Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Mr. Darcy Trilogy

My latest venture into the world of Jane-related literature was the Mr. Darcy Trilogy by Pamela Aidan. Now I will candidly admit that I am quite skeptical of both sequels and books written from another character's point of view, and I would not have even thought of looking into these except that they were unexpectedly thrown in my way. While shopping at a used book sale I was naturally searching for any good Jane biographies, etc. but the only Jane-related book I could find was the first in this trilogy, An Assembly Such as This. So I read the first page or so, decided that it actually sounded quite readable (and believable), and bought it, especially since it didn't cost much at all. Now, I didn't realize that it was just 1 book of 3 at the time, only after I'd begun did I notice. But by then I was completely sucked in and the thought was quite exciting! (I enjoy detail, and two more books ensured quite a store of them.)

Now, what did I think? As I've hinted, these books quite absorbed me! And I flew through them as fast as I could. (I found books 2 and 3, a.k.a. Duty and Desire and These Three Remain, at my local libraries.) The dialogue in the scenes that coincide with the original story are word-for-word almost totally, and, on top of that, you are privileged to all of Mr. Darcy's inner thoughts and feelings in each situation. As a reader whose favorite hero is not Mr. Darcy (partly, I discovered, because he's always come across as, well, rather cold) these novels made me warm to him and see him as even more of a real person, so I appreciate them for that reason as well. There were a few times when his thoughts didn't seem quite right, maybe a bit too sappy for the perfectly decorous Mr. Darcy, but these were very small distractions and I would forget about them by the next sentence.

The first in the trilogy begins with the assembly in Meryton, covers his entire stay in Hertfordshire, and follows him to London. This book is where is continual struggle over Elizabeth begins. There are of course many scenes from the original novel, with Darcy's point of view revealed. His views on Lizzy's witty remarks are particularly interesting to hear! Making a close second are his views on Miss Bingley and her attempts at witticisms. We get to see him guiding Mr. Bingley in the affairs of a landlord and in the maze of regency society. His guidance is seen in one or two social gatherings in the Hertfordshire neighborhood which have been added by the author, and are quite entertaining. As well as new scenes, there are a few new characters introduced. To me, I think the most endearing of them all is Fletcher, Mr. Darcy's valet. For one thing, just adding this character provides the author with opportunities to give us a glimpse into the everyday life of Mr. Darcy; such as picking out his clothes, having his neckcloth tied, and other commonplace occurrences like that. Being a gentleman was complicated! No wonder they had valets! Another thing is the subtle humor that sneaks into Fletcher's conversation, which makes me almost burst out laughing, when he doesn't betray any amusement at all, making it all the harder not to laugh. In London, we meet his old university friend Lord Dyfed Brougham, who's a very intriguing figure, a mix of foppery and keen perception.

The second part, Duty & Desire, brings Mr. Darcy to his beloved home at Pemberley for Christmas for the first few chapters, then whisks him of to the castle of another old university acquaintance for the rest of the book. At Pemberley is Georgiana, and Darcy is worried that he will still find her suffering from the events of the Summer with Mr. Wickham. But he finds her quite different from what he expects. Their cousin Col. Fitzwilliam and his family join them for the holiday. While at home, his battle over his feelings about Elizabeth Bennet continues, but which is winning, duty or desire, is always in question. At a time when duty had the upper hand, he decides to accept an invitation to stay with his old acquaintance from his Cambridge days. But what awaits him there is an unpredictable bunch of gentlemen and ladies and many mysterious experiences. People are not always as they seem -- especially among the wealthiest and most fashionable ladies of Regency society. And Mr. Darcy's search for a wife among them is not as easy as one might think. His true innermost thoughts about Wickham are quite clearly revealed while at the castle, and he is forced to re-examine them.

Some might say that the second part of the trilogy isn't necessary, since it doesn't come in contact with the original story at all. Be that as it may, it is part of this newly revealed side of the story. It is part of the progress of Mr. Darcy's character and his love for Elizabeth. So if you venture on reading the trilogy, please do read them all -- you'll be glad you did.

The conclusion of the trilogy, and my personal favorite, is These Three Remain. We join the original story again with his visit to Lady Catherine, follow him to town where he tries to forget Lizzy again, experience the thrill of his finding her at Pemberley, wander through London's dark neighborhoods on his search for Lydia, and at last witness his final struggle over Elizabeth and it's happy conclusion. His experience at Rosings causes an upheaval of all he thinks and understands, especially about himself. His understanding of his motives, his friendships, his goals, his love of his sister, his hatred of Wickham, his reasons for wanting Lizzy, all those and more are turned on their heads after hearing those words, "Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner." As with Jane's description of Elizabeth's, it is so exciting to watch his transformation! (Although it takes him rather longer.) His interference and the reasons for such in the life of Mr. Bingley are clearly seen by him, finally, and to the eventual happiness of Miss Bennet. He is humbled, and the happier for being so. Again, seeing his thoughts during his encounters with Lizzy are extremely interesting and revealing.

I'm coming to the end of my overview -- review, whichever you like. As you've guessed, I highly recommend this series. (And remember, I'm not a fan of continuations and such things, in general.) If you want to look them over before buying them, check your local library.