Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Genre Break - Duty and Desire

Have you ever read the second book in a trilogy, not really like it, but still intend to purchase the third book on the strength of the first book? That's how I feel about Duty and Desire, the second installment of the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series. It's a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's point of view.

I've lost track of how many times I've read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I read it at least once a year. It's just plain good storytelling. When I first heard about this trilogy, I thought to myself, "Oh, the three books will probably coincide with the three major settings." Therefore, I envisioned Book One to take place in Hertfordshire, Book Two to take place at Rosings, and Book Three to take place at Pemberley and beyond. Book Three would surely be filled with adventure, because that's when Darcy goes after Wickham. When reading P&P, the reader is stuck at home with the Bennett girls, and they have no idea what is going on until long after it happened.

Unfortunately, Duty and Desire does not take place at Rosings. It takes place during a timespan that Jane Austen jumped over, and imagines Darcy involved in all sorts of things that Austen never even hinted at in even her most scandalous novel, Mansfield Park (which, in a twist only possible in novels by Austen, is also her most prim novel). The end of the novel looks forward to the upcoming trip to Rosings. Elizabeth Bennett does not appear in this novel, except in Darcy's thoughts.

The novel begins well enough, with Darcy at home with is sister Georgiana. I really enjoyed what Aiden did with Georgiana. Georgiana is a character often spoken of in Pride and Prejudice, but rarely seen. Her and her companion, Mrs. Annesley, is seen often around Pemberly and are more than bit players. Georgiana still drives her brother nuts, but in a good way now. He doesn't like the idea of her visiting the poor every Sunday, but he can hardly fault her for that. And he is shocked when she wants to send an annual stipend to a Society that supports unwed mothers. These are all things designed to make you love a character. However, I wasn't too fond of what Aiden did with Col. Fitzwilliam, Darcy's cousin (who has the same last name as Darcy's first name). Col. Fitzwilliam was rather more dissapated than the Col. Fitzwilliam of P&P, which I didn't get any hint of in Jane Austen's original. Aiden also threw in a d'Arcy, Fitzwilliam's older brother, who really didn't add anything to the story.

The latter half of the book is where I ran into trouble. During this period, Darcy is staying with an old school friend, who now runs with a rather rough crowd, and who seems intent on gambling away his entire fortune. I think it was a mistake to involve Darcy in the "steamy underside" of British society. Just as it's possible to completely avoid the steamy underside of today's world (which I manage quite well), I think it is entirely possible for Darcy to avoid the steamy underside of society life. And that's what I think he would have done. To every indication in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy was an upright man, as full of morals and convictions as you can get while still being as fascinating as he is. (Another character, Collins, explores the extreme where it gets ridiculous.) Austen also never hinted at gatherings where the men adjourned to a gambling parlor for the night. The playing of cards took place in mixed company.

And the idea of Darcy willing to gamble another man out of house and fortune simply to get his hands on his fine Spanish sword? Simply repellent.

I highly enjoyed most of the first book in the series, An Assembly Such as This, and I certainly will purchase the final volume, These Three Remain. However, if you are interested in this series, you probably won't miss out on much by skipping the second book, altogether.


Raven said...

Ever heard of Old Friends and New Fancies? It's a recent Austen-style novel (I'm tempted to call these novels Austen fanfic) that pulls in a lot of the secondary characters from the real Austen novels. Georgiana Darcy is the main character. I liked it pretty well, and it was fun seeing a lot of old faces.

Tia Nevitt said...

That sounds like a good one! I'd love to read one that explores Mary Bennett about eight years later.

And yes, this is fan fiction. It would be nice to write fan fiction and get paid for it!

CaroleMcDonnell said...

I wonder if it's too late for you to write a novel from Darcy's viewpoint. I like the way you imagined the three different settings.

Nah, I can't see Darcy in a steamy world either...but if he gives money to support unwed women, I suppose we could see the evils that beset victorian men also. I wonder about the idea of marriageability from the man's viewpoint. That would make the story a true counterpart to Jane.

Love Mansfield Park -- and Persuasion. Not really primness, i think. More about self-repression and noble characters who silently tolerate those folks who don't know themselves or who are living life with an entirely different set of rules about forbearance and intrusion. Great review as usual.

Mary Bennett would be a good character to explore, yes. I always thought Austen was a bit too impatient with her. -C