Now they had come to it, the moment he dreaded. “We are to marry in nearly two days -“
“It has not escaped my notice, I assure you.”
“- and I find myself in need of some . . . advice.” Mr. Bingley & Mr. Darcy, The Darcys & the Bingleys
And so gentle readers, begins the premise of the latest sequel to Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, entitled The Darcys and The Bingleys. In this debut novel by Marsha Altman the story is centered on the friendship of Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy, elevating Mr. Bingley to co-protagonist with his future brother-in-law. We are immediately reconnected to the original story as Charles Bingley, that amiably good natured friend of the commanding Mr. Darcy ruminates over their approaching marriages to the Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth. Endearingly true to character, Mr. Bingley is not quite sure of himself or how to resolve a pressing matter. After much deliberation he determines that his closest friend Mr. Darcy is the best man to approach on the delicate subject of martial relations and entreats his advice. Mr. Darcy responds by presenting him with a wedding gift; — ‘the book’– an illustrated and transcribed ancient Indian text of the Kama Sutra.
Not only is Charles Bingley concerned about his wedding night performance, his future bride Jane Bennet is in turn confused and alarmed after the obligatory mother-daughter chat on wifely duties that her mother unloads on her and sister Elizabeth the day before the wedding. Luckily their aunt Mrs. Gardiner was also present to smooth the waters so-to-speak, but even cool and clever Elizabeth is befuddled by the vagueness of the information and asks her fiancé, Mr. Darcy for reassurance.
As the invited guests arrive for the wedding, we are re-acquainted with many familiar characters from Pride and Prejudice; Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Rev. Mr. Collins and wife Charlotte, Mr. & Mrs. Bennet and their daughters Kitty and Mary, Lydia Wickham, Anne de Borough who has escaped from Rosings and the clutches of her mother Lady Catherine, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana Darcy, Mr. & Mrs. Hurst, Caroline Bingley, and one uninvited guest, George Wickham who is unceremoniously pitched out the second floor window of Netherfield Park and into a manure pile by Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. The men folk then proceed to throw a stag party, and Mr. Darcy has a bit too much to drink.
We are also privy to a snipet of the back story on the friendship of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy many years before “Netherfield Park is let at last” when Pride and Prejudice begins, enlightening us further on their personalities and relationships. Bingley and Darcy became fast friends at Cambridge University after Bingley rescued him from a scandalous situation after their introduction at a faculty soirée. A nineteen-year old Mr. Darcy was deep in his cups, seduced by a disreputable young lady and found in another student’s dorm room incoherent and disheveled. With Bingley’s help, the matter was swiftly smoothed over, but since it was so unlike his friend’s usual reserved manner, he continues to chide him about it whenever he needs to privately put the grand Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in his place.
At the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and dinner, the Darcy’s and the Bingley’s depart for there respective townhouses in London, and hopefully on to connubial bliss. Like Mr. Darcy’s new bride Elizabeth, we see a more relaxed and casual husband after the ceremony. This Darcy makes jokes with his new wife.
“I shall do my best to be an upstanding gentleman, ignoring your presence almost entirely in company, and never endeavour to gaze upon you or whisper private jokes in your ear at parties_ “
Her response was to kiss him. Well, to kiss him and to climb on top of him, the ultimate assertion of authority. “That is not what I prefer, Mr. Darcy.”
“Then we are in agreement. I will treat you with great love and compassion in front of guests and as a wanton wench in the bedchamber.”
To this, she could not find a reason to raise dispute.
On the other martial front, the sun rose on the Bingley household and Jane exclaims, “I do not believe that I have ever been so happy.” Charles Bingley credits the book and then shows it to Jane.
Six months have passed and Jane and Elizabeth are both with child and expecting at the same time. In appreciation for his friend’s considerable favour of the wedding gift, Bingley sends Darcy a new book that he has tracked down and imported from India, the Ananga Ranga, another sex manual. The ongoing competition between the two friends continues to the point of their placing bets on whose home will be used for their wives confinements, and who will be first to deliver a child. Bingley wins the £5.
The second half of the novel involves Charles Bingley’s sister Caroline, who as you will remember in Pride and Prejudice tries her hardest to attract Mr. Darcy, but he does not give her a moment’s thought in the romance arena. She is a caustic and abrasive character in Austen’s novel, and gets much of the plum biting dialogue. In this treatment she is more sympathetically portrayed, and many of the faults and foibles in her personality are smoothed out and explained. When the two friends Darcy and Bingley are called into action to check out a prospective beau of Caroline’s, the ongoing comedy continues and the story ends just like Austen with a wedding.
Recently, author Marsha Altman was interviewed on the Risky Regencies blog by fellow Austen-esque author Janet Mullany, who asked her how she felt about taking on Jane Austen?
I’m trying to have fun with her characters. As to whether she would mine, Miss Austen has posthumously endured her nephew and extended family publishing all of her unfinished writing and personal letters for profit, numerous sequels and adaptations, books analyzing her personal life, and even movies about her starring actresses wearing heavy lipstick. So, if she’s been spinning in her grave, she’s probably tired by now and may well have gotten over it. That or she understands imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if that phrase existed in the Regency period.
Fun is the operative word here, and if one reads this book within the context of expecting a light, frothy, humorously diverting comedy written in a contemporary style based on Jane Austen’s characters from Pride and Prejudice, you will not be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are expecting a Regency novel whose language, plot, character development and historical reference are similar to Austen’s, this may not be for you.
Ms. Altman states that imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. I do not think that imitation was her intention here, and Miss Austen may have to take a few more spins at Winchester Cathedral.
Rating: 2½ out of 5 Regency Stars
The Darcys & The Bingleys: Pride and Prejudice Continues
by Marsha Altman
Trade paperback, 415 pages