Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman.

Wearer of fine waistcoats and neckcloths, rider of cranky horses, trainer of adorable doggies, war story enthusiast,  devoted brother and friend. Pamela Aidan's version of Fitzwilliam Darcy is all these things, along with the things we already knew. Darcy is a self-imposed outsider, according to his BFF Bingley "determined to be displeased with the world and everyone in it."  Or is he?  Maybe he's just a man who never knew himself, as it were.

My project has been to read as many of these P&P retellings (not sequals) as possible. And while some of them have been clever and engaging (and some have been insipid and enraging) these are the first ones I have read that I can honestly say "I love it!". And Love it I do. Aidan's writing is beautiful and engaging, she made Darcy come alive as he never has in any other fan-penned book.

Aidan's first volume of the Darcy trilogy, An Assembly Such as This introduces us to our cast of players and goes as far as London, just after The Bingleys and Darcy have left Netherfield. There are a few new characters, such as Darcy's Shakespeare-quoting Valet Fletcher and his old University friend Lord Dyfed 'Dy' Brougham. Rather than retract from the original story, I found that we get a larger picture on the rules of Society, Caste and Class than we did in Pride & Prejudice. There are also some cameos in the book from Lady Caroline Lamb, Lord Byron (very briefly) and a hilarious run-in with Beau Brummell*. (See above, Re: Neckcloths)

The characters shine with Aidan's retelling. Here Charles Bingley has little patience for his sisters' jealous gossip as well as a quick sense of humor, and he often makes his good friend Darcy the butt of his jokes. Bingley, Fletcher and Dy provide most of the humor in this book, though I was surprised to find myself laughing at Darcy himself from time to time.

As he begins to realize his attraction to Elizabeth, his painful efforts at trying to win her favor are so awkward and so opposite of what we know Elizabeth sees that it becomes (as Fletcher dubs it) "A Comedy of Errors". Darcy is constantly criticizing himself, and so many of his inner dialogues being with "Idoit!" that I can't help but feel for the poor guy. We learn though the book of how painful the loss of his Father was, and that his aloofness is admittedly a "suit of armor" he wears to protect himself from feeling that pain again.  And this works for him, though it's not until he begins getting to know Elizabeth that he realizes that not only has he not felt pain since his father's death, he's also been completely devoid of happiness as well. Darcy is calm seas on the outside, a raging storm of emotions on the inside.

With nothing but cold regard for the ladies of Society who would ultimately be more 'suitable' in his eyes, Darcy seems to become more awake and alive in Elizabeth's presence than he ever has been in his life.  He obviously hates the weakness, but can't seem to help himself. We get all the lovely, often painful parts of real true first love. One of my favorite parts of the book is his internal debate over what makes a better wife, one who is "accomplished", or one who is "True and pure and lovely".

In all honesty, what better prerequisites were there for the woman one spent one's life with? His memory harkened back to Miss Bingley's long list of talents for the accomplished woman and his added requirement that she be well read. Would the embodiment of that list offer a better surety of his future happiness than a woman who was true, pure, and lovely?
With that thought to chew on, the book ends with Darcy vowing to himself to put Elizabeth behind him, fat lot of good it will do him!
I'll probably only touch on book 2 since it had the least to do with the events in P&P before plowing on to book 3, and since the bulk of the story happens there it'll probably take a while. 

In the meantime, please feel free to admire my new banner.

*A Wiki search revealed that there was a 2006 BBC production called "Beau Brummell: This Charming Man" starring the oft-mentioned but no less deserving James Purefoy! Sweet Victory!



Sleep Goblin said...

There isn't much better than a BBC historical piece. *swoon* Purefoy is pure joy :D

Also, you must read so supafast.

Bee said...

Yeah, I actually finished the trilogy on Sunday but I never write about a book until I've read it through a second time.

Plus, I'm unemployed which gives me lotsa time to read!

Traxy said...

Oooh sounds like a book that'd be nice to read at some point! :) I'm currently reading "The French Dancer's Bastard" by Emma Tennant (Jane Eyre from Adèle's perspective). I've read her P&P sequel "Pemberley" before and quite liked it (even if I thought it was rather out of character for Bingley)... but with this, I just went "err... no?" just reading the introduction - and it's not really improved from then, so really not impressed.

Bee said...

I've seen that book on Amazon except it's just titled "Adele". Some of the reader reviews were not so kind so I thought I'd skip it.

Why, why, why can someone not write a GOOD book tied to JE? 'Rochester' has it's finer points, but I wouldn't consider it a really "good" supplement to Jane Eyre. And Wide Sargasso Sea was not kind to our Mr. EFR so I don't really count it.

I think you'd like the 'Gentleman' trilogy. The second book is kinda weird but otherwise it's a very satisfying series!