coverOver the past few weeks I’ve been reading Pamela Aidan’s “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy: An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain (pictured here). These books retell the story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view.

Aidan has done a remarkable job of maintaining the spirit and character of Austen’s novel while adding original material of her own. As somewhat of a purist, I would have enjoyed a little less of the latter, but I really enjoyed all three books. They’re all good reading.

An Assembly Such as This relates Mr. Darcy’s viewpoint during his visit to Netherfield. Throughout this first volume, Aidan skillfully recreates Austen’s scenes — the public ball, Jane’s illness and Elizabeth’s subsequent visit at Netherfield, and Mr. Bingley’s ball. I was definitely impressed by her ability to retain much of Austen’s dialogue while creating a full-fledged and believable character in her version of Mr. Darcy. Of the three volumes, this one follows Austen’s original most closely; I found it very enjoyable.

The second volume, Duty and Desire, traces Mr. Darcy’s struggle to overcome his feelings for Elizabeth after leaving Netherfield. In this book, Aidan moves away from mimicking Austen’s plot, dialogue, and characters by filling in the “silent time” of Austen’s novel (as the back of the book says). Trying to get over his interest in Elizabeth, Darcy spends the novel pushing Bingley away from his love for Jane, keeping a watchful eye on his sister, Georgiana, and attending various social events for the London elite, including a country gathering at Norwycke Castle, the home of one of his old Cambridge buddies, a party that nearly turns disastrous for our leading man.

Aidan does a particularly good job of creating a rounder version of Georgiana than Austen provides. She also creates a new character, Lord Dy Brougham, another of Darcy’s college friends. I liked this volume the least of the three, however, since it departs the most from Austen’s original. I especially found the chapters on Darcy’s visit to Norwycke to find some other woman to love a bit tedious and drawn out. Some mystical elements are also introduced into the plot; I ultimately lost interest in this plot line and ultimately couldn’t keep the characters straight — there are several original male and female characters in this section. For someone like me, this novel is mostly filler — the stuff that happens before we get back to the real story.

The final volume, These Three Remain, gets back to Austen’s plot. Just when he’s resolved to forget her, Darcy stumbles across Elizabeth at Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate, Rosings. When she refuses his proposal, he flees to London, only to run across her again when he returns to his own country estate, Pemberley, while she’s touring the country with her aunt and uncle. Lydia gets in trouble, Elizabeth goes home, and Darcy resolves to help in whatever way he can, thus setting the novel’s denouement into action.

What I really, really like about this conclusion to the series is that Aidan captures something that Austen wasn’t able to do (or wasn’t interested in doing): she convincingly explains how Darcy changes from the beginning of Pride and Prejudice to the end. In this volume, Aidan’s Darcy reflects on his character and on Elizabeth’s famous accusation, “… had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner ….” Aidan shows us Darcy’s transformation, what prompts it, and how it makes him a suitable mate for Elizabeth. For this alone, this series is worth reading.

This third volume is the longest of the three, but I couldn’t help wishing it were a little longer. My only complaint is that the resolution of the plot seems a little too quick and rushed. I would have liked it more if Aidan had slowed down a bit and allowed us to savor the rapprochement between Elizabeth and Darcy. This is, after all, the payoff, the money-shot, so to speak, and any Austen fan is going to want to know Darcy’s every thought during this final phase — I do, at least!

I definitely enjoyed Aidan’s retelling of Pride and Prejudice. She does an admirable job of mimicking Austen when it’s appropriate to do so and of creating new plots and characters to fill in Austen’s gaps. The series definitely kept my interest. I highly recommend these novels to any Austen fan (though I may be the last one to read them — I’m sure I’m late to the party again!) There are questions, summaries, and other materials at the end of each book for reading groups. In the materials at the end of the third volume, Aidan mentions a friend’s two-part retelling of Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view. I’ve ordered it and eagerly await its arrival. I start teaching Persuasion tomorrow; I can’t wait!

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