on 12 April 2011
"With little exception, the anticipation of a long awaited and desirous event will always give as much, if not more pleasure, than the diversion itself. Morever, it is a certain truth that no matter how gratifying such an occasion may prove to be, it will not necessarily unite prospect and satisfaction in equal accord."
Once again Jane Odiwe ( Lydia Bennet's Story, Willoughby's Return) delves deep into the Regency to bring to life scenes from Austen's novels. Her third book, Mr. Darcy's Secret follows the fortunes of the Darcys and Bingleys as they embark on their new lives as husbands and wives.
The book begins with Mr. and Mrs. Darcy traveling to Pemberley after their wedding. As Mr. Darcy's wife, Lizzy is confident that "knowing him better, his disposition [is] better understood." But does she truly understand his disposition? Has he undergone so material a change? Does he indeed possess no improper pride? Will she be able to rise to the demands of being `Mistress of Pemberley'. As she becomes "familiarly acquainted with the rooms, rejoicing in them as her home, welcoming to them visitors such as her aunt and uncle", a cloud hovers over her happiness.
Having resolved to "act in that manner, which will constitute [her] own happiness, without reference to any person so wholly unconnected with [her]", Lizzy must face fallout from Lady Catherine DeBourgh and her cronies; village gossips threaten to mar her serenity and Georgiana, so desirous of pleasing her brother, struggles with a wayward, loving heart, which refuses to bend to her self-command.
From the sitting rooms of Hertforshire, to the delights of a Christmas Ball in Derbyshire and a jaunt to the Lake District, the stage is set for another foray into Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, continuing to play with the `what ifs' and `why nots', that linger on after "the day on which Mrs Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters." A dream come true for all those wishing there were just a few more pages, one more glimpse into the lives of Austen's most beloved power couple.
The title is Mr. Darcy's Secret, and mystery and drama abound--- after all, who is Master Tissington? Local tittle-tattle suggests he is an heir to Pemberley, but by whom? Someone is determined not to let the past die. Long forgotten letters, the remnants of a love gone by, may hold the answer, but it is not until a blackmailer threatens to tell all that the key to Mr. Darcy's Secret is discovered, the truth arising from the most unexpected source.
In reality, however, the book might be titled Miss Darcy's Secret, for it is Georgiana's story, as well. Lizzy may be our heroine, but with an artist's delicate skill for revealing detail, one brush stroke at a time, Ms. Odiwe crafts a compelling tale of love and betrayal. New characters are introduced, including the bold landowner, Mr. Calladine and the young Thomas Butler, a brash young landscape designer, son of Mrs. Gardiner's old school friend. Who will win the hand of Georgiana, a young woman determined not to let her heart lead her astray a second time?
Old friends are not forgotten, either. Mr. Collins and Charlotte appear frequently, along with their olive branch, young Catherine (a bonny babe, and as unlike her noble namesake as December is to May) Mr. Bingley's sisters play pivotal roles as do Elizabeth's sister and brother in law, Lydia and George Wickham.
The Gardiners appear several times to steady the Darcy's in their new life and bring common sense and counsel to the young couple. Perhaps the most delightful character is Mrs. Bennet, for here, Ms. Odiwe's ear for Jane Austen's writing is impeccable. One can simply hear Mrs. Bennet (and her longsuffering husband) speak her lines as she comes alive on the pages. It is fitting therefore, that she is given both the first and last word in this novel. Despite her humors, nerves and prattling about, she rests secure, knowing she has done all a mother can for her children:
"My fussing has been very productive. If I had been content to let my daughters follow their hearts willy nilly, they would not have made the matches they have. Jane and Mr Bingley, Lizzy and Mr Darcy, Lydia and Mr Wickham, Kitty and Mr Lloyd..."
Ms Odiwe shines in her ability to write truly of the intricacies of family relationships. As she did in Willoughby's Return, she details the struggles of a young couple's first few years of married life with delicacy and insight. The frustrations and fascination of discovering that at times you hardly know the person you have married must be almost universal. The solidarity of the Darcys in facing each trial with a united front, of Lizzy's determination to trust her husband and Fitzwilliam's admission of his own too hasty decisions must be a model for each young couple starting out. The road is not smooth, nor the way plain, but true love must and will win the day.
A scholar of the Regency period, as well as an artist herself, Ms Odiwe is able to paint a picture of Jane Austen's era with deft strokes that bring the customs and manners of the day to life. Her descriptions of the Lake District are conveyed with an enthusiasm and familiarity that make you feel as though you were there in the midst of the wild crags and misty peaks.
As with her past books, I tore through this novel (to the detriment of not a few household projects!) and eagerly look forward to the day when I can share her works with my own small daughters. It is a delight to find an author whose work is not only well crafted but tastefully executed, modest enough for even the youngest reader.
on 25 June 2011
The author writes with an Austenesque style with very few verbal anachronisms. She extends the P&P story while remaining true to the personalities created by Austen. Elizabeth's and Darcy's interactions, Lady Catherine and Lydia all come across as authentic. None of the characters is wholly irreproachable, which is also faithful to Austen.
Georgiana is an important character, and, of course, we didn't know all that much about her from P&P. However, the fact that she had eloped with Wickham at the age of 15 can plausibly be used to justify her behaving indiscreetly now she is a little older and gaining in confidence.
The plot is also fairly Austenesque. In fact it is quite explicitly about pride and prejudice, but in a new context. Unlike some would-be Austen continuations, there are genuine and important difficulties in the way of the lovers. I felt that the ending, where the difficulties were removed, had a touch of deus ex machina, but that is a minor quibble.
The criticism of the plausibility of some of the behaviour may be justified. Modern readers may not always understand the suffocating conventions that bound women in the Regency period. Odiwe clearly does understand them and even expresses thoughts about them through the characters. Nevertheless, it is difficult and perhaps undesirable for a 21st-century writer to see things totally through 18th/19th-century spectacles. The thoughts and occasionally the behaviour of the female characters may be a little anachronistic. In that respect, there is a touch of Georgette Heyer, whom I love but who essentially places 20th-century women in a Regency setting.
My only unhappiness was with the Caroline Bingley episodes. I didn't feel that they were true to her character as created by Austen. Of course, the reader can enjoy laughing at Caroline's discomfiture, but I couldn't believe she would ever forget her dignity enough to behave as Odiwe makes her.
However, overall I am very impressed by this book and will now buy another one of Odiwe's.