Fiction — eBook. Sourcebooks Landmark, 2010. 348 pgs. Library copy.
What if Mr. Darcy was unable to purpose to Elizabeth Bennet at Rosings? The sudden death of Mr. Bennet changes the course of all their lives as Jane marries an older merchant to help secure her family after Mr. Collins inherits Longbourne, Elizabeth moves to London, and Kitty never meets Wickham again.
Dependent upon the Gardners’ charity, Elizabeth helps with their young children taking the brood for walks and serving as their governess. Mr. Darcy — still thinking of Elizabeth’s fine eyes — arranges to casually run into Elizabeth on her morning walks after he finds himself unable to stay away, unable to stop wondering what lively and witty conversation he might have with Elizabeth next.
The blurb on the back of this novel, particularly “What if Mr. Darcy’s intentions were shockingly dishonorable?”, is sinister and darker than the actual contents of the novel. Although I’ve read and enjoyed many of Reynolds’ novels, I seriously considered passing on this book when I saw it listed as available on the library’s website because the blurb is that off-putting. Most of the story, in fact, is based around the idea of morality and protecting one’s reputation with the only “shockingly dishonorable” action on the part of Mr. Darcy is actually an assumption on Elizabeth’s part.
Mr. Darcy is still prideful but seeing Elizabeth in reduced circumstances, learning of her family’s plight and how it mirrors his own in some ways helps him to work through his issues. Elizabeth is still prejudiced but learning of Darcy’s silent help to her family even without the Wickham subplot causes her to see Mr. Darcy in a new light. Mr. Darcy is more lovesick than Austen writes him; Elizabeth is still as witty. The social divide is wider than ever, and the plot is well-paced.
Reynolds makes two additions to the characters’ back stories — one I loved and one I hated. I always appreciate it when authors build up the supporting characters in the novel, and Reynolds has an interesting take on Anne de Bough. Namely that the young woman suffers from some developmental delay, which explains her mother’s hovering nature and how little we actually hear from her in the original novel. The second aspect is revealed slowly throughout the novel but is barely addressed after the confession and appears to be solely inserted for the shock value. I found it an intriguing addition and was disappointed that it wasn’t sufficiently addressed.
Even so, I practically devoured this book and enjoyed pondering about all the “what if” questions Reynolds posed in her novel. Those who avoid the bodice-ripping sequels and variations will also be pleased to know there is no smut within these pages.