Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Mr. Darcy's Daughters" by Elizabeth Aston Review

Let's imagine for a moment that the double X chromosome--seemingly a dominant gene in the Bennet family--now runs through Elizabeth herself. She marries Mr. Darcy and has a girl. That girl is followed by another, then a pair of girls, and then another. Fortunately, unlike her mother before her, she is finally successful in birthing a boy to satisfy any qualms about the inheritance of the Darcy fortune. Just to fully impress us with the passion between our main characters from Pride and Prejudice, she delivers another boy to perfect the family picture. Now approaching middle age, Darcy and Elizabeth are called out of the country. Their young boys are left at Pemberly under the care of a tutor, but the girls are happily sent to London to reside under the roof of Darcy's trusty cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and his wife, Fanny.
Thus is the framework of Mr. Darcy's Daughters by Elizabeth Aston. The Darcy girls are a vibrant and beautiful family of teenagers that, of course, somewhat mirror that of Elizabeth's own family from Pride and Prejudice. The eldest daughter, Letitia Darcy is indisputably handsome but rather too pragmatic at times. The third and fourth sisters are a pair of gorgeous and frivolous twins, Georgina and Belle, also known as Night and Day. The youngest is the fifteen-year-old Alethea, who isn't out in society yet, but who has an adventurous heart and a passion for music. However, it is (predictably) the second child that serves as the heart of the novel. Camilla Darcy stands apart from her sisters as the aspirational and headstrong intellectual, directly characterized as taking after her mother. Though she is decidedly less beautiful than her sisters, she more than atones for her physical faults through her unreserved wit and humor. 

There are familiar characters carried over from Pride and Prejudice of course, such as Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Lydia Bennet (or Wickham), and even Caroline Bingley. But this is, after all, a pastiche and thus focuses more on the second generation of original characters. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner have made a large fortune in trade and their fair daughter is now armed with a dowry that surpasses even that of the Darcy daughters. Once in London, the Darcy girls each approach the city with different outlooks. While Letitia seeks to stay out of trouble, Alethea devotes herself to music, the twins insist upon showing themselves in society and gaining the affections of every man possible, and Camilla (the heroine in this equation) searches for the adventure unavailable within the protective walls of Pemberly. 

Camilla and her sisters do find adventure. What first appears to be a few diverting months in London will turn into an intricate tale of scandal and mystery that includes antagonistic plots, cross-dressing, gays, and secret affections. Camilla discovers herself in the chaotic streets of Regency London, but by the time she acknowledges her true affections, the tangled web of family catastrophe might threaten her happy ending. 

Mr. Darcy's Daughters is a truly engaging novel that will intrigue and allure the reader through every page. Aston achieves what I find particularly crucial in any spin-off or sequel: the preservation of the old combined with the creativity of the new. Our favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice all reunite in the high social circles of London, but it is the new characters molded in the mind of Elizabeth Aston that prove to be the most absorbing. While the Darcy daughters are obviously modeled after the captivating Bennet girls, Aston develops them as characters of their own with individual interests and paths. The plot, though inspired by Pride and Prejudice, is where Aston's liberal imagination really takes shape. The reader will never be in want of excitement with a story like this. The author infuses the perfect amount of irony to make Austen and her faithful fans proud. 

The most interesting aspect of Mr. Darcy's Daughters, however, is the artistic risk taken by Aston. Sequels are precarious things to write. A drastic tip of the scale in either direction could either leave a book dry or hideously fantasized. Aston's balance is perfect. She speculated on a large uncertainty by breaching subjects that Jane Austen would never have had the courage to even introduce, but the chance paid off and will work wonders. Mr. Darcy's Daughters is an innovative novel that will not only succeed in satisfying the most rigid Austen purist, but will also draw modern crowds to the fascinating world of literature. 


  1. I confess that I usually stay well away from spin-offs, sequels or "alternate POV" retellings of classic novels. A classmate of mine refers to such books as "glorified fan fiction", and I kind of agree with her sometimes. But your review is so eloquent I'm tempted to give something like this a try, at least once.

    What's your take on the likes of Seth Graham-Greene's "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies"?

    Oh and it's Darcy December now, I hear? Fantastic! Bring it on, girlfriend.

    (You write beautifully, by the way. If I only I were half as articulate as you back in high school).

  2. Seth Grahame-Smith, sorry. Curse the double-barreled surnames.

  3. Thank you very much. I actually agree with you and your friend. Most spin-offs fail hideously in most cases, but I keep reading them anyway because there is always one in the midst that might strike gold. Aston did various other Darcy spin-offs, this was just the first of many. She even wrote one concerning the daughter of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. This, along with "The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy" was my favorite.

    I admit that I haven't read "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" for the simple fact that the same way you are hesitant about reading spin-offs, I am hesitant to approach books that intertwine fiction with things like zombies, vampires, and such. I think eventually (maybe very soon) I might break down in read it just to provide a review of it.

    Thank you very much for your comment. I've found that this blog has actually given my the greatest chance to expand my vocabulary and improve my writing. :)