The True Darcy Spirit

When Mr. Collins (as voiced by Elizabeth Johnson) and I reviewed Elizabeth Aston’s Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, we were both pleased and displeased with some of this adventurous writer’s choices. Though her earlier work is not required reading to enjoy the latest one, familiarity with some of its important characters, particularly Camilla (the Lizzy parallel) and Belle (the ditzy twin who doesn’t get married at the end and who gives Lydia, the “silliest girl in all England,” some competition for the distinction), who play important roles here, in the life of an entirely new character, Cassandra Darcy.

 Cassandra, or Cass, is Anne de Bourgh’s kid, but Aston is careful to state upfront that Cass looks nothing like her mom and is confident like a Darcy; it seems that Anne somehow managed to snag a Darcy, even if it wasn’t our beloved one, and that he embodied some seemingly familial traits of intelligence, moral rectitude, and confidence. Anne’s Darcy husband has, much to Cassandra’s misfortune, died early, and Anne has remarried a more Mr. Collins type figure by the name of Partington. The first scene of the novel occurs between Cass and a young Darcy, Horatio, who has been hired to provide legal services on behalf of Mr. Partington—which consists of arranging a marriage between Cass and a man she refuses, to the cost of expulsion from her family.

 And thus begins a tale of intrigue, illicit affairs, premarital sex, marriage for money, art, opera, kisses in the garden, and prostitutes.

 Lady Catherine’s granddaughter has suffered a lapse of judgment for which nearly all other characters condemn her, but we get to watch as slowly things come right, through the aid of a loyal (smart) servant, an independent cousin, a flawed but improving barrister, and her own tremendous talents.

 We know from the start that this Cass is our heroine because: Horatio remembers her from their youth as playful and “unfeminine,” Rosings is going to her half-brother instead of to her, she reminds Horatio of Fitzwilliam Darcy, she has an evil stepfather who scorns novels, and she resists going to live with the evil Mrs. Norris. Now the primary issues become, “how did this poor girl become all alone in the world?” and “where/who is her real soul mate?” The discerning reader quickly adds the clues about the soul mate (no revelations here), which brings a little cheer to the answer of the solitude question.

 As we now expect, Aston makes some very funny comments on people and how they act in groups, much as Austen did, so even though we are introduced to several new characters, it is fairly simple to “categorize” them by their views, ridiculous as they are in many cases. Miss Quail, for instance, an ugly girl who finally gets engaged, starts every sentence with, “as an engaged woman . . .” as if to remind the world that SOMEONE wanted her. Mrs. Cathcart wants Cass to get a library subscription but only because “it would be thought odd” if Cass wasn’t seen there. Mrs. Nettelton comments that “good looks . . . count in any employment.” Ew.

 In addition to bitter comments on people, Aston also throws in quite a bit of scandal— men who are inappropriately forward, gay, sleeping with married women, or courting escorts, and women who are madams, adulteresses, scandal-mongers, passive idiots or gigglers—and also enough real love to satisfy even this Janeite. Elizabeth Bennet’s “fine eyes” become Cassandra’s “golden voice,” the key that unlocks the heart of the man who is her true match. The hero makes mistakes in judging the heroine, as she does him, but in the end, the bad guys get punished, the condescending aunt concedes, the hero professes his love, and the “true Darcy spirit” emerges, triumphant.

 Plus the heroine keeps her job—and her name. A modern romance for the modern Janeite.

Note: This review originally appeared in the JASNA-SW newsletter, April 2006.

Published in: on August 1, 2010 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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