Mr. Darcy’s Daughters . . . a review in conversation

a 2003 review by Ms. Natasha Zwick and Mr. Collins (as voiced by Ms. Elizabeth Johnson)

Ms. Zwick: The most obvious temptation when reading Elizabeth Aston’s Mr. Darcy’s Daughters is to figure out which of the five Darcy daughters matches which of the five Bennet daughters, and which potential suitor and relative matches similar characters in Pride and Prejudice. Despite finding myself intrigued by the story itself, my greatest joy here was in being right in my predictions. But even I, self-declared master of P and P, made mistakes in my perhaps premature evaluations, which I suppose serves me right for enjoying my own brilliance, as opposed to Aston’s.

First, my successes: Camilla is Lizzy. Page one reveals she has “dark expressive eyes,” and we immediately know to trust her. She is the second daughter. Aston gives us Camilla’s feelings in free indirect discourse (we know her thoughts without anyone saying these are her thoughts), much as we get Lizzy’s—and they’re rational and feeling, though not always correct, especially with respect to two principal men, Mr. Wytton and Mr. Leigh. She has a sense of decorum, but it doesn’t force her to do things that she feels are wrong. She is witty, and prudes consider her dangerous.

Mr. Collins: You’re giving away too much. Who will read the book if you don’t control yourself now?

Ms. Zwick: Very well. I have brilliant commentary about Wytton, too, which I shall keep in check for the moment. Instead, my failures: I didn’t see the Sidney Leigh problem coming. I knew something was wrong, but on my first reading, I had no clue. On round two, I noticed some clues I felt that round one should have yielded me:  he is fashion-conscious, disapproving of moralistic clergymen, and not a hunter. He shudders when he thinks about Camilla being attracted to him and keeps notably handsome serving-men. Even Camilla, who falls for him, feels “chagrin” at his ease with women who are married, but of course, for the wrong reason. No wonder “gossip had never linked his name with any of the flightier high-born ladies in his circle”! Let every woman beware of men who always look good.

Mr. Collins: I pride myself on rarely attending to my external appearance.

Ms. Zwick: Austen would never have used this as a plot device, nor would she have used the now-insulting Biblical word to describe his behavior. There are disturbing implications: all of the characters, once they learn of Leigh’s behavior, are horrified (with the exception of Pagoda). Fitzwilliam wants him shot. The guy ends up moving to Italy for his own safety. How horrible to live in such times. That being said, Sidney Leigh was prepared to sacrifice poor Camilla’s happiness for the sake of an heir, deceiving her for her money and her “better than most women” company. So I have difficulty feeling pity for him as I normally would such a person.

Sidney, it almost needs not be said, is the Wickham figure—dashing, good-looking, smooth, spirited, knowledgeable about money and eager to discuss it, and cynical about marriage. He has sexual proclivities which overwhelm any concern for one of our heroines.

Mr. Collins: Excellent overview, Ms. Zwick. I have often noticed a tendency in well-educated women to make excellent points, though I sincerely hope our reading audience is entirely male.

Ms. Zwick: Aston introduces several other “changes” in her novel that Austen would not have used. Aston takes us into the club scene, so we finally hear the men talk. We see actual church scenes and hear about characters’ religious feelings. There is open anti-Europe sentiment. Aston moves some of the characters, including, of course, Darcy and Elizabeth, out of England, which Austen didn’t do with hers. Tom Busby has illegitimate red-headed children all over town—shocking! Miss Griffin writes a lurid novel—shocking!

Mr. Collins: Shocking indeed. Your own hair, Ms. Zwick, is decidedly modest and brown.

Ms. Zwick: Some of the changes are disturbing. How could Lizzy go to Constantinople after her own wise advice to Mr. Bennet about silly, improperly-chaperoned girls? Doesn’t she see what Georgiana and Belle are? Lizzy, unlike Camilla, would not have openly admired her footman’s “handsome calves.” Why so much emphasis on squished breasts in new dresses? And why did Fitzwilliam have to become so priggish? He was so affable in P and P, but here I can’t stand him. I could perhaps have allowed this to happen to Bingley, but to Fitz? He seemed to have such potential, but here he sounds frightening similar to everyone’s favorite villain, Lady Catherine de Bourgh! Oh horror!

Mr. Collins: Here I must disagree. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the finest lady in all of Britain.

Ms. Zwick: Other changes are delightful. The Gardiners have finally come into money, but they are still their normal, charming selves. Their kid is a mess, but they know it. Lady Warren, the former Caroline Bingley, is hilariously wicked and ineffective, and the older Lydia is even more vulgar than before. Mrs. Rowan is a wonderful creation—delighted to be single, with a style of her own, and no shame in showing it to the world. The hunky but “imposingly vacant” Captain Allington is fun. And Alethea! This 16-year-old has to be the most intelligent, defiant and talented of any baby sister we’ve seen before. She takes no flack from anyone; she interrupts vile Lady Warren to rescue her older sister and pities Fitzwilliam for his musical ignorance.

Mr. Collins: Lady Catherine de Bourgh has often mentioned the evils of a defiant child. Althea should be spoken to about her nature immediately, Ms. Zwick.

Ms. Zwick: Fanny is an interesting character to place. In her desire to marry off her charges, she is distinctly Mrs. Bennet, but she’s so much more intelligent and sensitive (and not at all selfish). Letitia, too, troubled my mathematical mind that sought direct parallels between Aston’s characters and Austen’s (which, of course, is futile). Is she new? Is she Mr. Collins? Mary? Given to hyperbolics, Letty knows “herself to be in the right”—but is invariably not—intolerable! She reads boring tracts and makes public shows of it, but privately enjoys novels and other such intrigues. She is also the most beautiful, like Jane. I even thought she might be some mutant version of Elinor Dashwood trying to “control” and “curtail” her sisters’ passions while trying to mask her own.

Mr. Collins: I dare say that though repetition of old art is the safest kind of new art, neither has Ms. Aston successfully cloned me, nor could anyone.

Ms. Zwick: Characters aside, inevitably we compare P and P sequels’ opening lines to our favorite “It is a truth universally acknowledged” that every Janeite can recite in her sleep. Mr. Darcy’s Daughters begins: “Town and country are different worlds.” Though it would pale by comparison, Aston makes little attempt to duplicate Austen’s line here, instead modestly introducing a change in scene and conduct for the Darcy girls.  This is not Pemberley—and Aston is wise in this remove from what we know.  In shifting the scene, Aston enables readers to embrace new—many familiar—characters and situations without feeling disloyal to P and P and without making regular comparisons to the Pemberley we know, by which any modern work must suffer.

And Aston gives us some delightful lines. My favorites include:

“Politics are the ruin of any woman’s dinners.”

“Kittens were all very well in their way, were it not that they had an unfortunate tendency to grow into cats.”

And of course . . . “All men shed their morals with their breeches.”

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Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 9:11 am  Leave a Comment  

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