From the desk of Katie Jackson:
In Regency-era novels, which are popular for their promotion of proper behavior and swoon-worthy romantic declarations, forced-marriage tropes spice up the angst and the inevitable, slow-burn romances that result. It is satisfying to read of gentlemen doing the right thing, marrying not for love but as their duty to protect a lady’s reputation, and it is equally satisfying to observe the couple’s meandering journey to an ultimate love match. As a Pride & Prejudice enthusiast, my curiosity was piqued when I discovered this forced-marriage situation between two beloved characters, in a location only referred to in hindsight in the original story. Pride and Prejudice variations are like choose-your-own-adventure stories that take readers through various what-if scenarios, making them ponder how a single decision might entirely change the destiny of their characters. Debut author Lucy Marin reveals an unusually bleak beginning for Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in her Pride & Prejudice variation, Being Mrs Darcy.
This variation’s prologue opens on the August morning of Elizabeth’s forced marriage to Darcy, as they are traveling from Hertfordshire to London with his sister, Georgiana, and cousin, Sterling. Darcy is brooding, and “Elizabeth’s sense of dread grew with each successive mile they travelled.” (Kindle location 25) The situation worsens when they arrive at Darcy House. “Only the housekeeper and butler greeted them, and Elizabeth tried not to feel the slight; the entire household should be there to meet their new mistress.” (Kindle location 37) Darcy himself merely goes through the motions of his duties, dining with her and spending a short time in her company afterward, although almost entirely in silence. Elizabeth knew “he was unhappy about the marriage and despised her, as he had shown repeatedly in the six weeks of their acquaintance.” (Kindle location 58) She ends her wedding day in hopeless tears, haunted by her single fateful decision on a July night in Ramsgate that marked the point of no return.
Elizabeth was visiting the seaside town with her father and her older sister, Jane when she became the involuntary witness to a confrontation between an increasingly distraught young girl and a desperate and threatening man. Without thought, Elizabeth springs to action, rushing out into the darkened street to boldly protect the girl, who has quickly realized that her clandestine meeting and lovers’ quarrel are actually hiding a sinister plot. The girl’s brother, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, arrives shortly thereafter, just as the villain, Mr. George Wickham, flees. Miss Georgiana Darcy weeps, and Elizabeth is left to explain the unusual encounter. All the while, the curiosity of passersby ensures that the event will not be forgotten. At first, it seemed unlikely that a seemingly innocent encounter could possibly be vilified, but this situation that hinted at possible impropriety involving members of the otherwise invincible upper class was destined to set tongues wagging. And wag they did, until it became apparent that the only way to protect them all from further scandal was for Miss Elizabeth Bennet to become Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
“‘What are you suggesting, Mr Darcy?’ Mr Bennet asked. ‘I believe it is best for the reputations of both the Darcy and Bennet families if Miss Elizabeth and I…marry.’ His revulsion made it difficult to say the last word. The Bennets could not understand how disgusting the prospect was to him.” (Kindle location 173)
As the couple settles into their unhappy life together, briefly in London, and soon after that at Pemberley in Derbyshire, Elizabeth faces the extreme displeasure and prejudice of Darcy’s aristocratic family. The story is narrated from multiple points of view, providing glimpses into Elizabeth’s struggle with increasing self-doubt and despair and Georgiana’s self-righteous unwillingness to accept Elizabeth or acknowledge the sacrifice that was made as a result of her own foolish behavior. Excessively proud as always, Darcy is convinced that his wife is incapable of rising to her newly acquired station and that she is the only one to benefit from their union. “He would give her a distinguished name, exemplary connexions, and wealth far beyond what she had ever known. While she gained, he lost. Elizabeth Bennet was in every way lacking.” (Kindle location 201) He allows that conviction to comfort him as he avoids assisting her, seeing her floundering as evidence of her many inadequacies and justifying her mistreatment at the hands of his family.
Their miserable marriage seems to be without resolution. Many months pass as Elizabeth determinedly strives to prove her worth as a proper wife and mistress of Pemberley. By December, the tense situation erupts in a vicious verbal brawl. “Do you think so little of my understanding? Do you think I could not see how you and your family, even your friends, all of you look upon me with scorn? That none of you believe I deserve to be your wife? Perhaps then it would surprise you to know that I do not want to be Mrs Darcy, I have never wanted to be Mrs Darcy, and I hate every day that I am Mrs Darcy.” (Kindle location 2051) Just as Elizabeth finally gives up all hope of ever earning the respect of her husband or his family, Darcy is stunned into eyes-wide-open awareness of the impressive woman he married.
Lucy Marin’s writing was immersive, and I appreciated the multiple points of view that allowed the reader to gain the perspective of not only Elizabeth but Darcy and Georgiana as well. Without that periodic shift, I would have been determined to dislike Darcy and hate Georgiana. But, as is often the case, nothing is ever quite what it seems, and it was crucial to see the motivations for their behavior through their eyes. Observing Darcy’s gradual awakening to love and self-awareness was, at times, frustrating but also satisfying. Elizabeth’s strength and perseverance in the face of adversity were admirable. After all she endures, there are some entertaining confrontations that made me wickedly gleeful over the well-deserved comeuppance of several villainous characters. This variation also reveals a more spiteful Mr. Bennet, far different from the vaguely amused and mostly apathetic father from canon. “You will now be thrown into their society, your care entrusted to a man who does not want you, who will never respect you. How could you have been so stupid, Elizabeth?” (Kindle location 193) His derision of his daughter, and his utter disgust of the ton, is a disappointing character deviation that sadly ensures his estrangement from her.
Although it was a much longer story than necessary, Being Mrs Darcy was most definitely a page-turning, in-depth, and realistic portrayal of human interaction and prejudice.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Being Mrs Darcy, by Lucy Marin
Quills & Quartos Publishing (March 3, 2020)
Trade paperback, & eBook (464) pages
Cover image courtesy of Quills & Quartos Publishing © 2020; text Katie Jackson © 2020, Austenprose.com