Darcy's StoryThis week I read Janet Aylmer’s Darcy’s Story, which was first published in 2006. Like Pamela Aidan’s trilogy, which I reviewed here, this book recounts the events of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view, though at much shorter length.

Darcy’s Story begins during the summer prior to Darcy’s fateful introduction to Hertfordshire and Miss Elizabeth Bennett. While on a trip to Ramsgate, Miss Georgiana Darcy is wooed by the rakish George Wickham, and Darcy must save her from his duplicity. A few weeks later, his friend Mr. Bingley invites him to see the estate he has just leased, and during this visit Darcy accompanies his friend and Bingley’s sisters to a local ball. His lack of grace and good humor during this country entertainment puts him at odds with the local beauty, Elizabeth, and leads to the twists and turns of their tumultuous relationship over the following year.

“Janet Aylmer” is a pen name for an “English Jane Austen enthusiast” who lives in Bath. This is her first foray into the burgeoning field of Austen rewrites and sequels. On the whole, I thought this book was entertaining enough. Aylmer definitely remains faithful to Austen’s original, which for me is always crucial to any book’s success in this genre. Her Darcy is consistent with Austen’s hero, and Aylmer handles her task with love and care.

But these qualities also work against Darcy’s Story. One can’t help but feel that s/he has read this all before. Aylmer brings little that’s new to this story, and I felt that she was perhaps too slavish in her devotion to Austen’s original. Large portions of the novel seem lifted from Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t help but want a little more creativity and exploration of Darcy as a character.

I also thought that there was too much narration and not enough conversation and action. Take this paragraph, for example, which describes Darcy’s trip to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate with Colonel Fitzwilliam:

His cousin reached London in time for them to leave for Kent some eight days before Easter. On the journey from town, Fitzwilliam asked Darcy how he had been passing his time since they last met. Darcy, without naming his friend, recounted his success in separating Bingley from an unfortunate alliance that could have damaged his situation for life. He took pains to emphasize that his motives had been allied with the knowledge that the affections of neither of the parties had been fully engaged, and so that whole affair had been for the best. (95)

The problem with this paragraph is that it’s all narration. We get no sense of Darcy or Fitzwilliam as characters. It just seems lazy. Indeed, this entire chapter is taken up with narration and exposition — not one passage of dialogue occurs in it. The whole point of reading a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view is the pleasure of getting to know Darcy as a character. Unfortunately, this retelling fails to give us that pleasure.

On a minor note, I also quickly tired of Aylmer’s use of the word “alacrity.” It works once or twice, but this novel is too short to use it more than that. I don’t want to exaggerate — she only uses the word about five or six times — but it stands out like a sore thumb in comparison to the novel’s overall vocabulary.

In sum, Darcy’s Story is a less successful retelling of Pride and Prejudice than Pamela Aidan’s works. At the time, I expressed my boredom with Aidan’s middle novel, which has Darcy off in the highlands searching for a wife. It becomes a little too creative for my tastes. But that creativity is much more interesting and compelling than slavish devotion to Austen’s narration, dialogue, and plot. If Aylmer tries again on another Austen novel, I hope she gets past narration and exposition and starts making Austen’s characters and plots her own — let them speak dialogue from time to time that doesn’t come right out of Austen’s original! Grade: C+

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