Books and book reviewsFiction

Austenalia: ‘Mr. Darcy’s Daughters’ is Delightful

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[amazon_link id=”B001OW5NUA” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ][/amazon_link]Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston captures the spirit of Jane Austen’s world as envisioned in Pride and Prejudice extremely well, and yet there are differences that no Jane Austen book would or could have included, even had Austen lived another forty years and written the sequel herself. If you are an Austen fan, you will find this book a real treat.

No matter how true to Jane Austen’s original intent a piece of Austenalia is, the skills involved for a 21st century writer are very different. While Austen was writing about her life and her world and the people she saw around her every day, Austenalia writers like Aston rely on research to capture the same set of characters and the new derivative characters they create.

While the language that Austen used was the language of her every day life, and the concepts ones she was intimately familiar with, any writer of Austenalia is using scholarship to get to that same language and those same concepts. This difference, especially the conceptual difference, shines through in Darcy’s Daughters.

Aston’s first foray into Austenalia wisely gets the original main characters of Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett Darcy and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, ‘off-stage’ on an extended trip through Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. The reader is left contemplating Mr. and Mrs. Darcy’s five (five!) daughters, who have been left in the care of Darcy’s cousin Fitzwilliam and his new wife, Fanny, and Elizabeth’s relatives the Gardiners, in London.

The girls range in age from 21 (Leticia, or Letty), 19, (Camillia, who is our main character), 16 (Belle and Georgiana, twins) and 15 (Alethea, who promises to have a later book written just for her). There are also two sons, but they remain off camera at Pemberley with their grandfather, Mr. Bennett.

What a setup! Five beautiful and wealthy young daughters are set loose in London without parental supervision and with their guardians struggling to keep them in line. Herein lies one of the biggest differences between Pride and Prejudice and Darcy’s Daughters. By virtue of their father’s wealth, unlike the Bennett sisters the Darcy sisters are independently wealthy and though they feel social pressure to wed, feel no financial pressure to wed. It’s a very significant difference in 1821 in London.

The greatest compliment I can pay Elizabeth Aston is that I ‘bought into’ her story completely, even when I realized, about a third of the way through, that she was tackling an issue that Jane Austen would never have touched. (Revealing what that issue is would be a spoiler, so you’ll have to read the book). Aston uses the advantage of a 21st century perspective to put words and thoughts into the minds of her young characters that might very well have been thought and said by young women in those days, but which no contemporary writer could have touched on without being ostracized.

Of course this is a romance story, so we know (generally) how it ends, but I found it refreshing that I was surprised at a couple of the denouements, and that the youngest sister, Alethea, who has been well developed as a secondary character, will have her own book (which I will be placing on hold soon). I am very happy that Aston wrote a series of these books. And since I know she reads this, and I don’t know if she’s done it yet, might I suggest a book about Mary Bennett and what happened to her? I always found her fascinating in the original, and if she popped up in this book, I missed it completely.

Image via Wikipedia

My recommendation? If you are an Austenalia fan, buy Mr. Darcy’s Daughters now. Plan on impatiently waiting for the next in the series if you don’t buy them all at once. And plan on being disappointed when you run out of books.

You can then hound the author to write more. (As a side note, Aston is the author of Writing Jane Austen as well, which is a very different sort of Austenalia, and let me see a different side to her writing. It too is highly recommended.)

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