Monday, September 02, 2013

Mr Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman by Maria Hamilton

“When Elizabeth Bennet refuses his hand, Darcy is devastated and makes it his mission to change. By every civility in his power, Darcy slowly tries to win her affections, but Elizabeth is not easily swayed. Darcy vows to unlock the secrets that will make her his. He curses himself for his social awkwardness and appearance of pride, and sets out to right the wrongs he's done her family.
Elizabeth's family and friends misunderstand his intentions, and being in Elizabeth's presence proves to be both excruciating for the shy Darcy-and a dream come true. For the first time in his life, he must please a woman worth having, and the transformation leads him to a depth of understanding and love that he never could have imagine.”

I was really intrigued by this story and it was one of the ones I was most interested in reading as I always wondered how the story could have panned out had Darcy taken more steps towards showing Elizabeth his true nature, instead of acting upon it when the chance encounter at Pemberley brings them together, or at least act upon some of the criticisms Elizabeth lists off to him in the ill-fated proposal, such as the relations between Bingley and Jane, and I was not disappointed by this story!

This story really made me feel for Darcy; the way his feelings and emotions were described really made me pity him.  You could really feel how much Lizzy’s criticisms of his character and behaviour when he was rejected affected him, hearing her rebukes over and over in his thoughts.  Seeing into his innermost thoughts and feelings really opened up his character, more than in all other variations I have read.  Given that the story was told predominantly from Darcy’s point of view, there was also quite a lot of background given to Darcy and a few tales told about his childhood and his time at Cambridge which gave depth to his character.  I also felt I understood him more and the reasons behind his behaviour. 

Once Darcy has decided to begin making amends for his actions, a rather unique relationship builds up between him and Jane, as he takes it upon himself to admit to Jane all his involvement with their separation and his wish to bring them back together.  It was interesting to see those two talking at such length (giving Mrs Bennet the wrong impression which was rather amusing), as they do not speak much in the original story. You could feel how sorry Darcy felt as he was telling Jane how he accepts the blame for everything that has happened involving Jane and Bingley.

Once Darcy has explained to Jane, he then returns to explain himself to Bingley. For Bingley to completely understand, a full explanation, including his relations with Lizzy, was needed. I really enjoyed hearing his side of the story of the events leading up to the proposal.

Many times through the story, the authoress brought to my attention aspects of the story and to characters which I had never thought about before. I won’t give away all of these observations but a few favourites... It was interesting when Elizabeth started to think about Darcy more closely, realising that they do in fact have many things in common, many which I had never thought about before, for example how both Darcy and Lizzy felt familial obligations to marry for convenience and material considerations, perhaps Darcy more strongly than Lizzy (but then again, actually maybe not) but how neither will give into the pressure of these obligations as they would both wish to marry for love. I had never thought about it before in that way...  

My favourite new aspect to a character was undoubtedly Bingley.  In many variations he is portrayed a rather simple-minded character and in some adaptations I have seen he seems even a little (I am sorry to say) pathetic.  I will admit that when I first read Pride and Prejudice I thought Bingley was a little simple and not a strong character, mainly down him being so easily persuaded by Darcy and his sisters in regards to Jane. But this story threw a whole new light on the situation and while Darcy and Bingley were discussing all that had passed involving Jane, I came to realise why Bingley was so easily persuaded and it made him seem a much stronger character. I think my new opinion on Bingley is summed up in this wonderful quote spoken by Darcy to Bingley: "It is a good thing that you are so friendly and good-natured.  It fools most people into thinking that you are simpleminded. It allows you to observe the world unencumbered. Very little gets by you, though, and most people never recognise it." I think that is a perfect quote and I really enjoyed this new way of viewing Bingley’s character.

Towards the middle of the story there is a perfect scene set in the library at Netherfield, as well as being a very romantic scene between him and Lizzy, it also gives even more insight into Darcy’s character; he is working through his correspondents which need seeing to and it makes you think about the weight of responsibilities he has upon him and at such a young age. You are also shown more into the way he handles his tenants and how he really is the best landlord and the best master, as Mrs Reynolds describes him.

As Lizzy and Darcy begin to build up a friendship, you see more and more of how those two do have dispositions which really do suit each other. Some of their conversations are very funny and witty and even teasing at times.  Theirs is, understandably, a peculiar friendship but no less amicable all the same.

Mr Bennet is portrayed in almost a bad light, or rather (for a change) his faults, which he does have, are highlighted and are in fact contrasted and compared to Darcy, which was very interesting to read. (An example being how Darcy solves all the problems which he is told about from his tenants as soon and as fairly as possible, whereas, Lizzy observes, Mr Bennet ignores such problems in the hope that they will just solve themselves or go away.)

For once in a ‘what if’ variation the story does not end with Lizzy and Darcy coming to an understanding, getting married and then a short epilogue showing a a glimpse into their future lives, all happening in about 20 pages. In this story they reach and understanding with still 150 or so pages to go.  This allows for some very sweet conversations between the couple about their wedding plans as well as some wonderfully romantic scenes where they manage to steal a few secret kisses and intimate conversations. Although they have come to an understanding it was wonderful to see how their relationship still developed further once they were engaged, Lizzy taking on the role of mistress and taking care of Darcy as a wife would do. Their openness with each other is touching but also assures you (if you need assurance!) that their marriage is going to be a very happy and successful one.

(I will say here though that the only thing which bothered me about the whole story was that in the last 150 pages after they are engaged their behaviour becomes a little more intimate and eventually results in premarital relations.  This would normally bother me a great deal but it did, in a way, fit with the story line and there was nothing too explicit so it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story.)

There is an epilogue to this story, which I always enjoy reading, and for once it was based entirely around Lizzy and Darcy instead feeling the need to resolve the stories of all the characters in the book. This epilogue gave a wonderful insight into glimpses of their marriage as well as the preceding weeks after (which I personally prefer rather than skipping to 5 or 10 years later), providing every assurance that they will be completely happy together.

Overall this was a fantastic read, mostly because of the depth of character the story gave to Darcy as well as the new insights which the authoress explored, resulting in new ways for me to consider certain behaviour, actions and aspects of a character.  It was wonderfully romantic, very funny at times and an extremely interesting take on my favourite novel.

Your affectionate friend,
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