What if Elizabeth had accepted Mr. Darcy the first time he asked?
Those of us familiar with Jane Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice — which, if you’re even reading this, is probably most of us — know that Fitzwilliam Darcy popped the question to a flabbergasted Elizabeth Bennet long before she actually accepted, forcing Elizabeth to launch into her famous diatribe about Darcy being “the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” (Yikes. What a shut-down.)
Because Darcy? He was proud. Arrogant. Disdainful of Elizabeth’s family and “low connections.” And yet there was something about her — something spirited — that got him to cast aside his reservations and actually drop to one knee.
Or, in this case, plant a giant kiss on her.
While reading a novel like Abigail Reynolds’ Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man In The World, a variation on Pride & Prejudice, we have to remember what life was like in Regency England — decidedly straight-laced. After Darcy offers for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage and assumes she’ll be overjoyed at the proposal, he leans forward to kiss her. But his belief that they’re alone while walking is quickly voided when Colonel Fitzwilliam stumbles across the pair. Shocked and horrified that she has now been “compromised” — and knowing there’s no way she can walk away from Darcy’s unbelievable offer of marriage now — Elizabeth stays mum as she is congratulated by her acquaintances and Darcy formally asks Mr. Bennet for permission to wed his second-eldest daughter.
Can you imagine? You’re caught in a man’s arms and suddenly you’re damaged goods — destined to bring shame and poverty upon your family because of one small, unexpected smooch. Let’s just say I’m glad it’s not 1815.
But I digress.
Reynolds’ Darcy is a familiar one: haughty and in control, but his unexpected tenderness and obvious infatuation with Elizabeth — though she most definitely did not return his sentiments — was very different. I enjoyed this novel from start to finish, absolutely loving the push-and-pull between our principle characters. Reynolds does an impeccable job of keeping us firmly rooted at the Pemberley we know and love while still allowing for some change. Familiar characters enter the landscape — like the devious George Wickham, a man for whom I must admit to have a certain soft spot (I know, I know) — and Austen’s plot points are honored, though Reynolds does take us in some new directions. And some of those steamy scenes would have brought a decided blush to Miss Austen’s cheeks.
The discourse between Elizabeth and Darcy was funny and tender — and, dare I say it, they bantered. Really bantered. So many recent spin-offs or variations of Pride & Prejudice I’ve read, like Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, feature our beloved characters as mere shells of who they used to be. Reynolds’ Elizabeth is still spirited and independent, afraid of Darcy though she can’t quite put her finger on why. The evolution of their relationship was believable and, though I knew that they would have to grow to love each other (right?), there was still a little shadow across my brow when I wondered how the couple would finally set aside their — ahem — pride and prejudice to accept one another . . . faults and all.
After reading a page or two here and there for a few days, when I finally sat down to devote my full attention to this novel? I whipped through it in a few hours. And what a diverting few hours they were! Fans of Austen and our beloved Darcy and Elizabeth won’t find much fault with this novel, though I have to admit to getting a little weary of the fact that they were so often at cross-hairs. But that’s just part of the fun, right? If you love Austen fiction, don’t hesitate to pick this one up.
4 out of 5!