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Pride and Prejudice re-imagined?,
on 7 March 2010
"Darcy tried to focus his attention on her kisses, tasting the passion that was clearly sweeping between them, but the rest of his body remained all too aware of how little stood between them, and as he finally pulled Elizabeth to him, the sensation of her softness molding itself to him stole away any remaining rational thought." Chapter 7
In this retelling of Jane Austen's novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, author Abigail Reynolds re-imagines the famous plot and asks these burning questions. What if after Elizabeth Bennet's refusal of Mr. Darcy's first proposal at Hunsford, he does not disappear from her life, but arrives at her home at Longbourn determined to change her mind? What if Elizabeth seduced by his ardent attentions sets aside all propriety giving way to her base impulses? What if their mutual passion can not be abated, anticipating their wedding night? Ms. Reynolds then proceeds to creatively answer each of these questions with her spin on the retelling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE that might require some readers to suspend their disbelief and burning objections of altering one of the most cherished works in English literature, and just let go and let it happen.
The story opens with the arrival of Colonel Fitzwilliam at the Darcy townhouse in London. It is the summer of 1803 and two months have passed since he and his cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy had visited their aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh at Rosings in Kent. He is immediately informed by concerned servants and Georgina Darcy that Mr. Darcy is not quite himself, sullen and short tempered to the point of alarm. Darcy shortly reveals to him the cause of his misery; - the rejection of his marriage proposal by the woman that he loves, Elizabeth Bennet, and the reasons why she so flatly refused him. Colonel Fitzwilliam is not surprised by his attraction to the lovely Miss Bennet, only that she would refuse such an advantageous offer and Darcy's reasons for separating his friend Charles Bingley from Elizabeth's sister Jane. Inspired by Colonel Fitzwilliam's advice he convinces Charles Bingley to return to his estate at Netherfield Park to renew his attentions to Jane Bennet with the ulterior motive of seeing Elizabeth and winning her heart and hand.
Readers of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE will remember that after Elizabeth refuses Mr. Darcy's first proposal that she returns home to her family at Longbourn and Mr. Darcy disappears from her life only to be re-introduced by a chance meeting at his estate of Pemberley when she is touring Derbyshire on holiday with her aunt and uncle Gardiner. In this scenario, instead of leaving their meeting to chance, Mr. Darcy has become the aggressor, taking the initiative to reconnect with Elizabeth and pursue her affections by ingratiating himself to her family, her friends and herself, first by gentlemanly means with little results, then by the Wickham school of charm and seduction which eventually breaks Elizabeth's resolve, giving way to her passionate desires.
IMPULSE & INITIATIVE offers PRIDE AND PREJUDICE fans the opportunity to explore yet another avenue of a story that we all just can not seem to get enough of as evidenced by the many prequels, sequels, retellings and pastiches available. It is creative and clever in theory, but do the `what if' questions really need to be asked and answered? Possibly, but at times while reading IMPULSE & INITIATIVE I felt like I was privy to a creative writing assignment where students were asked to take a story from classic literature and believably alter the plot and characters to the opposite intention of the original author. In this case, the results can at times be both believable and baffling, but unfortunately not at the same time leaving the reader in a bit of a quandary.
Abigail Reynolds has taken a huge risk in her choice of changing a classic story that is quite delightful to begin with, and whose hero and heroine Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy may be the most iconic romantic couple in popular culture short of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. She might have succeeded if she had allowed the characters integrity to continue from Austen's original concept. Instead we are asked to suspend our disbelief beyond equal measure and accept well known characters acting in a manner that does not constitute their happiness or ours. Reynold's Mr. Darcy has changed from the honorable Regency gentleman that many expect into George Wickham, a plotting seducer and the type of man that Austen's Darcy despises, and Elizabeth Bennet into a caricature of her younger sister Lydia, willing to throw off propriety for the pleasures of passion.
I am reminded of one on my favorite quotes by Elizabeth Bennet from the original novel. "One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; but one cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty." Ms. Reynolds is a talented writer who shows flashes of wit and charm in her style. She has creatively blended a classic love story with a saucy romance novel, and if knowing that Darcy and Elizabeth are quite passionate about their love for one another before the marriage does not set off any decorum alarms, then this one deserves a slot in the queue on your bedside table. If you wonder why the "what if" questions needed to be asked in the first place, then try stumbling upon something else more witty.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose