Historical Fiction, Romance

The Unnecessary Trilogy: Or How I Came to Hate Mr. Darcy

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:

Colin Firth from the now classic 1995 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice, which strives to stay true to the entire novel, is the quintessential Mr. Darcy.

Or this:

Matthew MacFadyen in the pared down but gorgeous and romantic film version of Pride and Prejudice from 2006 brings new meaning to the term swoon-worthy.

Heck, even this:

Don’t let the title fool you.  This 1940 adaptation, starring Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy is not Pride and Prejudice.  It is an enjoyable period romantic comedy that draws from the plot of Austen’s masterpiece but does not stay true at all.  The costumes aren’t even regency!

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.


Review: Duty and Desire

Duty and Desire
Duty and Desire by Pamela Aidan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed An Assembly Such as This, the first book in Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series, which probably made the second book, Duty and Desire even more disappointing. But even when not being compared to its enjoyable predecessor, this book is not good. In Duty and Desire, Aidan covers the so-called silent period of Pride and Prejudice and it just provides more evidence that Elizabeth Bennett and her crazy family are the heart and soul of the story. Duty and Desire starts out boringly as we get a minutely detailed look at Darcy’s home life with Georgiana and his other relatives, including his cousin Fitzwilliam. But boring is better than ridiculous, which is what the tale becomes after Darcy and his valet, Fletcher, go to Norwyck on a wife hunting expedition. No fan of Pride and Prejudice was going to like that! During their stay at Norwyck, to which the bulk of the novel is devoted, Darcy delves into a plot of Ancient superstitions, amateur detective work, revenge, and romantic intrigue. Like a boring gothic novel. Duty and Desire had none of the Austen-esque feel of the first book, which is probably the most important thing when writing a reimagining of one of Jane’s beloved novels. Honestly, if I didn’t feel like I needed to finish this book in order to read the last part of the trilogy, which hopefully will be on par with the first book, I would not have finished this one. And I probably didn’t even need to.

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Review: An Assembly Such as This

An Assembly Such as This
An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The keys to a good reimagining of an Austen novel – or any well-loved novel- are keeping the same tone as the original and keeping the reader, who probably knows the original story inside and out, hooked even if they know how the story will turn out. The tone of An Assembly Such as This, while decidedly more masculine than Pride and Prejudice, for most of the novel is similar to the original. Only at the end when there are no scenes between Darcy and Elizabeth does it feel really different. And that’s when I found that it turned dull. Aidan imagines Darcy’s life in London and the scene is annoying and boring as it discusses politics and historical figures that will have some readers going to Google to figure out who the people are. I want more Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship! Which brings me to how the author keeps the reader interested. Like in Pride and Prejudice, we only get one side of the story. It is fascinating to read Aidan’s interpretation of Darcy’s experience during the course of the events of Pride and Prejudice and to compare it with my own ideas of what he was thinking and feeling. We don’t always agree. My biggest complaint isn’t really a complaint but just a frustration. When I was about halfway through the novel, I found myself wondering how Aidan was going to fit the rest of Darcy and Elizabeth’s tale into the pages that remained. It was only when took another look at the cover that I saw that An Assembly Such as This is the first part of a trilogy. I guess that’s one way to keep your reader guessing but it’s like I picked up Pride and Prejudice and read only the first third before putting back on the shelf.

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