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Misses the Mark
I will admit that I am a sucker for Jane Austen fan fiction. In fact, when I bought my first Kindle some years ago, I gorged myself on all the available Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, both on Kindle Unlimited and ones I bought straight out. So I always love to discover both a new story and a new author in this sub-subgenre of Regency romance. I was intrigued by the very first chapter of the book. We start in the sitting room of Mr. Collins vicarage at Hunsford just after Elizabeth has received a terrible letter from Jane. She is reading this when Mr. Darcy comes in to make his infamous, and infamously bad, first proposal. He doesn’t even notice her upset so lurches forward with his inept proposal, which is even worse than the one usually portrayed in the movies. She doesn’t give him a direct answer and instead tells him about the contents of the letter. Jane has told her that their father has died and much of the rest of the family is sick from a sudden illness that is sweeping through town. Mr. Darcy immediately offers to take Elizabeth back to Hertfordshire so she can be with her family.
I actually thought that having Elizabeth receive such a letter from Jane was a great start for a Pride and Prejudice variation. However, after that, the book kind of fell apart for me. Once they got back to Hertfordshire, it seemed like everybody was just dying off at the level of a Shakespearean tragedy: Mrs. Bennet, Mary, Kitty, some servants, and even poor Mr. Bingley. As an RN who has studied infectious and communicable diseases, I find myself wondering what could have been so virulent and always fatal? There are few (none?) that are both.
I didn’t like this Mr. Darcy; for a P&P variation to work for me, I have to be able to fall in love with him along with Elizabeth. One of the keys to Mr. Darcy, I think, is that he must be absolutely constant in his love or Elizabeth once he figures out that’s how he feels about her. To me, this is an immutable part of Darcy’s character that must be in a variation, or for me, the story will fall flat. Much of what happens to Mr. Darcy in the later part of the original, how he becomes a better version of himself, hinges upon this constancy of love (even when it was unrequited). In this variation, as he sees Elizabeth struggle with the deaths of most members of her family, while he expresses compassion and understanding to the remaining Bennets, he actually doesn’t feel himself to be in love with her anymore now that her bright smiles and witty rejoinders are gone and hopes that in the time of her mourning—she has asked that they wait six months to marry to mourn her parents—that they will grow closer and he will again feel that same love that he purports to have felt before the deaths. All I can say is: no, no, no! Even though Darcy has not been humbled in the proposal scene as in the original and the movies, that constancy of love should be present, or it just isn’t a viable Pride and Prejudice variation. While I think the story had some potential, I thought it was those too dark and Mr. Darcy too inconstant to be a truly good spin on the classic.