Ever wonder if a book you read several years ago and loved still stacks up? I did and was tempted to revisit one of my favorite Pride and Prejudice sequels, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, in audiobook for my summer listening. Read by Mr. Darcy himself—well not quite—but close, the narrator is British actor David Rintoul who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the 1980 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. After a second pass, “my affections and wishes are unchanged” and I am incorporating my original review (slightly amended) and finishing with my impression of this audio version.
If Jane Austen thought that her novel Pride and Prejudice was too light, bright, and sparkling and wanted shade, then author Maya Slater has made up for any deficit by crossing over to the “dark side” in writing her re-telling of Austen’s classic tale of misunderstandings and reconciliation. Not only are we privy to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s most intimate and revealing secrets, we see the story of Pride and Prejudice told wholly from the male perspective, and gentle readers, be prepared. It’s a man’s world in Regency England, and dare I say, Fitzy is no saint!
The story opens with Mr. Darcy as a house guest of the Bingley’s at Netherfield Park the night of the Meryton assembly. Caroline Bingley is up to her usual kowtowing activities and insists upon embroidering slippers for Mr. Darcy, even though he inwardly fumes that he has no use for them. He is ruminating over his sister Georgiana’s letter and sees no solution to her predicament, the particulars of which are not yet known to us. The party arrives at the assembly rooms and there is little of interest for him there. Seeing the dance unfold from his perspective is an interesting vantage: the rooms, the music and the “superfluity of raw young ladies eager for dancing partners were all disenchanting to him.” His breeches are too tight so he does not sit down! Beyond the perfunctory dances with his two hostesses, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, he saw nothing in the room to tempt him. No mention is made of his slighting our heroine Elizabeth Bennet, but this is Mr. Darcy’s diary after all, and an event of no consequence to him would surely not be recorded in his personal diary.
And so the first few entries of the diary were pleasant enough. The language and style were respectful to Austen’s, the storyline consistent with Darcy’s view, and the characters well thought out. A good beginning. My interest builds as I realize that I am reliving Pride and Prejudice from a new perspective, told by an author who understands the novel, is well researched in Regency history and can turn a phrase quite neatly. Better and better. Whoa! Darcy has just admired a housemaid’s “pleasing embonpoint” removed her starched white apron and tumbled her on his bed! (Okay, I just heard the pounding exodus of Austen purist as they run out the back door.) The hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. This is not the Darcy that we know from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, and the author has just made her point.
Uncertain if I could get past this bit, I venture on. We follow Darcy to London with his faithful valet Peebles in tow. Their Jeeves and Wooster relationship is amusing. I smile. Darcy unknowingly crumples up his leather gloves in a coat pocket, scuffs his boots, and wants to wear the wrong clothes for the wrong occasion. It is of little consequence to this wealthy and overly confident man, but Peebles is beside himself. I laugh. In addition to Charles Bingley, we are introduced to Darcy’s friend, George Byron. Yes, the poet and notorious, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Byron. He lives up to his reputation and influences Darcy into dubious deeds that most Regency men of his position in society amuse themselves with like cards, drunken debacles, and escapades with women. At this point, we are experiencing Darcy from a totally male point-of-view, but the transition into events that Austen would never have included in her heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s female world, are more acceptable because this author’s skill at making Darcy’s diary so believable and amusing is effortless. By the midway point in the diary, it has become a page turner, and I am totally captivated.
So how did author Maya Slater woo a Janeite who openly admits contempt for renovators who sex up or steal Austen’s good name? She actually did not have to. Once I abandoned my expectations of reading another prequel, sequel or re-telling bent on ripping off Jane Austen’s stories or characters, I realized that this was not Elizabeth Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, but Mr. Darcy’s, and Maya Slater was not renovating Jane or sexing up Lizzy but telling a man’s story. What other authors have attempted in their Darcy re-tellings by mirroring Jane Austen’s text word-for-word has been replaced by sheer creativity and respect. Slater expands our understanding of the plot and characters that Jane Austen introduced making Mr. Darcy’s Diary unique and yet blend-able to the original story. It made me laugh-out-loud repeatedly as she expounded on the smarmy antics of Caroline Bingley whose continued attempts to worm her way into Darcy’s affections fall flat, fume over the officious arrogance of his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, hiss at the deceit and destruction caused by that lout George Wickham, and revel in a love story that I listened to as freshly and intensely as the first time this writer experienced the original many years ago. That, gentle Austen readers, is quite an achievement. Even Mr. Darcy might consider Maya Slater worthy of inclusion in “the half a dozen women in the whole range of (his) acquaintance that are truly accomplished.”
My original review of this novel was 4 out of 5 stars, but I am upping the audio version to top honors of 5 stars because of the captivating, velvety voice of actor David Rintoul. Wow. He is just perfection.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Mr. Darcy’s Diary, (audiobook) by Maya Slater, read by David Rintoul
AudioGO Ltd. & Audible.com (2008)
Unabridged digital download (8 hours and 33 mins)
Cover image courtesy of AudioGo © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com