Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife
I confess, I’m a Janeite. My copy of Pride and Prejudice has seen better days, and I’ve watched the mini-series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth many times. I enjoyed the movie with Keira Knighley and bought it for my DVD collection and just recently I watched the Elizabeth Garvey and David Rintoul min-series from the 1980s. I have all of Jane Austen’s novels and the movies made from them and read and watch them over and over. And by the way, when is someone going to do a decent movie of Northanger Abbey?
Jane Austen made Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy so real that, like almost everyone else who reads Pride and Prejudice, I wondered what happened to them after the wedding breakfast. Evidently so did Linda Berdoll, because in 1999 she self-published The Bar Sinister which detailed the first several years in the married life of Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. In 2004 it was picked up by Landmark Publishers and re-titled Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. After I wrote this review, I went to Amazon to see what readers said about this book. There’s no middle ground. Either you will happily devour it or you will declare that the Shades of Pemberley have been seriously polluted.
Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage is a very happy one. Their wedding night turns out to be one of extreme (and I mean extreme!) passion and for some time, I was wondering if they would ever get out of bed. Elizabeth finds her role as Mistress of Pemberley quite to her liking and settles down comfortably. Jane and Bingley live on an estate near enough for the two sisters to be able to visit quite often. Jane and Bingley also have a happy marriage, which is not surprising for two such amiable souls, but their relationship is not as passionate as Elizabeth and Darcy’s, which this leads to a development that will have some fans fuming.
Of course we meet many of the beloved secondary characters as well. The bloom goes off Lydia and Wickham’s marriage very early on and he soon proves himself to be a thoroughly nasty piece of work. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is still “quite put out” over her nephew’s marriage and tries her best to make trouble. Colonel Fitzwilliam takes part in the Battle of Waterloo, Georgiana matures into quite the self-sufficient young woman, Mrs. Bennett is as silly as ever, and Mr. Collins suffers a fate that is part tragic and part farcial…and I’ve only scratched the surface of all the events. Berdoll introduces some of her own original characters, most notably Thomas Reed, a surly man who has a grudge against the Darcy family and a fixation on Elizabeth and a young stableman who might be Darcy’s illegitimate son.
Berdoll’s book is written in a very purple faux-regency style, and the love scenes read rather like Jane Austen decided to try her hand at erotica a la Fanny Hill. There’s quite a bit of repetition in the early part of the book, we see a scene from Elizabeth’s point of view, then after a few intervening chapters we see the earlier scene from Darcy’s point of view. About the third of the way through, the flashbacks are not as numerous, and the story begins to move more rapidly. It took me a few chapters to get used to the style, but once I did, I finished the book quickly, and it is 476 pages of fairly small print.
How you react to this sequel will probably depend on how much of a Jane Austen purist you are, and how tolerant you are of purple, stylized prose. I am not an extreme Austen purist and would love a good sequel to Pride and Prejudice, but this book isn’t it. The style slips into silliness so often – especially during the love scenes – that I began to skip them. Some of the phrasing was so over the top that it stopped me dead in my tracks, and there were many, many times when I thought that Jane Austen would be “quite put out” at the way her characters were acting. I mean, would Elizabeth Bennett Darcy really pull out a gun and shoot the feather off Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s bonnet?
There’s the germ of a pretty good story in Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, but the faux regency style, and too much emphasis on sex ruined the book for me. I love reading sequels to famous books, and will more than likely try some other Austen sequels in the near future. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a good one.