Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Two Diaries of Darcy

After a good six months of reading (almost exclusively) Young Adult Fiction, I decided a few weeks ago that I would plunge back into the classics, and I did so with a vengeance. I finished with Pride & Prejudice, and then decided to listen to my buddies at and try some of the novels that were P&P retold from Darcy's point of view. I decided to make an experiment out of it and read them back-to-back after glossing over P&P one more time.

The first one was Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange. I liked this one, though at times thought it was kind of 'Darcy for Dummies'. More of a Romance than P&P, but was nonetheless an enjoyable read. I think I might prefer this version of our hero to the other book (though not to the original). At first it started off a bit dull, but I quickly found myself enjoying the narrative, particularly his mixed delight and wariness at Lizzy's sharp wit and laughing manners. Amanda Grange knows her audience, and gives them exactly what they want. She never pretends to be Austen, but is pretty adept nonetheless. One of the things I liked best was the few pages which chronicle events that happened after the wedding, up to the Darcy's first Christmas. It flowed seamlessly from the previous narrative, and seemed like it could have been a feasible end even for Jane Austen. It's not as meaningful or layered as P&P, but definitely sweet and may cause you to get a case of the warm fuzzies. My largest complaint: In a letter to his friend Darcy, Bingley calls Jane "an adorable angel". That's a little blech-worthy, even for Mister Bingley.

The second book was The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater. Now this was a clever concept, a diary found in a hidden drawer of a desk two hundred years from the time it was written by none other than our Mr. Darcy (the "afterword" claims that it was written by the man they believed Austen based the character on). This book was a rich, often disturbing, and sometimes dry look at the life of a Regency-Era gentleman. He engages in fisticuffs, he fences, he goes to bordellos and dallies with housemaids, he talks war and politics (Napolean Bonaparte is referred to, amusingly, as 'Boney'). And of course, he and his good friend Charles Bingley hang out with none other than the infamous Lord Byron, rock star of his day. There are so many things I disliked about the portrayal of Darcy in this book, and so many things I liked about it at the same time. In the beginning he is just as he was first portrayed in P&P...stiff, arrogant, rude. Not to mention a man with a healthy appetite for the ladies. Though at first the only ladies he is interested in are the prostitutes and the maids, he seems to show no interest in the ladies of society (such as the ever-scheming Caroline Bingley, whose overtures have never been more pathetic as they are portrayed here). Unlike Mr. Darcy's Diary, this version of Darcy at first seems more disturbed than delighted by Elizabeth, and the attraction (though not the admiration) is almost immediate. He makes a valiant attempt at denying it, but can't fool us or himself. On her last day at Netherfield attending to Jane, Darcy prides himself on having ignored Elizabeth for the entire day, but still notes that while he ignored her for his book, "she pricked herself while sewing, and lifted her finger to her lips". He thinks he's doing such a good job of ignoring her, but by this he gives the game away.

Much of the parts that take place between the Netherfield Ball and Darcy's visit to Rosings have only brief mentions of "E", and is much more occupied with keeping a sunken, heartbroken Bingley from despair (and from the clutches of a crafty courtesan) and trying to help frail Georgiana recover from a much more violent version of events that took place between herself and the perfidious Mister Wickham. As to the character of Georgiana, I could have done without so much of her. I felt that she was written very contrary to what Austen portrayed, a shy sweet girl becomes a willful, sometimes bratty kid sister. Charles Bingley, however, has never been more interesting than this bitter, heartbroken version. I found myself liking his character at times more than Darcy's!

The Meat of the story takes places in describing the events from Darcy and *Col. Fitzwilliam's arrival at Rosings to months later when he stumbles across Elizabeth taking in the view at Pemberly. To myself, the best part of the book is his self-delusion that Elizabeth Bennett is nothing more than a pretty face, to the realization that he can't stay away from her and is in the middle of a full-blown obsession. His desperation as he observes her, the constant need to be near her to see her is in fact an overwhelming difference from the former, slightly disturbed and put-out regard he had for Elizabeth. Darcy describes himself as desperate and half-crazed. And the events that take place after her resounding rejection show our hero in such a state of despair, anger, and self-loathing that we can't help but feel for him. All in all I would have been happy if they had omitted the debauchery provided to them by Byron, I felt that the events that took place at Byron's estate dragged on and lost all of their shock value. Of course, as he must, our Hero emerges "properly humbled" and hopefully forever faithful to his Elizabeth. I can't say I loved this book in context with P&P, but as a stand-alone story it was a solid, entertaining read. But proceed with caution, if you do not want your image of the Mr. Darcy in anyway tarnished, than this is not the book for you.

*One thing I found of interest was in both of these books, Col. Fitzwilliam had more than a passing fancy for Elizabeth. In fact both versions lamented to Darcy that she was "the perfect woman but for want of fortune" and both versions seemed to consider actually offering to her during the visit at Rosings, giving both versions of Darcy a "close call" that they did not, she undoubtedly would have accepted.


Laurel Ann said...

Excellent analysis of these two Darcy point-of-view stories. I liked both, but for different reasons.

I think it amusing that you had the most to say about The Private Diary of MD. It is a complement to the author Maya Slater that she piqued strong opinions of what Austen's Darcy was apposed to her own. Amanda Grange's Mr. D's Diary is a great book, but Slater's you will remember over it because the strong feeling that it evoked. Even though I did not agree with the Lord Byron interjection either, the rest of the book is funny and quite enjoyable.

Thanks for the reviews. You are an excellent writer.

Bee said...

Thanks so much! I did realize after-the-fact that I had more to say about "Private Diary" than the other one, I guess because it provided such a more detailed and provocative picture of Darcy. Grange's book was good, great even, (I have on order the Captain Wentworth and Col. Brandon diaries as well) but I feel like Slater's is the one that sticks with you.

Meredith said...

I greatly enjoyed your comparison. I recently read Ms. Slater's book and agree with what you said about it. I hope you like Captain Wentworth's and Colonel Brandon's diary!

Traxy said...

Great reviews! Sounds like I might like the first one, but not the second. The second just sounds like it screams "this is not like Austen's character at all", because Darcy doesn't strike me as a debauched kind of person. Rochester, fair enough, but DARCY?! Noooo!

Bee said...

No he is most definitely not Jane Austen's character. I think it's like comparing Bronte's Mr. Rochester to Edward Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea. Not exactly right.

Traxy said...

INNIT THOUGH!! *cough* I mean, "you are quite right, I couldn't agree with you more. Rhys and Brontë wrote about two very different people". And I'll cut the rest of the train of thought short, because I'm afraid it will just descend into profanity. ;)

From your review, it sounds a bit like the author has confused Darcy with an extreme version of Rochester. And that's so wrong I can hear Darcy's screams echoing all the way from Pemberley!

Bee said...

Profanity is perfectly welcome here, and after Wide Sargasso Sea, I was so upset I think I unloaded quite a string of profanity myself.

The Pamela Aidan (the 'Gentleman' trilogy) version of Darcy seems to have a few Rochester points about him, though in a good way...he seems to have a bit of the wry Rochester humor..."what the deuce" and all that.