From the desk of Katie Jackson:
Most variations of Jane Austen’s classic novels are set in England, in the same Regency time period as the original stories. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover that this new Pride and Prejudice variation—Tempted, by prolific Austenesque author Nicole Clarkston—takes place in a unique time and multiple locations.
In July 1900, we are introduced to an American Elizabeth Bennet, born and raised on a ranch in Wyoming and recently wed to Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, cousin of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and second son of the Earl of Matlock. Elizabeth’s amenable yet annoying cousin Billy Collins has escorted her and her sister Jane from America to London so that she may present herself to the colonel’s parents, Lord and Lady Matlock. Colonel Fitzwilliam, a cavalry officer, had been sent to Wyoming as a special envoy of Her Majesty’s Army—and someone with a good eye for horseflesh—in search of horses for the military. While on his mission in Wyoming, the colonel was called to the Boer War in South Africa and married Elizabeth shortly before he departed. There are mysterious circumstances surrounding their hasty marriage, and Elizabeth soon discovers that the colonel’s family is completely unaware of her existence and refuses to receive her as his wife. Instead, she is met by Mr. Darcy, serving as a family representative, who bears unwelcome tidings about her new husband.
“He could not form his own words, so at last, he opened the letter and read a portion of the excruciating print. ‘…We regret to inform you that Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam of the 4th Battalion of the Derbyshire’s has been listed as Missing in Action….’” (117)
Wishing to do his duty, Darcy reluctantly welcomes Elizabeth and her entourage into his home in order to protect his cousin’s wife while also determining if she truly is Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Almost immediately, he is inexplicably drawn to her.
“Whenever she looked his way, he felt certain she was some enchantress, endowed with the ability to peer into the hearts of mortal men. She was staring at him now—Richard’s wife. That was the best he could possibly hope to call her, for either she was an ill-judged ‘mistake’ of his cousin’s, or she was a fraud.” (203)
Upon her arrival, Darcy sets out to discreetly interrogate Elizabeth, who shrewdly remarks, “Am I to understand that you are the guard dog, barring the gates and catechising the claimants to discern the truth?” (258) After a dubious beginning, yet with a mutual concern for their missing loved one, as well as a mutual admiration for each other, they quickly develop a deep and abiding friendship.
The history between Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam is gradually revealed in intermittent flashbacks, interspersed with her experiences as she waits for news of her husband’s whereabouts. Elizabeth’s introduction to her in-laws as Mrs. Fitzwilliam comes with mixed results, with her mother-in-law exclaiming,
“Certainly not this nameless hussy of no family and no class. What connection can she possibly have to my son? It is all a sham and a lie, Darcy, and I cannot fathom how you have succumbed to her ill-gotten tale of woe.” (413)
As in the original story, there is an obvious class divide, but there is also an overwhelming cultural separation between the brazen Americans and the posh Brits. Still, the Fitzwilliam family forges on together with Elizabeth amongst them, anxiously anticipating whatever fate has befallen their beloved Richard.
The story unfolds at a deceptively slow pace that does not quite prepare readers for the unveiling of several stunning revelations. There is action. There is angst. International travel, vile villains, suspenseful mystery and intrigue … this story has it all, and it’s masterfully plotted. My single complaint is that this book is massively (56 chapters!) long and made me feel unproductive when I read for hours and made little progress. It has a sweeping, cinematic sense to it. I felt as though I’d just emerged, bleary-eyed, from a lavish, old-fashioned movie theater where I’d been immersed for hours in a dramatic and romantic tale played out on film and worthy of a deeply contented sigh. It is truly an epic saga.
My emotional investment in the story was so gradual that it caught me by surprise. I cried at times, and I cheered, as well. There was this palpable feeling throughout the story of desperate yearning for what one cannot have and the desire to do the honorable thing. It is an examination of human relationships: romantic, familial, and even interactions with nefarious villains, and it highlights the gray area between right and wrong. Tempted is a beautifully crafted masterpiece about how love and devotion can be both heartbreaking and healing.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Tempted: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Nicole Clarkston
White Soup Press (June 29, 2020)
Trade paperback & eBook (593) pages
Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2020; text Katie Jackson © 2020, Austenprose.com