Guest review by Christina Boyd
Hard on the heels of Kara Louise’s Only Mr. Darcy Will Do and Mary Simonsen’s The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, comes another Pride and Prejudice “what if” from P&P variations pioneer, Abigail Reynolds. What Would Mr. Darcy Do is her latest re-imagining to be re-issued by Sourcebooks. Part of her Pemberley Variations series, it was first self-published in 2007 as From Lambton to Longbourne, and explores roads not taken in Jane Austen’s, Pride & Prejudice.
In Austen’s masterpiece, Fitzwilliam Darcy comes upon a distraught Miss Elizabeth Bennet just moments after she has received news of her youngest sister Lydia’s supposed elopement with Darcy’s nemesis George Wickham – and by that, the ruining of her family and all of the daughters chances for good marriages. After she shares as much to Darcy, he leaves. “…she saw him go with regret; and in this early example of what Lydia’s infamy must produce, found an additional anguish as she reflected on that wretched business.” Pride & Prejudice, Chapt. XLVI. However, Abigail Reynolds takes that tragic moment at the Lambton Inn and gives desperate resolve to both Elizabeth and Darcy allowing them to speak their hearts. Elizabeth declares, “…despite this unfortunate ending, these days in Lambton are ones I will always remember with pleasure.” p.7.
Darcy, equal in his courage asks that she continue her friendship with his sister, “offering her a way to continue their contact by proxy.”” p.8. They share a comforting embrace, but it is at that exact moment that her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner return and discover such intimacy! After Darcy explains to Mr. Gardiner that he has asked for Elizabeth’s hand months prior– and been refused– both agree to not force Elizabeth into marriage, but allow Darcy time to properly woo her. And so begins this clever twist.
In an endearing exchange of letters between Elizabeth and Darcy’s demure younger sister Georgiana, we begin to see Reynolds’ creative use of humor as light-hearted Elizabeth encourages some rather saucy teasing of Mr. Darcy.
“If your brother is again watching you as you read this, be sure to give an occasional gasp, and to say ‘Oh, no” from time to time, or perhaps ‘she couldn’t possibly!’ Then, when he asks you what is the matter, explain that you could not possibly tell him, since the letter is full of secrets that I begged you to hold in confidence. Then, if he keeps asking, you may tell him that he may perhaps read the last few sentences, but only if he promises not to look at the rest.” p.48.
Later, when Georgiana is invited to Longbourne, this reserved, quiet girl continues to bloom into a young, playful lady under the attentions of Elizabeth’s silly sisters, Kitty and Mary. In turn, they benefit from the new friendship becoming more confident and mature young women of refined breeding.
In Austen’s original, critics are quick to point out that Miss Elizabeth’s change of heart of Mr. Darcy from repulsion to attraction is rather hurried. However, in Reynolds’ novella, she carefully fleshes out Elizabeth’s struggle within revealing her inner thought process. Personally, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s her problem?” Rich, handsome man who adores her, and who, she discovers, is the preserver of her sister and family from disgrace and is desperate to marry her! I was inclined to prescribe to her Aunt Gardiner’s way of thinking.
“I have had an ongoing concern that you seem to underestimate the strength of his attachment to you. I am, in fact, rather glad to see you are suffering just a bit in the name of love, since it tells me that your attachment to him may be becoming the equal of his for you.” p.161.
Although Darcy is portrayed as painfully vulnerable to Elizabeth’s love for much of the novella, I will yield him this one flaw. But, only because of his disastrous first proposal at Hunsford and having previously misinterpreted her so many times. Besides, aren’t we all rather exposed when violently in-love? “I want to bind you to me in every way I know, because I am terrified that you are going to tell me you want nothing further to do with me.” p.155.
This re-issue also includes the addition of four pages at the beginning of the novel fleshing out the backstory that occurred up to this point in Austen’s original novel, and, allowing Darcy to moon incessantly over Elizabeth’s smile. What? I had thought he was bewitched by her fine eyes! Regardless of which part of her anatomy he is gushing over, of all Reynolds’ Pemberley Variations, What Would Mr. Darcy Do? may be my least favorite. In offering a caveat to my disappointment, it is a relative statement and must be understood in its proper context. I own all Reynolds’ self-published as well as Sourcebooks published books – and I adore her “what ifs.” This one pales in comparison To Conquer Mr. Darcy (a.k.a. Impulse & Initiative), or Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World. Not only is it not as epigrammatic as her previous offerings, but Darcy’s continued insecurity, at first sweet, became syrupy, and more importantly, Elizabeth’s perpetual willingness to accept Darcy’s passionate kisses yet reluctance to accept his hand grated against her character.
Astute Janeites will note the omission of Lady Catherine’s pivotal (and highly amusing) confrontation with Miss Elizabeth in the prettyish kind of a little wilderness in Austen’s original and sigh with regret at the missed opportunity for a great sparing of two mighty forces. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of raw emotion, humorous exchanges and romantic interludes to move the story forward and bring Darcy and Elizabeth to their final happy understanding. What Would Mr. Darcy Do is a diverting amusement in the crowded field of Mr. Darcy what ifs, and worthy of your consideration and enjoyment.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
What Would Mr. Darcy Do?, by Abigail Reynolds
Trade paperback (240) pages
© 2007 – 2011 Christina Boyd, Austenprose