Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes by Regina Jeffers

The preface endears Jeffers to me right away—she, too, is a teacher whose students think her a “Jane Austen freak.” She calls Colin Firth “the ultimate Darcy” but also calls herself “a Matthew Macfadyen fan” (2). But I quickly became uncomfortable: Jeffers calls the Firth version six hours (we all know it originally aired in six installments of 50 minutes each, which makes it five hours), admits her Darcy is a combination of “the best of both actors” rather than Austen’s own Darcy, and comments that Anne and Wentworth are very similar to Elizabeth and Darcy (3). Suddenly, I’m having trouble not judging the acumen of the writer in whose hands I place myself for the next several hours.

More cautious, I begin the actual story and am struck again by two trends I have observed recently in various sequels and their like: 1 Modern expressions have no place in Regency England and cast doubts about the accuracy of any such tale, and 2: Something is serious amiss with the copyediting process.  Both problems rear themselves fairly early. Darcy and Georgiana are said to need “solo time each day” (7). Darcy later says to Elizabeth: “please do not stress over my finding you here” (149). (“Stress yourself”—the verb is transitive—would be fine for Regency England, but “stress” as an intransitive verb has no place anywhere but in our own world.) The grammar errors are more than simple typos, although those are here, too (“Can one image such a mother?” 30) (“Has your urgent estate problems been resolved?” 202). In the first meeting of the protagonists, the narrator gives us this sentence: “Although handsomer than Mr. Bingley and now rumored to have ten thousand pounds per year, most of the assembly found him haughty and formal and possessing a superior bearing” (14). If the narrator/editor does not recognize a faulty referent (“handsomer” should describe Darcy, but the subject of the independent clause is “most of the assembly”), how can a discerning reader trust any of this material? It happens again when Darcy realizes he should have offered assistance: “A bit embarrassed by his behavior, his gentility took control of his actions“ (his “gentility” is not “embarrassed”) (61). How, I ask you, can this keep happening? And again, with respect to Elizabeth: “Dressed in a white, Empire waist muslin gown, Elizabeth’s appearance took on classical lines” (her “appearance” is not “dressed”) (67). Elizabeth’s uncle, apparently, is getting quite hot, according to this text: “Warmer than what was expected for this time of year, Mr. Gardiner took advantage of the weather” (357). And Darcy is apparently a wuss of sorts with this butchered line: “More vulnerable than he ever saw her, Darcy knew the horse symbolized her fear” (301). (This one is so convoluted you may have thought the sentence describes the horse; it doesn’t.)

If this narratorial havoc weren’t enough to cause worry, Jeffers also butchers some of the language in her characters’ mouths. Darcy has some trouble with subject and object pronouns:  “Monday next would serve Georgiana and I well,” he tells Bingley (139). His thoughts also have faulty grammar: “If he could confine himself to places of solitude, the hours would pass quicker” (57). No surprise, then, that impressionable Georgiana would emulate her brother’s example, as she does to my chagrin in her comment to Elizabeth: “your being part of our family makes both my brother and I richer in what matters” (300). We might hope that Elizabeth could explain the rule to them, but—oh no!—Elizabeth, too, struggles with pronouns, as in this line about the Gardiners—“They were very instrumental in bringing Fitzwilliam and I together” (347)—or in this one about her wedding—“You made Jane and I happy brides today” (300).

My confidence in Jeffers’ authority was shaken multiple times, and thorough editing might have eased some of my concerns. Some errors, however, can only be ascribed to the writer. There are supposedly rumors that Darcy “despised” dancing (14). Jeffers then has Darcy tell Bingley that he “detest[s]” dancing, which he certainly never says in Pride and Prejudice, and a “shudder of disgust rack[s] his body” when he contemplates Elizabeth the next morning; Darcy should never be disgusted by Elizabeth (15-17). Jeffers also describes Wickham, in Darcy’s thoughts, as “normally” preferring women of substantial inheritance to those of the Bennet’s wealth, but isn’t Wickham usually looking for his own entertainment? (67) For that, he would not need a woman to have any money; in fact, we are led to believe in P & P that he is considering marriage to Miss King because his debts have run so high that he must marry—worse than his “normal” state.  Jeffers’ Lydia is far too rational and self-aware. She defends her conduct to Elizabeth with: “Lizzy, that is all I have. Jane is beautiful; you are smart; Mary is talented [me: WHAT?]; Kitty is creative” [me: um, okay]. What do I have besides my childish innocence—that is all the charm I have to offer?” [sic] (282) After the wedding, Darcy starts a fight with Elizabeth in the presence of Mrs. Annesley, a public display of anger that is highly unlikely if this Darcy is the one we know. And Elizabeth’s definition of real love is more than mildly disturbing: “Real love . . . changes your life; your own needs no longer exist” (286).

There are also several moments that seem lifted from the script of one of the two P & P films. Elizabeth is described as running (BBC), the music stops when Bingley et al enter the assembly room (MacFadyen), and Lydia tells Bingley to invite the militia to his ball because they “make excellent company” (45) (MacFadyen). In the proposal scene, especially, I heard both movies, which I found mostly disturbing and slightly comforting. Worse, this text seems to consist mainly of scenes we have already seen at their best (written by Austen) written much less well here, with occasional insights into Darcy’s motivations and thoughts, and occasional insights into Elizabeth’s (Doesn’t Austen already give us at least the latter?). Darcy also seems to know more than he should, almost as if, sometimes, he has access to the narrator’s script. He immediately thinks Mrs. Bennet sent Jane to Bingley’s on horseback in the rain on purpose so she’d get sick and have to stay. That plan is so absurd Mr. Bennet is still reeling from it; how could Darcy just guess it? Darcy also supposedly predicts that Elizabeth will come to Jane to care for her, which surprises everyone else in the house (and Darcy himself in the original). Jeffers adds scenes, most of which are interesting and involve Darcy, but there are several between Elizabeth and Darcy that never occur in the original, which seems an odd choice to make if we’re to believe everything else Darcy says and feels is consistent with Austen’s Darcy.

Given all the faults, does this book merit reading? It is not without its pleasures. It made me realize, for instance, that Georgiana would realize Darcy had told Elizabeth Georgiana’s secret; that had never occurred to me before, and I think Jeffers handled the brother-sister scene quite well. Georgiana is also instrumental in the plan to “save” Elizabeth, and she shares Darcy’s secret. I learned a new word (sonsy, p. 141, meaning robust or agreeable), I enjoyed Jeffers’ addition of scenes between Mrs. Reynolds and Darcy when Elizabeth surprises him by being at Pemberley, and I even embraced enhancements of the original in certain circumstances (e.g. Darcy ends up having an epiphany similar to Elizabeth’s “’Till this moment, I never knew myself” as Elizabeth teaches Darcy about “his own nature”). The introduction of little Cassandra Gardiner is also welcome and foreshadows what successful parents Darcy and Elizabeth will be. Generally speaking, the book becomes more fun once Elizabeth and Darcy get engaged, probably because there, Jeffers is on mostly new ground so she’s no longer competing as a story-teller with a writer next to whom none of us could shine. Jeffers can also finally appropriately give rein to her desire for verbal foreplay, which is always fun for us as readers. And she puts the theme statement of sorts into Georgiana’s mouth just before a heart-warming resolution: “the Greeks did not extol a man’s accomplishments upon his death . . . They simply asked one question of his family and friends: did he live his life with undying passion?” (383)

Darcy and Elizabeth do, and Jeffers hopes they inspire readers to do so as well.

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Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. I most definitely agree with everything you have written regarding the grammar, the modern expressions, and the uncharacteristic traits Jeffers ascribes to Austen’s characters. However, I do have to disagree with your comments regarding the ending, as I found the book even less enjoyable (and I truly did not enjoy it at all in it’s entirety) post-wedding. Since Jeffers was on new ground at the end, her writing was no longer disguised in her (failed) attempt at immitating Austen and her true talent for modern day trashy romance was exposed. As a Jane Austen (especially Pride & Prejudice) fan, my overall opinion of this book can be summed up in one very dissatisfied ‘UGH’!


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