When I first heard that Diana’s book was coming to Barnes and Noble, I was very excited—not only for her, but also for all of us. Though I had heard of the book for years, the expensive hardcover editions never quite found their way to my library, and I was left only to imagine what story remained untold to me.
So last week I gleefully found my copy at my local B &N. I started Diana’s book immediately, hoping I’d like it. By the end of chapter one, I was so engrossed I had temporarily forgotten that it was Diana’s book! Several parts of the story hooked me right away: the warm sibling bond between Henry and Jane (reminds me of my relationship with my own dear brother), the potential makings of Chloe (the “good” Wickham daughter who manages to develop moral character despite all odds), the doughty Kitty (who doesn’t fare so well, but whose gardener husband I found endearing), and the horribly bitchy “new” Lydia, Miss Wickham, who wants to trap Fitzwilliam, the eldest Darcy boy.
Diana is a master of dialogue. So vivid and so realistic, it immediately endeared me to Chloe and distanced me from Bettina. Even an occasional surprising phrase that may have more meaning that Diana intended—“their ability to give tongue”— that stopped me in my tracks, only did so momentarily. I soon recognized the depth of cleverness here: the Wickham sister we like is in a position similar to Elizabeth’s before Darcy saves her sister’s, and therefore her own, reputation. The Darcy son most like his father is the one who tries to save the shameful product of the Wickham union from self-immolation, just as Darcy and the Gardiners did years before for her ancestors. The parallels don’t end there. The powerful Elizabeth/Lady Catherine exchange when Lady Catherine suspects an alliance between Lizzy and Darcy is revived here in the Collins’ new
home—the same place it occurred a generation earlier. Chloe, like her aunt Elizabeth, fights back, politely, and we admire her for it. This pride also keys us in—in case we were a bit slow before—to her appropriateness for Henry, just as Elizabeth’s zest proves her worthy of Darcy. And Mr. Collins once again gets to offend us, this time via Lady Catherine, with the suggestion that a heroine would be better off had her shamed relative died—Bettina standing in for her mother this time.
In addition to all the plot twists and clever parallels, Diana also has some fun in brief mentions. Kitty’s husband is a real gardener, or at least likes gardening. If we are to read the Gardiners as people who act in concert with nature, then this man, too, is morally wise. He calls his deity “the great Gardener;” thus Diana reminds us that our characters who enjoy the outdoors are the ones who understand what really matters. She also nicely gets revenge on Caroline Bingley; Caroline gets to marry at last, but her new surname is Babcock. Better to stay single, one might argue.
The only really sad moment in this story is Mr. Bennet’s passing, but even this moment, which brought me to tears, is done gently and calmly, to give as little pain as possible to all. I really think we could have missed this part (I didn’t want to see this!), but the plot wouldn’t work as well without Longbourne falling victim to the Collins, so I guess I can forgive Diana this one choice.
Especially because it’s so soon followed by Darcy’s laugh out loud comment to his son, about to “inherit” the Wickham family via his selected wife, that since Darcy has been burdened “this five an twenty years” by the Wickhams, he “shall be quite glad to pass them on to” his son. Since, as Elizabeth declares, “a good wife, you know, makes a good husband,” all Henry’s efforts—and all Darcy’s—are well worth their trouble.
(republished from Summer 2008)