From the desk of Monica Perry:
What happens when the independent, outspoken Miss Elizabeth Bennet finds herself forced to wed the proud Mr. Darcy, a virtual stranger whom she can barely tolerate? With their history of heated interactions, can they co-exist peacefully, let alone find companionship or affection? Jenetta James’s Suddenly Mrs. Darcy is a Pride and Prejudice what-if story that deviates from Jane Austen’s canon at the point of the Netherfield ball. I love forced marriage scenarios and all their angsty goodness! With such differing personalities as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, I was eager to see how Ms. James would explore the dynamics of such a hasty union between my favorite literary couple.
When Elizabeth brings up in conversation Darcy’s infamous treatment of her friend Mr. Wickham, Darcy seeks to clear his name and takes her aside to a dimly lit salon to talk. Here they are seen by Mrs. Bennet, who immediately sounds the alarm that her daughter has been compromised. Despite Elizabeth’s protestations that nothing untoward has occurred, Mr. Bennet steps in, Mr. Darcy steps up and Elizabeth has no choice but to marry him and quickly. She can’t fathom why he would agree to marry her with nary a word of protest when it’s so obvious their dislike is mutual.
Here we have a “pre-Hunsford” Mr. Darcy who has not yet seen the need to modify his proud and disdainful behavior toward others. He acts unfeelingly with regard to Elizabeth’s family, and finds little need to explain himself to her. Because the story is told from only Elizabeth’s perspective, readers don’t have the luxury of knowing Darcy’s feelings, motivations, etc because he is not very forthcoming with her. It’s natural for readers to project onto Darcy what they think or hope his character is, but they really don’t know, and it is so frustrating! As they spend more time together at Pemberley, Elizabeth does achieve a sense of contentment, and her intimate times with her husband gradually deepen her affections. When contention does arise between them, she is angry but tends to push the issue to the back burner to be dealt with later, or not at all.
During a visit to Kent, Darcy’s aunt puts a bug in Elizabeth’s ear about an unsavory aspect of Darcy’s life in London which, combined with her own suspicions of a secret, compel her to confront him and seek the truth. Though it’s not exactly her most attractive moment, I was so glad she took action because it shows Darcy what the reader already knows, that she cares enough to be crazy-mad-jealous! I was just waiting for that moment when all of Elizabeth’s building, simmering frustration spewed forth, and when the reckoning came, it was powerful and moving, and came with some dire consequences I did not expect, as well as an immediate alteration to Darcy’s attitude. Though it was brought about in a heart-rending way, it was lovely to finally see some passion, even in anger, and get a glimpse of what he had been experiencing and why he withheld information from her.
I liked the revelation of Darcy’s secret. It’s something I’ve rarely seen in Austenesque works and I like how he deals with it as best he can under the circumstances, and realistically within that society. The only small issue I had with Ms. James’s story was that Elizabeth was perhaps too complacent and fatalistic. Though Jane Austen tells us Elizabeth’s character is not formed for melancholy, and I don’t see her as the type to create drama for drama’s sake, I was surprised at how little fuss she kicked up in the beginning. And while there is wisdom in choosing one’s battles with a spouse, I was beginning to wonder if she had enough fight in her, and found myself saying, “Is she really going to let that go?!” It hurt my heart a bit that she felt she had to dampen her vibrancy for him because he was so grave.
I don’t always love first person narratives, but Jenetta James’s writing made it incredibly easy for me to sink into Elizabeth’s story and connect with her emotionally. Suddenly Mrs. Darcy is very well-written and edited, and thoroughly engaging. It could very easily be read in one sitting. I’m very impressed with this debut novel and I am eager to read Ms. James’s future work.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
Suddenly Mrs. Darcy, by Jenetta James
Meryton Press (2015)
Trade paperback & eBook (170) pages
Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2015; text Monica Perry © 2015, Austenprose.com
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