From the desk of Debbie Brown:
It’s become obvious to me that Nicole Clarkston loves messing with her readers’ heads in the opening chapter of her books. She starts off in one direction, apparently setting the stage for one kind of story, and then unexpectedly careens off into previously unexplored territory. The Rogue’s Widow, her recently released variation of Pride and Prejudice, sure does.
As Chapter One begins, Elizabeth Bennet is in London interviewing for a position as a lady’s companion, and she meets Mr. Darcy, her prospective employer, for the first time. His behavior is even more arrogant and brusque than in the original Pride and Prejudice. Okay, we’ve read THIS premise before, right? It’s obvious how this is going to go, especially when he decides she’s right for the position and hires her on the spot.
…And now Darcy’s taking Elizabeth to the debtor’s prison to marry a resident there.
Yup. It’s simple, really. Mr. Darcy is killing two birds with one stone.
The first reason is that man she’s to marry, Bernard Wickham, owns Corbett Lodge, a small, poorly maintained estate adjoining Pemberley. He’s in prison with not much time left to live—the direct result of a depraved life. Bernard’s one brief scene in Chapter One proves this guy doesn’t deserve any pity. The big news is that George Wickham, his younger brother, is currently next in line to inherit Corbett Lodge. Darcy sure can’t have THAT.
As it happens, Bernard hates his kid brother even more than he hates Darcy—which really is saying something, since it was Darcy who’d bought up his debts and had Bernard imprisoned. At least Darcy is putting out some coin to make his jail time slightly less unbearable. Consequently, Bernard agrees to get hitched to the lady of Darcy’s choice in order to keep the money flowing and to spite his brother, George. With no entail on Corbett Lodge, SHE will inherit it when he inevitably throws off his mortal coil.
Meanwhile, Georgiana has been without a companion ever since Mrs. Younge got sacked for conspiring with George Wickham at Ramsgate the previous summer. All Darcy needs is an unattached, gently bred, kind applicant desperate enough to do anything—including marrying a dying rogue—to get the job.
As you probably have deduced, Mr. Bennet has died, leaving his wife and daughters in dire financial straits. Between that and the favorable impression she makes, Elizabeth Bennet is the easy choice to be offered this golden opportunity. Knowing she has no choice, she reluctantly agrees, asking Darcy, “And I have your word as a gentleman that you will treat me with dignity?” to which he responds, “Miss Bennet! What do you take me for, your future husband?”
Chapter One ends with one of the strangest weddings you will ever read, and Elizabeth becomes Mrs. Wickham. It’s a heck of an opening salvo to set up the rest of the story.
Darcy proves to be an odd employer but a generous one—sure enough, Elizabeth soon inherits Corbett Lodge (which Darcy has repaired at his own expense), and her mother and sisters move in. He also provides them with a small household staff, Elizabeth has her Sundays free to spend with them, and she’s fitted for a nice new wardrobe. Her job itself is a dream. She gets along beautifully with Georgiana and the staff, and Pemberley is a wonderful place to live, both inside and out. “[E]verything but her employer himself suited her perfectly. Even Mr. Darcy was a good enough man, but she had never met anyone quite so provoking.” She finds herself responding to his abrupt manners with impertinent replies. To Elizabeth’s surprise, he doesn’t seem to mind and even responds in kind.
Darcy’s impression of Elizabeth is more positive.
“Most women—nay, most people in general—had the light and living crushed out of them by the time they had reached their majority. …Mrs. Wickham’s look was still fresh and honest as a girl, but tempered with…[s]adness, perhaps, and not a little hard-won wisdom.”
The plot moves on, and additional characters help drive the story forward. Darcy introduces Mr. Bingley to the Bennets as a potential love interest…for Elizabeth! Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy are on the outs, and the reason is surprising. It actually has something to do with George Wickham, who enters the story understandably eager to make the acquaintance of his new sister-in-law and her family.
The unusual plot twists in The Rogue’s Widow make for an engaging read. Ms. Clarkston balances the light and dark elements of the story perfectly. She makes the verbal skirmishes between Darcy and Elizabeth great fun and their attraction to each other palpable. It’s lovely that they get a LOT of page time together. Other characters are consistent with what we’d expect from Jane Austen’s creations under these circumstances. I do think Darcy would have told Georgiana’s companion about the family’s history with Wickham, and Darcy’s “matter of honor” that prevents him from offering marriage to Elizabeth is a bit of a stretch. However, the quality of the storytelling had me completely immersed, so those observations never occurred to me as I was reading.
If you’re stuck home right now enduring “social isolation,” this is a great book to lose yourself in.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Rogue’s Widow: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Nicole Clarkston
Independently published (April 4, 2020)
Trade paperback & eBook (162) pages
Cover image courtesy of Nicole Clarkston © 2020; text Debbie Brown © 2020, Austenprose.com