Desert Isle Keeper
A Weekend with Mr. Darcy
As Jane Austen might write if she were here to see the industry her works have propagated: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a female reader in possession of a copy of Pride and Prejudice, must be in want of a Mr. Darcy. Or so today’s publishers would have us believe.
While Austen might be laughing uproariously or rolling in her grave at the zombies, werewolves, time-travelers, and rewritings of her classics, I think she would not only approve but enjoy Connelly’s addition to the parade—if for no other reason than Mr. D himself does not appear in the story.
Oxford University literature lecturer and non-fiction author Katherine Roberts has agreed to be a speaker at the annual Jane Austen weekend held at Purley Hall near the author’s home in Hampshire. She’s recently dumped her longtime boyfriend after finding out he was married, and she’s ready to indulge herself in a few days wallowing in the works of her favorite author with other people charmed by Austen.
Katherine’s secret pleasure besides Austen is reading the works of Lorna Warwick, whose risqué Regency romances would be enough to get Katherine booted from her department should any of the other faculty find out. Katherine’s been corresponding with the reclusive Lorna for over a year and has hopes the author will also attend the weekend.
Little does Katherine know, but Lorna is really Warwick Lawton, a man who feels he can’t afford to let his gender become public, especially not to Katherine who has confided very personal tidbits to his writing persona. Warwick would love to meet Katherine because she has sparked him to life through their correspondence. For that reason alone, he considers attending the weekend, as himself and not as Lorna.
As Katherine and Warwick are deciding to attend, Robyn Love, a receptionist at a small college in North Yorkshire, also plans for her weekend away at the Austen conference. With her comfortable cottage and backyard chickens named for Austen characters, Robyn is excited about meeting other Austen lovers, even though her boyfriend Jace thinks she’s insane to be so immersed in a dead author.
Through the Austen-like low-key yet witty depiction of the weekend at an actress’ elaborate estate, the modern day equivalent of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s rocky romance unfolds. Both Katherine and Warwick, like Austen’s couple, have a lot to be proud of, both successes in their own worlds. Yet Warwick, having been a reclusive author, is as socially inept as Darcy is while Katherine because she deals with people on a daily basis is more assured as Elizabeth is.
There are no villains here, just mismatched couples that need to be straightened out. Even Robyn’s loutish boyfriend Jace is given his moment in the sun when he realizes how important the dead author is in his living girlfriend’s life.
Although the main character is an Oxford lecturer, Connelly doesn’t preach about Austen’s importance in the writing world and she doesn’t explain how her characters parallel Austen’s. She treats her readers as people interested in Austen, but doesn’t talk down to them. Instead she lets the story unfold without hinting there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. Austenites will get the nuances, but even those who haven’t read and reread the classic novels will enjoy the story.
If Austen’s spirit is reacting to the industry she has spawned, she would be pleased with this addition to it just as her fans will be too.