2009, Regency Romance
Sourcebooks, $14.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 140222513X Part of a series
I collect Jane Austen sequels. There are a lot out there, and honest to tell, very few are well-written enough to warrant reviewing in a non-Austen context. However, sometimes I stumble across a gem, and this is what happened with Monica Fairview’s The Other Mr. Darcy.
The novel starts on the wedding day of Pride and Prejudice’s Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Caroline Bingley, who used to set her cap at Darcy with great energy, hides in the library to indulge in a fit of weeping that surprises herself. She is shocked to find that there has been a witness to her unseemly behavior: a gentleman unknown to her, who promises he will not speak of the episode.
About a year later, while Caroline and her now widowed sister Louisa are staying with her their brother Charles and his wife Jane at Netherfield, a messenger arrives from Pemberley. Elizabeth is feeling very low after a miscarriage, and Darcy urges her sister Jane to come for a visit. Jane and Charles set off that very night, leaving Caroline and Louisa to follow accompanied by Colonel Fitzwilliam and by the messenger, who is none other than the man Caroline encountered in the library so many months ago: Robert Darcy, Darcy’s cousin from Boston, Massachussets.
Caroline starts off very much like she is portrayed in Pride and Prejudice: She cares about manners and social status, and regards the world around her in a very rational, sometimes calculating manner. At the same time, she is very capable, and loving of her family; and we discover that her snobbish manner is partly caused by insecurity and the desire to always act right. In the course of the novel, she learns to question some of the assumptions of propriety she was brought up to, as well as open her heart to the unexpected. I enjoyed her tremendously. Monica Fairview describes Caroline as a person of her time, concerned with and limited by the role a young lady in her position had in the 1810s. She is a flawed heroine, but her inner struggles and developments are explained so lucidly and sensitively that I came to feel with her every step of the way.
As the whole of the novel is written from Caroline’s point-of-view, we only get to see Robert Darcy through her eyes. He is witty, charming when he wants, very good-hearted, a person of impulse who occasionally likes to shock and who delights at teasing the stiff-necked (at the beginning, at least) Caroline. As an American, he is considered an outsider by most of society, which he bears with good grace and some irony. Because they are so utterly different, there is tension between him and Caroline from the minute they meet, and it is lovely to read how it slowly changes from initial antagonism, to reluctant admiration, to deep if unspoken feeling.
Now to the Jane Austen angle. This novel stands very well on its own as a Regency Romance, but for the Janeites among its readers it’s important to know how well Monica Fairview treats the beloved characters from Pride and Prejudice. In my eyes, very well. She does not try to copy Austen’s style with the exception of some mannerism of speech, for example from Lydia and Mrs. Bennet. Some characters are unchanged (the Bennet parents, Lydia); with others there has been some development (Georgiana is more lively, Kitty more reasonable). If the Darcy’s marriage is not all kittens and roses at that point, it is because of Elizabeth’s miscarriage, which affects them deeply. There is one scene in which Mr. Darcy acts more haughtily than warranted, which jarred me when I read it, but then I considered he has only been under Elizabeth’s influence for a year, and he makes amends beautifully. And the Caroline/Robert relationship mirrors the Elizabeth/Darcy one in Pride and Prejudice in a clever, subtle way.
I most heartily recommend The Other Mr. Darcy both to lovers of Austen sequels and to those among us who bemoan the decline of the traditional Regency romance. This novel is a delightful example that there are still excellent new Regencies around! It appears the series will be continued in 2010 with The Darcy Cousins, centered on Georgiana, which I am looking forward to very much.
-- Rike Horstmann
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