These are not new books, having been published from 2003 to 2005, but as I am a relative newcomer to JAFF I often find myself trying to catch up on some of the older stories that are still new to me.
During one of my visits to our local paperback trading shop I scored a copy of An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan. At the time I did not realize that it was the first book of the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy. I was very much enjoying the story, so when I learned that there was more I purchased volume two — Duty and Desire — and the final volume, These Three Remain, in paperback as well. And I’m so pleased that I did!
The story — and the three books really comprise only one story — is essentially a re-telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Mr Darcy’s perspective. We all know how Elizabeth felt about Mr Darcy, her reaction to his proposal at Hunsford, her lesson in self-awareness when she read his letter, her shock at seeing him again at Pemberley, and her changing sentiments towards him that led to a happily ever after. But we don’t know how Mr Darcy felt about all of this. Jane gives us some hints, but nothing substantial.
Ms Aidan delves into Mr Darcy’s view of Elizabeth, which is of course quite different from Elizabeth’s view of Mr Darcy. She tells us why Mr Darcy proposed to Elizabeth, why he completely anticipated her acceptance, and the heartbreak he suffered when she refused. The first volume sets up the characters and story lines we are so familiar with. In the second volume, we meet some new characters — some that we love and some not so much — as Darcy tries to forget Elizabeth and decides to seek a wife elsewhere. Finally in the third volume Darcy accepts that he can be happy with nobody but Elizabeth, and resolves to become the man Elizabeth deserves to marry.
We understand how Darcy interpreted their interactions, from the Meryton assembly to the time they spent together at Netherfield and Rosings, differently from Elizabeth’s interpretations, leading him to draw conclusions — logical from his point of view — that eventually result in his disastrous proposal. We hear his thoughts on how his upbringing formed him into the man he is, and about the danger he feels regarding his growing affections for this societally unsuitable young lady (and his more amusing reflections on Caroline Bingley). We accompany him to Rosings Park where he misconstrues Elizabeth’s actions to the point where he believes wholeheartedly in her being attached to him, then to the parsonage where his beliefs are shattered.
In the original story, Darcy essentially “disappears” for several months after Hunsford, and we do not know what he is doing during this time. Duty and Desire tells us. The author describes his efforts to forget about the woman he desires and focus on his duty to himself and his family to marry and produce an heir. To this end Darcy makes a series of bad, and potentially dangerous, choices while seeking a wife. It is only through the good offices of a new character that he escapes potential ruination, and ultimately comes to the conclusion that there is only one woman who can make him happy. And that he must overcome his own faults if he wants to win her hand.
The third volume has Darcy accepting and working to improve his character flaws. Again he nearly steps into a scandal and again is rescued by the new character of a long-time friend. We travel with him to the seedy side of London to rescue Lydia Bennet and to deal with his long-time nemesis Mr Wickham. And finally we are privileged to witness his transformation of consciousness as he overcomes his weaknesses and wins Elizabeth’s love.
What I liked most: Newly-created characters. One is Darcy’s old university friend, a man with many secrets who proves repeatedly that he can be counted on in adversity, particularly when he is protecting Darcy from other old friends who have far less than his best interests at heart. Another is Darcy’s valet, a charming eccentric who longs to be acknowledged as a trend-setter but must accommodate Darcy’s conservatives tastes — and exhibits unqualified loyalty. Even the bad guys in this story — and there were plenty — were interestingly drawn. I liked the references to actual historical events, particularly the hostilities arising between England and Ireland, and the roles these new characters played in these events; these are the kinds of details that are not only enjoyable but encourage me to research more about the referenced history. I liked the detailed timeline of Darcy’s search for and discovery of Lydia and Wickham. The fencing scenes were most exciting, and Darcy’s drunken (yes, drunken!) confession to his old friend of his unrequited love for Elizabeth was quite amusing. I also enjoyed the tender interactions between Darcy and his sister. We even get to sit in his dressing room and share his thoughts as he prepares for his wedding. And I always love JAFF stories that grant plenty of face time to Colonel Fitzwilliam, as the author does here.
What I liked least: Some of the more dangerous events involved what appeared to be supernatural forces. While I realize that many Jane Austen fans are also Harry Potter fans, I do not count myself amongst them. I have never read any of the Harry Potter stories, and generally avoid stories about witchcraft, sorcery, and the like. I find that there is enough good and evil in the real world to add flavour to stories without resorting to the device of supernatural forces. Your own enjoyment of this type of story may differ, of course.
In short: This series is well-written and engaging, and I wish it could have continued for another two or three volumes! As this is not an “official” review, I cannot offer an excerpt. While the trilogy is available as a complete set, if you are looking to keep your reading costs down (reading can on occasion be an expensive habit to feed) I recommend that you consider ordering the three volumes separately (see my article here about this).
To learn more about Pamela Aidan, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or explore her publishers’ author pages. Here is a list of links to some of these.
(All book covers are the property of the author.)
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