Darcy in distress

I’m the first to admit that I belong to that very large club of people who adore Jane Austen. I reread all her novels every year, I own and regularly watch various film adaptations, and I have read more than a few of the sequels written to her novels. Also, every biography out there. And another confession: I love culture of her time and place. I’ve got dozens of histories and non fiction works about Regency England.

Some people point out that Jane Austen’s world really didn’t make it into her novels. Her focus is very tight: the individuals, the famlies, the neighborhood, their habits and fears and wishes. The Napoleonic wars are only very vaguely hinted at in some novels, which probably has to do with her personal connection to the navy. Class and economic issues, war, the private lives of men, none of this enters into the stories she tells.

I don’t mind, personally. I love the novels for what they are. On the other hand, when Pamela Aidan set out to retell Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view, I was intrigued. It seemed a promising way to explore all those issues that Austen herself didn’t bother with. Politics, men’s amusements (high and low), fashion, all the details that I wonder about when I’m reading. So Pamela Aidan wrote a novel in three parts, in which we get the whole story again, from Darcy’s POV.

What works: there is an incredible amount of research behind this novel. Meticulous, exhaustive research. The attention to detail is astounding, from what Darcy’s walking stick looked like to his relationship with his valet, from his opinion on the politics of the day to his reading habits. Everything is there. I read for the details, and I was amply rewarded.

Unfortunately, the story itself doesn’t work as well. I’ve been wondering about why this is, and it seems to me that Aidan’s dedication to the original version hemmed her in. Every scene in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has an equivalent in Aidan’s version, with Darcy’s reactions to everything. In addition to this, Aidan follows him when he leaves the setting of the original story and tells us exactly what he’s doing while the rest of Pride and Prejudice is going on without him. A country house visit, the friends there, the sexual intrigues. Politics, family matters, his relationship to his sister. How Elizabeth Bennett keeps intruding into his thoughts.

The result of all this is a novel that feels overstuffed, bursting with detail, and a Darcy who is tied up tightly and can’t really flex.

If you really love Austen’s time and place, you will like this three volume work for its accuracy and careful reconstruction of Regency England. If you just want the story, you will probably be disappointed.