn by a silly lord, a crooked banker, a handsome highwayman, Selena and Miles, Lydia’s personal maid Adelaide, a Viennese Count, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, a wealthy widow companion, a mysterious English officer, an overweight pug, Princess Caroline, and the Prince Regent himself. Sounds complicated? Yes indeed.
As a disgraced woman refusing to repent of her immoral ways there is no place to go but DOWN. And ‘down’ she goes with the highwayman, the Viennese Count, almost with the royal banker, and with none other than His Royal Highness the Prince Regent. The author thankfully spares us the sordid details of these sexual escapades other than to describe the bloated Prince’s pathetic but hilarious bedroom encounter with our anti-heroine.
In one encounter, Lydia returns to Pemberley to finagle an allowance out of her brother-in-law, Mr. Darcy. As a Jane Austen purist, I took exception with the author’s portrayal of Darcy, Elizabeth, and Georgiana, as deviating away from what I consider Miss Austen’s original artistic intent. Lydia resents Mr. Darcy’s moralizing and describes how his eyes bug out and he grits his teeth when upset. My dear author: Please note that Colin Firth’s eyes do NOT bug out.
This reader kept looking for that romance which never fully materialized although Lydia admitted to being smitten by the highwayman. So, this story is primarily an adventure in which the clueless Lydia, similar to the character of Forrest Gump, inadvertently impacts everyone and everything around her as she is haplessly swept along into one ridiculous situation after another.
In the first few chapters, I began to wonder “where’s this going?” However, warming quickly to the author’s style, I began to enjoy the journalistic escapade much more than wondering where it was leading to. The author commands a formidable vocabulary that is skillfully exercised in her urgent, vivid writing style. Within Lydia’s adventure is an interwoven part of the historical account of the feud between the Prince Regent and the exiled Princess Caroline.
Other than objecting to the author’s unflattering treatment of the Darcys at Pemberley, only the finish left me vaguely dissatisfied. If the author indeed plans a sequel, then the open-ended conclusion works, but if no sequel is forthcoming, then the book ends abruptly without resolution – like a door slamming in the reader’s face.
Nevertheless, I was suitably entertained by savoring the harrowing exploits of our anti-heroine along with her cast of colorful but unsavory accomplices and antagonists. It was a fun read and I’m hoping for some sort of resolution in a sequel.
4 out of 5 Stars
The Bad Miss Bennet: A Novel, by Jean Burnett
Hardcover (272) pages
Cover image courtesy of Pegasus © 2012; text Jeffrey Ward © 2012, Austenprose.com