What Would Mr. Darcy Do? By Abigail Reynolds

Reynolds immediately situates us between the two Darcy proposals and in Darcy’s point of view. Then, quickly, we have Elizabeth telling Darcy about Lydia that fateful day in Lambton. It feels like Austen (maybe Austen on super-speed), so now we’re in Elizabeth’s perspective. By the end of chapter 1, I was a little confused about Reynolds’ goal here.

But then, I got it. This is a part of a “Variation” series in which Reynolds retells the story with similar lines but changes details about how everything gets resolved. In this particular scene, those changes include Elizabeth thanking her gracious host for “the courtesy and hospitality” he has shown her family, Darcy waiting with her and holding her hand (not quite the embrace he, and we, want him to give, but still good!) until the Gardiners arrive, the discussion of the second proposal and the effect of Elizabeth’s earlier “reproof” (in Austen) happening much earlier, and then . . . well, you’ll want to read this (7,14).

Obviously the details I’m leaving out are some of my favorite (you should get to enjoy them, too), but I’ll add that Darcy’s forced humbling of himself to Mr. Gardiner afterwards (he admits he proposed and was rejected earlier, so if Mr. Gardiner wants them to marry, he’ll need to address Elizabeth with that concern) was also a delight (19). In an ironic twist, Mrs. Gardiner forces things too quickly, and Elizabeth, flushed with passion as she is, says she wants “this [to] take its own course” (22).

The short text is filled with little surprises. When we assume Mr. Collins has arrived to gloat (because the BBC handles it that way; Austen, of course, has him gloat epistolarily), we (and Jane) are delighted to find Mr. Bingley on the Bennets’ doorstep. In this version, Elizabeth shares with Jane what she did with Mr. Darcy (Jane’s reaction is so funny).  Georgiana and Elizabeth become correspondents; in a romantic gesture that has unforeseen consequences when a Bennet servant discovers the missive, Darcy slips a little note of his own in there, encouraging Elizabeth to continue teaching Georgiana how to tease him. The build-up of physical tension is more overt than in the original (though we all know it’s there) (49). We see much more of the Gardiners in this variation, and Mrs. Gardiner has a laugh out loud line: At one point, Elizabeth is feeling a little jealous that Darcy is confiding in her aunt just as she is. After a passionate fight, she is talking with her aunt but not revealing what happened. Mrs. G says: “I confess that it simplifies my life as an interfering aunt, my dear; if you refuse to tell me what is bothering you tonight, I can always ask him tomorrow” (156).

Georgiana is also developed delightfully. When she brings her brother Elizabeth’s letter, and he claims that suddenly, business is calling him away, it takes only a “moment” before her concern becomes amusement. “Please do say hello to your business for me when you see her,” she comments (59). Georgiana also has positive effects not only after the wedding on Kitty, as is implied in the original, but also before the wedding, on both Mary and Kitty. The latter tries to copy some of Georgiana’s “graceful ways,” and the latter adds novels and a few “small, but flattering changes” to her repertoire (104).

I’m always especially sensitive to how Mr. Bennet, one of my all-time favorite characters, is portrayed in such texts. At first, I was concerned; he, after all, doesn’t seem to trust Elizabeth when the “FD” letter and handkerchief are found in her possessions, but he does, at least, seem “amused by her evasions” (85). Once Kitty’s misleading information to him is cleared up, both the reader and the characters feel relief: Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet must be in sync for this story to have the effect it always does. The usual acerbic wit comes forth to delightful advantage when Darcy requests an audience with Mr. Bennet after having had a passionate encounter with Elizabeth just outside Longbourne House. Mr. Bennet observes drily, “I understand you have already taken a tour of the gardens” (120).

Darcy, like Elizabeth, learns to add proper grace and reflection to his mettle, and that is what ultimately persuades her father that this young man can “handle” his Lizzy (123). The process here differs from the original but is fun to watch unfold.

Published in: on May 15, 2011 at 7:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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