Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter

This story opens on a bad date. As the awful get-together comes to a close, after, mind you, the male has calculated the exact cost of the toppings on the female’s half of the pizza they shared, she prepares to walk away casually. All of a sudden, his tongue is in her mouth, and she has no idea how he got the impression that it would be welcomed there.

I laughed out loud. My friend Michelle had a date like that not two weeks ago.

After a series of bad dates like this, our main character, Emily, 29, decides that she’s “done” with dating, if only as a mechanism of self-preservation. Two of my close single friends have contemplated the same choice after their most recent dating disasters.

Clearly this writer knows her dating scene. But how well does she know her Austen?

Pretty well, it turns out. Though one character mistakenly says the BBC Pride and Prejudice is six hours (it originally came out on six cassettes, of course, but they are 50 minutes each, which yields an adaptation of five glorious hours), this text reveals a lot of understanding of P & P and of the hero who has leapt from its pages into the hearts of untold numbers of female admirers throughout the world.

Emily is a lot like us: a smart, single, hopeful, reading, H & M-shopping woman with a good job, a good heart, and a good imagination. For New Year’s Eve, she would rather stay home with a glass of wine and a good book; for New Year’s Day, nothing compares to an all-day Austen screen adaptation treat with similarly-minded companions (great idea, by the way, if any of you would like to start a Southwest tradition at my place). When her friend Stella says she has never heard of Mr. Darcy, Emily takes it upon herself to educate her poor deprived friend, as any of us would do. Chapter 1 ends with Stella exuding enthusiasm over the brooding hero—and forcing Emily to acknowledge that “Mr. Darcy does not exist.”

It is a combination of these factors—and the threat of a Mexican get-away with Stella that promises little more than margaritas and sex with strangers—that leads Emily to take seriously a flier left in her bookstore by a mysterious client. She books a Jane Austen trip toEngland, and the real adventure begins.

When she gets on the bus, she sees a sea of gray heads and has some negative thoughts, but soon she realizes that “old” doesn’t mean “boring” or “bad.” In fact, the only woman on the bus wearing Hush Puppies is Emily! (I winced inwardly, contemplating my most expensive pair of shoes: Munro American comfort loafers from Nordstrom). One older lady, Rose, who wears stilettos on the tour, reminds me hauntingly of a firecracker Rose with whom I took a recent Ashland, Oregon tour (I: Emily; everyone else: gray head tour, except I knew how it would be and was happy to be in such company). Emily also meets a handsome stranger, who arrives late and seems to snub her. For solace, Emily turns to reading P & P. The reader starts to notice parallels between Emily’s own life andElizabeth’s, and these parallels soon include, with a flick of Jane’s own feather pen at Chawton, some encounters with Mr. Darcy himself.

Any Austen reader will savor the ironies of Emily reading scenes she currently stars in—with no recognition that any such thing is happening. What is more unusual in the general Austen scheme of things, is that the author turns the Darcy notion on its head by the end of the novel—and then, arguably, back again. We, like Emily, assume we want to date and marry Mr. Darcy. In the novel, Emily meets two eligible handsome men—one, the real Mr. Darcy, and one, an annoying newspaperman named Spike. Though Spike seems to play the “Darcy” role in all the scenes Emily reads in the book, it seems obvious enough that Emily’s Darcy is Mr. Darcy himself, a lucky stroke for a single woman if ever there was one. Mr. Darcy is romantic, brooding, handsome, and strong, all the adjectives of our imaginations; but, as Emily learns, it is difficult to be the girlfriend of a man who always uses formal language, who doesn’t crack jokes, who doesn’t always understand jokes, who doesn’t think women should work unless they’re members of the lower class, and who is, aside from slight snobbery, near perfect. Emily is a fun-loving American gal who learns she wants a real man, a man she can text, a man who will grab her in a bear hug when she cries, a man who gets food on his shirt and doesn’t have the servants get it out. Sometimes, Emily learns, “getting what you want is simple.” You just have to know what it is, and ask.

Emily decides, after adventures I haven’t yet ruined for you,

  1. that Mr. Darcy is better left in our imaginations than in our beds (even if the BBC version is basically five “hours of foreplay”);
  2. that Miss Steane (watch her closely!) is right that “not doing anything can be worse than doing the wrong thing,”
  3. that a woman should be in no hurry because “the right man will come at last,”
  4. and that, as long as Mr. Darcy exists in our fantasies, and our fantasies are real, then Mr. Darcy is real, too.
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Published in: on April 17, 2011 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment  

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