Duty and Desire by Pamela Aidan
In the second volume of her “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy, Pamela Aidan expands the world of Pride and Prejudice from Jane Austen’s preferred “3 or 4 families in a country village,” sending her hero into the glittering world of England’s Regency aristocracy. Lords and ladies abound; one imagines Sir William Lucas, the biggest fish in the small pond of Meryton, quite at a loss amongst this company. An Assembly Such as This, the first volume of the trilogy, ended with Darcy leaving Netherfield for London, resolving to forget Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes.
As the second book opens, Darcy is struggling with this task, as well as with the task of raising a young girl. His worries about Georgiana, spiritually wounded by l’affaire Wickham, are soon assuaged; Miss Darcy has found solace in religion, and while her brother is uncomfortable with the idea of a Darcy of Pemberley having any truck with Methodism, he is grateful enough for Georgiana’s newfound peace of mind to leave well enough alone. Determined to do what he perceives as his duty as master of Pemberley, Darcy tells himself that he must forget Miss Elizabeth Bennet and find a woman of fortune and unexceptionable breeding to be his wife.
With this in mind, he accepts an invitation to a house party, knowing that there will be an excellent selection of wealthy and aristocratic ladies there. It is a sensible plan, but it backfires when the four ladies all suffer in comparison to his memory of Elizabeth. This is all very much as it should be, as Darcy wrestles with “duty and desire” and comes to the realization that Elizabeth is the only woman for him. Unfortunately, at this point the plot takes a sharp turn into Gothic territory, a subplot that serves to make Darcy shine but is otherwise bewilderingly un-Austenlike. Jane Austen knew that the social interactions of human beings provide sufficient horror for the knowing observer without introducing the supernatural.
We expected some sort of Radcliffean resolution, with a natural explanation for supernatural events, but it was not forthcoming. Granted, this book was not written by Jane Austen, and when one undertakes to read Austen sequels and retellings, one cannot assume or even expect the author to adhere strictly to Jane Austen’s customs, but we hope that Ms. Aidan will lighten her tone and subject matter in the third volume of the trilogy, in which Darcy’s story reconnects to Elizabeth’s.
The writing overall is enjoyable, with Ms. Aidan’s encyclopedic knowledge of the time period more subtly deployed than in the first volume, though we missed the gentle humour displayed there. As in the first volume, the authoress’ take on Darcy’s inner journey is, in our opinion, spot-on. We are also pleased to note that the proofreading problems from the first volume have been resolved. We have high hopes that the third volume will tie up the story into a whole that will rank among the best of the growing body of Jane Austen paraliterature.
Margaret C. Sullivan is the webmistress of Tilneys and Trap-doors and AustenBlog. Her inner Henry Tilney read the Gothic subplot of Duty and Desire in two days, his hair standing on end the entire time.