The Way of the World/Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston

Just imagine Fitzwilliam Darcy, who had been openly critical of Mr. Bennet’s parenting skills, saddled with five headstrong daughters of marriageable age, or close to it. Further imagine that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy have been called to Constantinople on a diplomatic mission, leaving those daughters loose upon the ton under the auspices of a frivolous chaperone, and you have the premise of Elizabeth Aston’s novel. The absence of Darcy and Elizabeth is palpable; their daughters miss their guidance, and the readers just plain miss them. The remaining characters from Pride and Prejudice are nearly unrecognizable: Colonel Fitzwilliam, a mere Mr. now, has sold out of the regulars, become an M.P., and acquired a prim sense of propriety that recalls nothing of the good-natured gentleman who charmed Elizabeth at Rosings. Ms. Aston also tells us that Wickham died at Salamanca—curious, since the last chapter of Pride and Prejudice makes it clear that he survived the war—and that Lydia is now married to one of the Prince Regent’s intimates, putting her in a position to introduce her nieces to a rather faster set that their parents undoubtedly intended. Such lapses in conformity with Pride and Prejudice reconcile one to the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, as one fears to think what depredations of characterization might have been visited upon them had they not been sent away. The former Caroline Bingley is as sharp-tongued as ever, but unfortunately a promising subplot involving her fashionable but immoral stepson is allowed to sputter out without much payoff. Pride and Prejudice fans will find it difficult to read The Way of the World/Mr. Darcy’s Daughters without wishing for the Darcys to return to England and slap a little sense into their offspring; indeed, they will wonder how some of those daughters sprang from the loins of the Darcy and Elizabeth that we have come to know. Ms. Aston adds an abundance of new characters to the mix. The reader sometimes has difficulty keeping them straight, and it seems as though the authoress does as well; or at least she doesn’t seem to know what to do with them all. Several characters of some significance to the plot are introduced and then dismissed once they’ve served their purpose, never to be seen again; an authorial no-no that Jane Austen described in Northanger Abbey as a trespass against “the rules of composition.” One suspects that Ms. Aston is leaving some room for a sequel, perhaps featuring the youngest Miss Darcy, who is still officially in the schoolroom during the action of the novel. One longs for a glimpse of the younger brothers as well, left behind at Pemberley with their tutors. Despite these shortcomings, the novel is a pretty good read. If one can divorce the novel from its inspiration, it makes for a very entertaining historical novel, much better than any formulaic genre Regency romance. Ms. Aston has set the book in the late Regency period; if one accepts that Pride and Prejudice takes place in the time period during which Jane Austen wrote First Impressions, the time setting makes perfect sense. The political and social manners of the time are aptly described and wryly commented upon, and the characters display a wider knowledge and interest in the world beyond England’s borders than any of Jane Austen’s characters ever did. The plot is compelling and irresistible. Unfortunately, the novel is based upon Pride and Prejudice, and however enjoyable the book might be, the knowledgeable Janeite is ultimately left wishing for a sequel more faithful to the details to the original. Paperback: 368 pages Publisher: Touchstone Books; (May 6, 2003) ISBN: 0743243978 Margaret C. Sullivan is the webmistress of Tilneys and Trap-doors and thinks that Mrs. Darcy would have been the toast of Constantinople.

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