Reviewed by Laurel Ann Nattress
I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I labeled Pride and Prejudice
as Jane Austen’s most popular work. In fact, I will take it one step further and proclaim it one of the most beloved novels of all time. It is no surprise to me, at all, that readers want to revisit this tale, and movie makers and writers keep pumping out P&P inspired fare. In the past fifteen years, we have seen a plethora of Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet prequels, sequels, retellings, variations and inspired books. Mary Lydon Simonsen’s new offering The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy
falls into the variation category. She has reworked the classic love story of misconceptions and misunderstandings offering her own unique take. Purist, fair warning if you are easily “put out” by tampering with your cherished classic. Be advised to make haste and head back to the unadulterated original, now! You will not find faithful adherence to Austen’s characterizations here. But if you are liberal in approach and tempered for a good lark, there are abundant amusements to be had in this new novel.
The plot line runs parallel to Jane Austen’s original. Mr. Darcy, an arrogant, wealthy young man snubs Elizabeth Bennet, a spirited, overly confident gentleman’s daughter at a local assembly Ball. Her sister Jane and his best friend Charles Bingley fall in love but are separated by him. She is convinced that Darcy has spitefully withheld a promised living to her new flirtation Mr. Wickham. Mesmerized by her impertinence and fine eyes, he is compelled to propose despite his own objections to her family. She flatly rejects him. He writes the “Be not alarmed madam letter” of explanation then promptly departs. How will they reunite and find love? Austen’s narrative and denouement is famous for its plot twists and gradual reversal of his pride and her prejudice. Simonsen walks the same path, but her characters react differently changing the outcome; requiring other minor characters to be developed to facilitate their eventual love match. Enter Mr. Darcy’s sickly cousin Anne de Bourgh and his shy younger sister Georgiana Darcy. Both ladies have had major character make-overs. Anne is now a dear friend and adviser to her cousin; Georgiana, a spunky and adventurous kid sister. Both heavily advocate and plan their reunion.
After Darcy returned to his room for the night, Anne thought about all that had happened between Will and Elizabeth and recognized that her cousin had got himself into a real mess. But Fitzwilliam Darcy was in love with Elizabeth Bennet, and Anne had seen real interest on Elizabeth’s part during their evenings together at Rosings Park, so something had to be done. Before retiring, she had settled on a course of action. It was as complicated as any battle plan, and it would take luck and timing to make it work. But her cousin’s happiness was at stake, and so she began to work out the details of her scheme.
Through the expansion of other minor characters and the, introduction of new ones we begin to see the back story to Austen’s masterpiece as Simonsen envisions it. Even the servants, who receive only a passing mention in the original, get some great lines. Hill, the housekeeper at Longbourn spreads all sorts of town tittle- tattle and pertinent tidbits to the Bennet family. More holes filled. And, Simonsen even ventures to mention the two affairs that Darcy had before he met Lizzy. Well, he is a Regency gentleman after all. One of the biggest changes in temperament is in Lizzy’s sister, the gentle and biddable Jane Bennet. She sees no fault with anyone in the original, which is in itself a fault, but not in this version. Jane sees through the Bingley sisters' fake friendship, calls her father to account for his lack of guidance to his wife and three younger daughters, and believes the only reason why her sister rejected Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal was in her defense. Yes. It’s not about Darcy being the last man in the world that Lizzy could be prevailed upon to marry (because he is a snob and a jerk at that point) but because Lizzy was so angry at him for separating her beloved sister from her beau, Mr. Bingley.
It was true that Lizzy’s dislike for Mr. Darcy was based on his unkind words and haughty behavior at the assembly, but that would not have been enough for her to reject out of hand a proposal from a man of such consequence. And as sympathetic as Lizzy was to Mr. Wickham being denied a promised living, Lizzy had not known Mr. Wickham well enough to become so angry as to be dismissive of Mr. Darcy’s offer. The intensity of Lizzy’s rejection could come only as the result of someone she loved being hurt, and that someone was Jane.
If you are chuffed by my mention of some of the changes, take heed. This is true fanfiction where you “[S] uppose as much as you chuse; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford.” Simonsen has played the game well, though I struggled with the opening set-up and some who have not read the original novel nor seen one of the many movies may be lost as she leaps through the first third of the original book’s plot to the first proposal scene of Lizzy and Darcy at Hunsford. After that point she settles in and develops her slant more evenly.
Creative, well-paced and definitely diverting, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy
will surprise you, repeatedly, as you compare the original to this variation. I will concede that it is always difficult for me to warm to big changes in beloved characters, especially Lizzy and Darcy, who we all know so well. I can’t say that I enjoyed all the vicissitudes, but I admire the author’s creativity. Where this novel excelled at expanding upon minor characters and introducing new ones, it foundered in reverence to Austen’s hero and heroine, which is pretty much why many are drawn to read a Pride and Prejudice
sequel with Mr. Darcy in the title in the first place. After her success with the historically driven Searching for Pemberley
, this is Simonsen’s first attempt at pure fanfiction. It was a great start that promises an even greater future.
Sourcebooks, Inc (28 Jan 2011)
Reviews by Laurel Ann Nattress
Could Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice
have been based on the courtship of Elizabeth Garrison and William Lacey, a Regency era couple who appear to be the doppelgangers of the legendary Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy? The possibility is intriguing to Maggie Joyce, a 22-year old American working in England after WWII who hears rumors of the story of Elizabeth and William Lacey while touring Montclair, their palatial estate in Derbyshire whose similarities to Pemberley, the grand country estate in Pride and Prejudice seem to be more than a striking coincidence. As a devoted fan of Austen’s most popular novel, Maggie is curious to discover the truth. When she is introduced to Beth and Jack Crowell, a local couple with strong connections to the Lacey family, they gradually reveal to Maggie their own research through the Lacey letters, journals and family lore. As Maggie begins her own journey into the real-life parallel story of the Lacey/Darcy families she meets two young men, a handsome American ex Army Corpsman Rob McAllister who survived his treacherous tour of duty as a bomber navigator over Germany and the Crowell’s youngest son Michael serving in the RAF. Drawn into the struggles of her own love story and inspired by an eighteenth century version amazingly similar to Austen’s original, Maggie, like Elizabeth Bennet must choose if she will only marry for love.
A year ago I read and reviewed the self published version of this book, Pemberley Remembered
. Recognizing its strengths and weaknesses, I was pleased to see that it had been picked up by Sourcebooks and would be revamped and combined with a second book, the sequel that Simonsen had already completed. I see vast improvements from its original edition. The complicated story line and vast historical details have been edited down, and the love story of Maggie, Rob and Michael brought forward. The story line, characters and subject are still intriguing, however as I mentioned in my first review, it is only the execution that could make this multi-layered story believable, entertaining and cohesive. It is still obvious from the historical references and antecedents that Simonsen did her research on Georgian and World War era English history as she includes stories about events, people and places to support her characters with aplomb. Searching for Pemberley reads like a documentary where subjects talk about their memories of people and events, or personal letters are read a-la the Ken Burns school of documentary film making. The narrative style is all about the characters telling and not showing how events and relationships unfolded. There is very little interactive dialogue. This is great for a fact based documentary, but tough for a historical love story. I usually prefer character driven plots, so once I accepted that this novel was not about getting into the characters head or their interactions, I quite enjoyed it. Like the epistolary novels of Jane Austen’s time, the style of Searching for Pemberley may be its greatest limitation.
Written with respect for Jane Austen and a passion for history, Simonsen has combined two genres into a bittersweet war-time drama encompassing the tragic elements of the devastation of war, not only on the men and women that bravely served, but the friends, family and loved ones that they came home to. The references to Pride and Prejudice
will enchant Janeites as they remember favorite passages and compare plotlines. (It might even motivate a few readers to read the original) To be quite candid, it was hard for me to fathom that the genius of Jane Austen needed any prompting to create a story. To countermand, I just imagined it as a “what if” story and it softened the sting.
Sourcebooks, Inc; Reprint edition (24 May 2010)
A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Austenprose.com and the forthcoming short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It to be released by Ballantine Books on 11 October, 2011. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.
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