From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
For Jane Austen fans the possibility of meeting their favorite author or living in one of her novels is the ultimate fantasy. While time-travel is not available to us, creative and imaginative stories are. Recent books such as The Jane Austen Project and the Austen Adventures series have given us in-person meetings with Jane Austen during her early nineteenth-century life. In Nine Ladies, Heather Moll’s latest release, we experience the awe-inspiring ingenuity of Diana Gabaldon’s time-travel Outlander series combined with the classic hate at first sight love story of Jane Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice, but with a twist.
In 2011 Elizabeth Bennet has returned to England after decades to attend to her estranged father, leaving her mother and elder sister Jane back in America. While touring the Derbyshire countryside, she unknowingly steps into an ancient stone circle called the Nine Ladies and awakens 200 years in the past at Pemberley, the country manor house of Mr. Darcy.
Aware of the power of the stones, and of other visitors from the future, the Darcy family has guarded their secret and dealt with those few who have appeared over the centuries. Taking authority Darcy presents the puzzling and outspoken new traveler with a plan. He will hide her until she can return through the stones during the next solstice in three months’ time.
After spending months alone with her dying father, Elizabeth will not be imprisoned in an outbuilding on the Pemberley estate and rejects his plan. Instead, she offers her own solution. She will stay at Pemberley with him by becoming a fictitious distant relative of the housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds. Darcy begrudgingly agrees, though as time advances both are challenged by their decision and their growing attraction to each other: Darcy by the convoluted story he must spin to keep her and Pemberley safe, and Elizabeth with the trappings of nineteenth-century life, the attitudes toward women—and especially the information that she knows about the bleak future facing the Darcy family and the estate.
The push and pull of the Elizabeth and Darcy relationship are interesting to watch along with her encounters with Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper at Pemberley, who is ordered to assist her, but really wants nothing to do with her.
“Reynolds stopped to look her in the eye, the smile gone. A muscle in her jaw twitched. “Do not forget, Miss Bennet, that as good-natured as Miss Darcy is, as generous as the master is, we none of us want you here.” Elizabeth gritted her teeth as Reynolds continued walking. “Got it, Mrs. Danvers.” The housekeeper spun on her heels to face her. “How da—” She sighed. “I cannot believe you forgot my name.” I need to keep my temper. “Forgive me. You reminded me of someone I knew from home.” (Chapter 6, Loc 1029)
The challenges of education and knowledge that a female time-traveler brings with them to a previous century are always fun. If nineteenth-century Darcy thought that Elizabeth Bennet was a modern woman with advanced opinions of a woman’s place in the world, imagine his dilemma with the same character with two hundred years of women’s rights empowering her?
“The twenty-first century treats women a little better than you do. Can you comprehend the idea that women can vote and hold public office?” She closed her eyes. “But I made a promise; I will play the role I’ve been cast in: the ignorant little woman. But between us, in my time, America is the richest, most prosperous, and most promising nation in the world.” Fitzwilliam smiled. “You are teasing! And next, you will tell me your navy is the most powerful.” (Chapter 5, Loc 785)
One of the electrifying scenes in Pride and Prejudice is the Netherfield Park battle of opinions in the drawing-room between Elizabeth and Darcy. Moll’s choice of language in a similar scene in Nine Ladies rings true to Austen’s intent.
“I don’t think you give a damn for anyone outside your little circle. If they’re not connected to this estate, a Darcy by blood or marriage, or one of your wealthy friends, you don’t care. You either disdain the feelings of those who aren’t close to you, or you’re just so selfish that you don’t even realize they have feelings.” As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed color, but he did not interrupt her. “This is your opinion of me?” His voice was less tranquil than it had been. “After all I have done to assist you?” (Chapter 7, Loc 1155)
Ultimately Elizabeth is faced with the decision if she should alter the future by changing the outcome of the past that she is in. Should she take Darcy with her into the future to save his life? Will there be far-reaching repercussions if she does so beyond her control?
The notion of time-travel through ancient druid stone circles is fascinating to me—and for those with an imaginative reading spirit, it is totally believable as a trope. I was intrigued further that the Nine Ladies exists, located on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire, fourteen miles from Chatsworth House. Many scholars believe that Chatsworth was Jane Austen’s inspiration for Pemberley, furthering the local connection to the story, and feeding my fancies.
There are many aspects of this story that fans of Pride and Prejudice will recognize and appreciate, and others that will add to the overall enjoyment of the new story. While reading the first few chapters where modern Elizabeth was interacting with her family and her friends, I had to remind myself that this was not a retelling of the original, but a variation of the story as we met familiar character names who had few of Austen’s personality traits. Moll made up for this jarring change with her protagonists: Elizabeth and Darcy. She has crafted her modern Lizzy in the mode of Austen’s obstinate headstrong girl with heart, head, and spunk. Her sarcastic humor was spot on throughout, and Darcy’s befuddled arrogance is humbled only by her enlightened spirit. Nine Ladies is the ultimate wish-fulfillment for Jane Austen fans and one of the best Austenesque novels I have read in quite some time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
5 out of 5 Stars
ADDITIONAL NOVELS BY HEATHER MOLL
- Nine Ladies: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Heather Moll
- Excessively Diverted Press (January 24, 2021)
- Trade paperback & eBook (455) pages
- ISBN: 978-1735186627
- Genre: Austenesque, Time Travel
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Book cover courtesy of Excessively Diverted Press © 2021; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2021, austenprose.com.