Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Mr Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange (Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge: January)

on January 31, 2013

A NOTE ABOUT SPOILERS: For the purposes of all these reviews I am assuming that the reader has already read Pride and Prejudice and I shall therefore feel free to make reference to any events in the “tribute” works which occur in the original.  I shall, however, endeavour not to reveal too much of any extra or alternative plot details which may spoil the enjoyment of these works themselves.

My first review for the Austenprose Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge is of Amanda Grange’s Mr Darcy’s Diary.  There are many, many retellings of Pride and Prejudice in diary form (I discovered today there’s even another one actually called Mr Darcy’s Diary) and I have three on my list of prospective reads for this challenge.  It does seem an obvious way of lending another point of view to the events played out in the novel.  I would, however, like to reiterate at this point something I mentioned in my review of the original novel, back in December 2010: that we tend to forget, from long over-exposure to alternative versions and TV adaptations, that Austen doesn’t just tell the story from Lizzy’s point of view.  Whilst the action remains with her the whole time, and she is undoubtedly the central character of the novel, there are paragraphs and comments devoted to other characters – Darcy in particular – describing their feelings and their state of mind, and any author who attempts to write something from a different point of view must take this into account and pay careful attention to clues in the original as to how their character might be feeling in certain situations.

I feel that Amanda Grange has achieved this quite well with Mr Darcy’s Diary.  Of all the books on my list, this is the only one I have read before, so I knew what I was expecting.  Despite (or perhaps because of) this, I found it difficult to get into at first and only really settled into it on my third or fourth “session” with it.  The action begins in early July, a few months before the opening events of P&P.   The reason for this is to hear first hand from Darcy of his sudden discovery that his sister intends to elope with George Wickham, and his feelings on the subject, given Wickham’s motivation and past behaviour.  I think this was a good decision on the part of Grange, as it sets the context for Darcy’s mood – and to a certain extent, his behaviour – once he arrives in Hertfordshire, but there was a certain amount of difficulty in that when the shocking events of the planned elopement are revealed, the book has hardly started and the characters not really established.  This means that it is more difficult for the reader to respond emotionally to the news, than it is when it is reported in Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth at the end of her stay at Hunsford in P&P.

However, this short opening section aside, the story soon gets under way with Bingley’s plans to find a house (partly, it would appear, in response to Caroline’s nagging).  Through Darcy’s writing we have an insight into the characters of Bingley and his sisters which matches and enhances those portrayed by Austen (comments regarding Bingley’s capricious nature, for example), and we also see Darcy’s opinions on each of them.  There’s a certain dramatic irony in places, where he misses the mark on something which seems obvious to the reader – particularly where Caroline is concerned.  Although he has a feeling that Caroline might be angling for the position of future Mrs Darcy, it’s not until quite late in the book that he understands the extent to which she has set her heart on being mistress of Pemberley.  By this point, Darcy has already proposed to, and been rejected by, Lizzy, which contrasts quite starkly with Caroline’s fawning attention to him.  Through this, coupled with an earlier comment from Colonel Fitzwilliam (which really struck Darcy) about the importance of having a wife who looks up to you for who you are, Darcy is able to understand that whilst Pemberley might be a draw to the myriad women who usually court him, Elizabeth is interested only in a husband she can respect personally, and sets out to become that man.  From then on he records the ways in which he recognises how he has changed and developed, as well as his attempts to improve his behaviour towards strangers (because she has teased him about it) and to temper his pride.

The description of Darcy’s growing feelings towards Elizabeth is well written – understated at first, as he tries to master his feelings and subdue them, gradually becoming more obvious as he realises that he thinks about her more than he would like to and struggles to reconcile his love for her with his repugnance at her family and her connections.  These descriptions, however, do not dominate the book, and there is a good balance in the portrayal of him as a loving and concerned brother (even more so since the attempted elopement), a misguided friend who allows his snobbery to colour his feelings towards Bingley’s romantic attachment to Jane and a respectable and respected employer to his staff.  Some of my favourite passages are at times when he is not part of the P&P action and Grange’s imagination has been allowed free rein as to how he might have spent his time.  There we see his Christmas celebrations with Georgiana (wistful that his baby sister is becoming a young woman who no longer takes such a childish pleasure in the games she once loved), his foray into the seedy part of London where Wickham has taken Lydia after Brighton (despairing that the girl seems quite happy with the situation, even when Wickham spells it out in front of her that he has no plans to marry her) and his breakfast with Caroline Bingley after he has announced his engagement to Lizzy.  There is also a section at the end of the book which charts the couple of months following the weddings of the Darcys and the Bingleys which, although pure whimsy on Grange’s part, is very entertaining and a final chance to observe the personalities of the various characters as they gather for a Christmas party.  Interestingly, Grange chooses to give a much bigger part to Anne de Bourgh than in the original and kindly develops her character into something far more likeable.  It seems that out of the shadow of her overbearing mother, Anne has her own feelings, ideas and opinions and looks likely to become a good friend to Lizzy in the future.

In summary, as I’m sure I’ve said before of Grange’s Austen Heroes Diaries, they are in no way any kind of rival to Austen’s originals (nor, I am sure, would she expect them to be considered so).  However, I have found them to be entertaining, faithful, well-researched and an enjoyable complement to the original, and Mr Darcy’s Diary is no exception to that.

In my next review I’ll be looking at the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.  I plan to watch it with the Bookworm (who’s 10) during the February half term holiday, so that I can record her response as a newbie as well as my own as a previous viewer, so I expect my review to be ready in the last week of February.

 

Thankful for…

Good reports on both the girls at their parents’ evening today

Managing to stay on top of housework planner despite not being well this week

The snow having all gone!

New Year Sales! – I’ve got lots of birthday presents for children we give to (and consumable ones for adults – more on that soon!)

My sister and family coming to visit for the weekend

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