Lady Bridget's Diary
Lady Bridget’s Diary, the newest historical romance by Maya Rodale, is a cross between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary complete with a dreadful Mr. Darcy, an odious Mr. Collins and a knock-off of Lady Catherine de Burgh. The Bennet sisters are replaced by the upstart American Cavendish family, and their brother James has suddenly come into a dukedom. There are some parallels to Lydia and Mary among the siblings, but our heroine is more Bridget Jones than Elizabeth, being somewhat lacking in self-confidence and trying to follow a “reducing diet.”
Although the Pride and Prejudice variations are almost too numerous to count, and the vast majority of them fail to have enough originality to pull off using the Austen trope and not fall into the caricature category, Rodale has, for the most part, managed this one off quite nicely. I felt like I was visiting long lost friends rather than usurpers.
Lady Bridget Cavendish doesn’t understand the necessity for all of the rules that their aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Durham (Josephine Cavendish) is trying to drill into Bridget and her sisters, Amelia and Claire. It all seems so silly and a waste of her time until she attends her first ball. After trailing after her aunt and sisters enduring introduction after introduction, Bridget finds herself falling behind and then literally falls on her behind. Mr. Rupert Wright comes to her rescue and Lady Bridget has finally found a friend. Unfortunately, his brother Lord Darcy is right behind him and is a stick in the mud with a thinly veiled contempt for the American heiresses. After meeting Rupert, Bridget confides in her diary that maybe her Aunt Josephine has a point about learning to get along in British society and Bridget is determined to learn her way about her new country.
Lord Darcy is the quintessential English lord. Haughty, disdainful with a slavish need to adhere to the rules, he is somewhat taken back by his attraction to the bumbling American, Lady Bridget, who is known as the lady who fell after her first ball. In order to hide this fact from Lady Francesca (his best friend’s sister and his assumed – once he gets around to asking – fiancé), he says some rather disparaging things about Bridget which she overhears. “She is not pretty enough to tempt him….” He realizes that his behavior toward Bridget has not been that of a gentleman, but he is at a loss as to how to put it right. Lady Francesca sees through Darcy’s attempt to hide his attraction to Bridget and decides that Bridget is now her enemy. Following the maxim that one keeps ones friends close and ones enemies closer, Lady Francesca “befriends” Bridget (much like Caroline Bingley befriends Jane Bennet). Bridget, however, is oblivious and at first only has eyes for Rupert.
Lord Darcy is exasperated with his rake of a brother as he seems to be losing at cards more and more recently and Darcy thinks he is doing Rupert no favors by bailing him out financially. Rupert suggests that he might propose to Lady Bridget as a way out of his difficulties and the love triangle then begins. Or does it? Rupert has a secret that even Darcy is not privy to and suddenly he is being forced to choose between the love of his brother and his burgeoning love for a woman who detests him.
Rodale does a great job of bringing in characters that resemble some of our beloved characters from Pride and Prejudice, but putting enough spin on their personalities to make them her own. Lady Bridget is a bit of an insecure lightweight at the beginning of the book, but as she finds her footing, she grows in maturity. I liked her character, even when she joins with the “mean girls” to learn her way around society. If I had never read Pride and Prejudice I would have probably felt exactly about Lord Darcy as I originally did about Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy some 45 years ago: “what a jerk.” Having read that book more times than I recall, it is hard to ever hate a Darcy clone again, because I know what is coming. Lord Darcy’s character is probably the most true to the original Mr. Darcy in this retelling and I don’t think this book would have worked without keeping him true to form. We need that pride for the prejudice to work.
The secondary characters also work in this story (especially Rupert and Amelia, who is the star of the next in the series) and Rodale sets the scene quite nicely for this continuation. I only had a few little quibbles that brought the grade down for me. Mr. Collins seems almost gratuitous in this story and it seems the author may have brought him in for old times’ sake rather than to further her own story. Lady Francesca strays a little too much toward the mean girl caricature. I would also have liked to see just a little more background on James and Claire in this book. Again, it seemed like they were there merely to set up future stories than really integral to this particular book. But these are minor shortcomings and the overall book worked well for me (especially since I once binged on just about every P&P variation ever printed and thought I had read every scenario that could possibly be written). So if you love reading Austen retellings, this is one you probably will not want to miss.