By Amanda Grange
The events before and during Pride and Prejudice, as seen by various characters as they write letters to one another.
This book bills itself as “P&P from Mr. Darcy’s point of view”, but that’s not what it is at all. It’s letters from just about every single character, relating exactly the events in the book. It’s P&P from everyone’s point of view, including Elizabeth’s, which is bizarre because we already have P&P from Elizabeth’s point of view and it’s called… P&P. Instead of telling us what is happening behind the scenes of the story, the author instead opted to tell us the original story again, but less well written and amusing than the original. In fact, some of the letters in the original, such as Caroline’s letter to Jane telling her that Bingley is going to stay in London indefinitely, or Darcy’s famous one to Elizabeth, are reprinted here in full. Why? Why??
This book decides to start not at the beginning of P&P, but 5 years earlier when Mr. George Darcy dies. I thought this was an odd choice, as it means we don’t get to the main action of the story until half way through the book. These 5 years are very quickly skimmed through, and not given the weight of letters that the plot of P&P is given. Why start this early? Why not either start when the Bingleys and Darcy come to Netherfield, or else make the book about things that happened 5 years earlier? It seemed a bizarre choice to me.
I would have much preferred it if it were Darcy telling the story in his own words. His letters to his cousin Philip were one of the only enjoyable parts of the book, maybe because that’s what I was actually hoping for. When Darcy was actually speaking, he had lots of interesting things to say, such as how vulgar and grasping he finds Mrs. Bennet, and how he’s had to deal with her kind of mother all his life. I also liked Darcy’s letters to his sister Georginana, and hearing more about her private life through her letters to her brother and to her cousin Anne.
I didn’t mind the original characters too much. People have to write letters to someone, after all. I thought the Sothertons were interesting, as the owners of Netherfield Park who have had to leave due to debts. We hear a tiny bit about Susan Sotherton, and to be honest I would have rather heard her story in full than the rehash of P&P that this book was. Philip Darcy was neither here nor there – I guess Darcy has to write to someone. Although as far as I can tell the book never mentions Darcy having any relations on his father’s side, only the de Bourghs and the Fitzwilliams on his mother’s side. Same goes for Bingley having a mother and a large family of younger brothers and sisters. I guess it’s not ruled out by the texts but you’d think he would mention them if he had them.
Most of the letters were so short that I didn’t get a handle on the original characters at all. I assume that’s what starting the book further in the past was supposed to do, give the reader time to get to know the unfamiliar characters. But because most of the letters were a page or so in length, and many were shorter, I never really get a sense of who Philip Darcy or Susan Sotherton is.
One exchange I enjoyed was that between Mary Bennet and Lucy Sotherton. Mary’s observations about how everyone thinks her very wise and learned were a scream. She and Lucy are in the “Society for Educated Ladies”, and hold themselves above the rest of the world. Considering how we know everyone thinks of Mary in P&P, it’s pretty funny what she thinks of herself. There’s also a hint that she would have accepted Mr. Collins if he’d asked her, which I often think would have been a good idea. Mrs. Bennet, if she had had any sense, would have steered him away from Elizabeth, who would never accept him, and towards Mary. They could have read Fordyce’s sermons to each other before bed.
This book suffered from the same problem I have with all epistolary and journal based books. Who has time, in the middle of the action, to sit down and write it all down?? Would Elizabeth really be confiding that Darcy proposed to her to a friend before she confides it in her own sister? Is Georgiana really writing – with ink and a quill – in a bumpy carriage? I think not. The format is just so constricting. The language was anachronistic, but I supposed that can’t be helped. Better than trying to fake a “Jane voice” I guess.
There was one thing that really bugs me, and just proves that this author didn’t do her homework: a man would never never write to a woman he was not related to. To do so was to announce to the world that you were engaged (See: Elinor thinking Marianne and Willoughby are engaged because they are exchanging letters). There is no way Darcy would ask Bingley to write to Georgiana. There is no way he would have written directly to Caroline Bingley. The whole point of him giving that long letter to Elizabeth is that it’s kind of a scandalous think to do in itself. Even in letter writing, there were rules of society and propriety that must be followed.
Another decent premise squandered. Why do authors keep doing this? They seem to come up with a perfectly good premise for the book, and then lose their heads when they start to write. It is most disappointing. Don’t be fooled, this is no a retelling of P&P. This is just a straight telling, and Jane wrote it better.