Reading Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series, which reimagines Pride and Prejudice through Mr. Darcy’s eyes, for me, was like watching The Hobbit movie trilogy. While I enjoyed a lot of it, in the back of my mind I was always thinking that it should not have been stretched into a trilogy. I mean if Jane fit the whole wonderful story into one perfect, timeless novel, why can’t her imitators?
A large part of Austen’s appeal is the narrow scope of her stories, focusing on the everyday lives and struggles of her heroines rather than trying to place her heroines in the larger world of her time. I feel that this is part of what makes her novels so timeless. Aidan, in what I imagine was an attempt to illustrate how much larger Darcy’s life is as a member of the upper social classes in terms of society and responsibility compared to Elizabeth’s, brings in subplots that involve politics, espionage, and even the supernatural. The entire second book, Duty and Desire, is like an overblown gothic romance that somehow still manages to be boring. If Aidan had forgone that second book in its entirety, getting rid of all of the unnecessary storylines it introduced, I think the two book format would have been enjoyable.
The extended format and ridiculous story lines had another adverse effect. There came as a point in the third book, These Three Remain, when I didn’t like Mr. Darcy anymore. Readers are supposed to gradually grow to like him, not the other way around. But something about his fantasy courtship of Elizabeth while visiting Lady Catherine at Rosings Park where he imagines feelings on Elizabeth’s part that are quite the opposite of her true feelings brought to mind Mr. Collins’s insistence that when a woman says no she is just being coy and really means yes. And that’s just creepy. Then, heartbroken, ashamed, and possibly having just escaped death or political scandal (again a ridiculous and unnecessary storyline), Darcy gets absolutely wasted in a pub. He then spends several (so many!) pages mentally convincing himself that his sister, friends, and the memory of his beloved father will think less of him for doing something so, well, human. Get over yourself, man!
Now, by the end of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is pretty swoon-worthy. Especially when he looks like this:
Heck, even this:
But the star of Jane Austen’s masterpiece is definitely Elizabeth and the rest of the Bennett family. And for good reason. Their delightfully human foibles make for more interesting reading and for better relatability. Darcy’s self-righteousness is more off-putting than relatable. Therefore, the best scenes, unsurprisingly, are often those that bring Elizabeth and Darcy together. It is interesting to see her through his eyes and enlightening to see how her assessment of him inspires Darcy to not only become a better man but to accept that it is okay to be imperfect. But then I guess that’s a lesson we all need to remember. Which just goes to show that even bad literature can teach us something.
Not that the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series is bad. Like I said, there was a lot that I enjoyed about books 1, An Assembly Such as This, and 3, These Three Remain (I really wish it was possible to tell you that you can skip book 2 completely but then parts of book 3 might be confusing). I specifically enjoyed the passages that stuck to the confines of the original narrative of Pride and Prejudice. I smiled almost constantly from the moment Darcy discovers Elizabeth and the Gardiners at Pemberley until that classically happy ending. Just like I do every time I read Pride and Prejudice.