The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater

This text has a similar idea to Amanda Grange’s Mr. Darcy’s Diary, which was originally its title in Britain, but, of course, each writer handles Darcy’s life differently. I was horrified by some of the decisions Slater has Mr. Darcy make, and worse, I think some of them fly in the face of the image Austen creates for us. At the same time, I still wanted to know how everything would be resolved, and I enjoyed the read.

The faulty moves first: the Darcy we know would not say and do some of what he says and does here. His diary has him explain, for instance, that “normally,” he “would take pleasure in attending a ball full of pretty young women,” but he doesn’t this time because he has just received a disturbing letter from Georgiana. Austen’s text suggests that Darcy does not enjoy mixing with strangers because he does “not easily converse” with them and because he knows that they’re all talking about how much money he has and trying to get him to notice their daughters. Instead of responding to his sister’s letter to offer her some comfort, he writes in his diary. Not Darcy-esque at all. He later “tries” to write back to “G” (I hardly think Darcy would be so informal with his sister’s, of all names, though Slater does later have him use the initial “E” to represent Elizabeth, which is a clue to the level of his intimacy, so at least she’s consistent). He wishes to return to Pemberley to comfort “G” and wistfully ponders, “if she would only permit [him] to travel” home, he would. What can that mean? Since when is Darcy not master of his own estate and his own movement? Frustrated, Darcy doesn’t send his first letter, which means “G” gets no comfort at all, but then he “dash[es] off another” that we don’t see? This makes no sense. Later, Slater offers no justification for his snub of Lizzie (though, to be fair, Darcy probably wouldn’t see the need to justify his choice in his own diary). Darcy’s justification for separating Bingley from Jane is different here, too, and not in a way that does him any credit. He overhears an unsubstantiated rumor and so basically ruins Jane’s and Bingley’s lives over it, rather than the at least somewhat honorable reason of Mrs. Bennet being all out for what she can get.

Darcy’s choice of friends is expanded here, and to no flattering degree. He’s college buddies with Byron, who calls Darcy “Fitz.” Byron and Darcy team up to distract Bingley from Jane with a seductive widow (Bingley, to his credit, is strong enough not only to resist but also to tell Darcy he will not fall so easily). Darcy gives Georgiana Byron’s poems . . . isn’t Byron a little racy for such a gift? The orgies he hosts in his home would indicate as much. Darcy “tumbles” a maid in Bingley’s house and has her be extra quiet when Jane Bennet comes to stay. He observes a woman as having “fine paps to her.” If this is really what Austen’s Darcy has been thinking and saying and doing, I’d rather not know.

The other characters, too, seem a bit different here from how they do in Austen’s book. Caroline Bingley goes strolling outside (per Darcy’s suggestion?), but we know it is Elizabeth who is the hearty walker. Caroline actually shows some compassion for Jane, which would be nice, except that there’s no foundation for it in P&P. Bingley supposedly went to Oxford with Mr. Collins, but then, how did he meet Darcy? Mr. Hurst makes a lot more sense here than he does in P&P—but it seems unlikely that, even if there is a Netherfield servant who makes him, uh, get up, more than he seems to in P&P, he would be so motivated to make his own plans and travel arrangements as often as he does in this text (although maybe that explains why he sleeps so much in the original). This is, to the credit of Slater’s originality, the first sequel I’ve reviewed in which Mr. Hurst factors prominently at all. Caroline and Louisa bicker in a carriage over a shawl (much as Lydia and Kitty do over a hat), but would they actually do that in front of Darcy? And Lydia and Kitty are 15 and 17 . . . Georgiana is too peevish and defiant, and Anne too free from her mother’s influence to make them wholly recognizable to readers of the original. In this version, Wickham blushes (so Darcy must turn white: the debate lives on!). Darcy has a childhood memory of Byron and Wickham raping a servant girl when they were all 14. We’re supposed to despise Wickham, but this is too strong.

Even episodes are changed here in a way that would make any faithful reader of the original uncomfortable at best. The Bennet ladies visit Netherfield when the men are out; that doesn’t happen in the book. Darcy and Bingley are demonstrably present (Mr. Hurst is probably asleep—that, I don’t recall exactly, but messing with the principals seems risky). When Elizabeth refuses to dance with Darcy, he assumes her shoes pinch. If that were true, he wouldn’t be at all excited by her refusal, which he clearly is in P&P since he shortly thereafter tells Caroline that he’s been meditating on Elizabeth’s eyes. Darcy hands Elizabeth his letter through bars . . . aren’t they in the woods? And the letter itself contains falsehoods with respect to how far Georgiana was compromised.

Given my (apparently numerous) complaints, how, you might ask, did I enjoy this task? Part of my enjoyment stems from the realization that each new “interpretation” offers insight not so much into each of our characters as much as into a different Austen reader. I like to see what my fellow devotees imagine. The rest of my enjoyment comes from certain details that fill in the gaps a bit. We learn, for instance, specifically what Darcy is reading from moment to moment. We find out exactly what Darcy understands (that Caroline is reading the second volume of the work he is reading but has lied about knowing the contents of the first) and what he misses entirely (Georgiana can tell how fake Caroline is, but Darcy really doesn’t until very late in the story). We learn how “smitten with grief for [Bingley] and shame at what [Darcy] had done” Darcy is when he realizes that he has led Bingley astray about Jane. Most of all, Darcy uses the diary to question, reflect upon, and alter his own behavior when people he trusts (largely Bingley and Elizabeth) provoke such reflection. By the time the Pemberley reunion occurs, therefore, I was so involved in what felt like a different story that I was pleasantly surprised by the events I know so well from P&P. If that’s an experience that would suit you, I recommend giving this version of Darcy’s world a try.

Published in: on July 2, 2009 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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