Elizabeth Bennet, dismayed by her ill words to Fitzwilliam Darcy after his disastrous proposal at Hunsford, has reluctantly accepted her lot in life for her refusal of him. She's serving as a governess/aunt to Jane and Charles Bingley's daughter, Cassandra - and she's not happy about it. Realizing that Charlotte's practicality in marriage was valid, Elizabeth is grateful (and a bit bitter) that she is dependent on her sister and brother-in-law for survival. While in France, the Bingleys are invited by a widowed Darcy to visit Italy. Because of her station, Elizabeth has no choice but to once again face the man she so arrogantly dismissed. Once in Italy, Elizabeth is reunited with a grieving Darcy and his daughter, Alexa. But, who exactly is he grieving for?
If you are a fan of Mary Simonsen's works like I am, you'll be happy to note that her vivid descriptions of the English countryside transfer seamlessly to the Italian landscape. Simonsen's historical anecdotes serve to provide depth and connection between Austen's innately English characters and a country where, as Jane Bingley puts it, 'people wear their hearts on their sleeves.' Oh, to be witness to the schemes pulled on tourists to Pompeii.
What I found interesting in this novel is the unexpected character transformations that happened when Austen meets the Renaissance. Lizzy, who wants to soak up every morsel of food, art, wine, church and vistas actually holds on to her English pride, much to her detriment. Darcy's proposal taught her very little - she still has made up her mind about everyone around her and knows how they think. "...for an intelligent woman, you get a lot of things wrong." The true metamorphosis actually comes from Jane Bennet. Recovering body and soul from her daughter's traumatic birth, Florence teaches Jane how to live life openly. I just love how Simonsen fleshes out secondary characters.
One thing of note - I know very little about Italian culture and fine art. With the exception of Michaelangelo's works and Titian's painting, most of the works and places referenced in the novel were new to me; I would suggest having Google and Google Earth handy when reading, which I will be doing soon. I want to be able to see the vistas Elizabeth saw climbing all of those steps!