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not Jane Austen-like at all, but be prepared to enjoy it nonetheless
on 14 May 2006
Truth to tell I never finished reading Elizabeth Aston's "Mr. Darcy's Daughters." And this was not because it was a terribly written book (to the contrary in fact!), but because I couldn't get past my irritation that the author had portrayed Darcy's and Elizabeth's daughters as being five rather foolish and headstrong young ladies. Perhaps, however, I should have let go of my expectations and surrendered instead to the pull of a story well written and well told. For, because I had no unrealistic expectations of "The True Darcy Spirit" (it was after all about the daughter of Anne de Bourgh), I found myself happily absorbed and very impressed with this latest Jane Austen pastiche, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good literary read.
Cassandra Darcy's life at home (Rosings) is not a happy one: her mother (formerly the sickly Anne de Bourgh of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice") is more preoccupied with keeping her second husband, Mr. Partington and her children from that marriage happy than to see to the wants and needs of her eldest daughter; and Mr. Partington cannot abide Cassandra, finding her too proud and clever for his liking. So that when it is perceived that Cassandra has committed an indiscretion, Mr. Partington summarily packs Cassandra off to his sister's in Bath, with instructions that the lady get Cassandra married off quickly and credibly. Once in Bath, however, the deeply unhappy and lonely Cassandra quickly succumbs to the blandishments of rogue and soon finds herself in London, alone and penniless and cut off from her family. Fortunately, Cassandra has the Darcy spirit, courage and is a very talented artist, and she is resolved to try and make her living as an artist. But she soon finds herself out of her depth in a city where everyone is not what they seem. Her landlady, Mrs. Nettleton, for example seems generous and kindly at first, but keeps insisting that Cassandra socialise with her friends, who are not at all to Cassandra's liking; and then there is Lord Usborne whose attentions are quite disturbing. But most troubling of all is her stiff-necked cousin, Horatio Darcy, who openly disapproves of her and has no trouble believing the worst of her. Will Cassandra thrive and survive on her own in London or will she, as Horatio Darcy believes, come to a grim end?
"The True Darcy Spirit" read more like a novel that Maria Edgeworth and Eliza Heywood would have written, rather than Jane Austen. Elizabeth Aston spends a lot of time developing her heroine's growth and maturity from a pampered (if unloved) young girl to a young lady able to earn her own living and find her own niche is society. Not very Jane Austen like at all; so that one really has to let go of the notion that one is reading another Jane Austen-like novel in order to appreciate the "The True Darcy Spirit." It is extremely well written (excellent prose style) and executed, and Elizabeth Aston's rendition of characters and scenes are clear, vivid and concise. However, there was, in my opinion anyway, one problem with the novel -- the sudden rushed romance between Cassandra and Horatio. For much of the book, both characters have little to do with each other, with Horatio truly believing that Cassandra has sunk beyond all redemption. So that when a sudden romance between the two is hinted at, one feels a little confused. Other that that, "The True Darcy Spirit" was a wonderfully absorbing and enjoyable read. I spent a nice, relaxing afternoon with this novel and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good historical novel to enjoy.