Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride by Helen Halstead

This sequel begins with a threatening letter from Lady Catherine (Elizabeth feeds it to the goats) and a loving embrace (verbally, from Mr. Bennet, and physically, from Darcy).

Halstead seems less than confident that her readers know their Austen. She doesn’t use Kitty and Mary’s names in chapter 1 (as though we don’t know them yet), and she makes a few changes to characters that don’t necessarily jibe with how we remember them.  Mrs. Bennet, in a twist of strange discernment, quickly realizes that Georgiana is shy, rather than arrogant. Later, she calls Elizabeth “Daughter,” which she certainly doesn’t do in P & P. Elizabeth asks Mrs. Hurst to make sure Kitty stays away from redcoats in Scarborough. Mr. Hurst is sometimes articulate (did he even speak a full sentence in P &P?), and Caroline speaks oddly to Jane (with lines like “Dearest Jane, you are not tired, my love?”).  Occasionally, there is a line that jumps out as distinctly NOT something Austen would say.  When Jane cleverly separates Mary from Elizabeth, the narrator says, “Jane was splendid.” Far more egregious, however, is the uncouth narratorial comment following Mary Bennet’s first view of Pemberley. The text says, “’It is very large . . .’ answered that upright virgin.”

Along with changes, however, come some new ways of looking at things. Caroline Bingley, for instance, becomes, as much as is possible, a sympathetic character when we get her age (24) and when she rejects a proposal of marriage from a wealthy widower because “when he seize[s] her hand, “ she is “filled with revulsion.” She is actually kind to Georgiana and distracts everyone when Georgiana inadvertently reveals her feelings for a man and blushes. We get a new first name for Mr. Bennet (John), a clever strategy for getting what she wants from her husband by Charlotte (she tells him she has been thinking about what he said earlier—he, of course never said any such thing—and has decided that he was right), and Anne de Bourgh uses her backbone in a most delightful way! (Apparently, there is some spirit in those genes because Anne’s uncle, Lord Maddersfield, is delightfully encouraging of Anne’s bravery, even as he reassures Lady Catherine that he simply cannot get Anne to listen to him.) For the first time that I recall, perspiration and its corresponding odor is mentioned; perhaps most modern readers like to imagine Regency England sans its warts, but Halstead doesn’t allow us that luxury. Thus, we watch with curiosity as the London Ton embraces or rejects Elizabeth Darcy, but we also must watch the Hursts show shockingly little interest in their first born son.

Most interestingly, Halstead develops the relationships among the Bennet sisters in new ways. Mary has become cruel, wielding her Bible as she tells Elizabeth that all tragedies result from human imperfection as divine punishment (but Mrs. Bennet threatens to slap Mary, which seems not in line with Austen’s development of that character). Lydia offends Kitty, who is finally learning to be better. Kitty probably offends Lydia (though we don’t see Lydia’s reaction) with her rhetorical question:  “Can you imagine what it would be like to be married to a man who pursues other women? I should hate it, should not you?” Kitty and Elizabeth have a frank talk in which nothing is off the table, including the effect of Mr. Bennet’s words on Kitty over the years, and Elizabeth’s awareness of her last place finish in her mother’s affections. Kitty’s fate is very different than you might imagine, but its placement in the story helps balance out some of the heavy-handedness in the Caroline Bingley engagement (it is too obvious that the situation is not what it appears to everyone else to be) and in the destruction of the statue of the muse (symbolism that screams its own significance). Austen’s special skill is her subtle humor, and Halstead demonstrates it well here in some places (such as the Lady Catherine epistle) and not so well in others.

There are also several connections to other Austen works. Lord Bradford, for instance, experiences something akin to Edmund Bertram’s feelings when his older brother Tom, who stands to inherit Mansfield Park, is so ill he may lose it. Though she doesn’t pursue it with the same relentless drive, Elizabeth, too, is drawn to a little Emma-esque matchmaking; she, however, having already been suitably matched herself, does so more subtly than the other heroine.

And Mr. Bennet reads carefully through the marriage articles to make sure Elizabeth is protected in case she is widowed before producing a male heir; it’s just what my dad would do, but more to the point, it is perfectly in keeping with Austen’s Mr. Bennet. Halstead does here what a sequel writer should do: embrace Austen and do her very best to write a story that keeps the reader engaged in the characters’ lives without violating their essence.  Though she doesn’t do so perfectly here, I enjoyed the read and can recommend it to my faithful readers.

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Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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