Darcy shut the door behind her, emptiness filling his belly until he sank into his favorite chair. What was more troubling, that others saw his admiration for Miss Elizabeth, or that Miss Elizabeth could not?
He knew her to be upset, but the possibility of hurting her was insupportable. Somehow, he had to rectify the misunderstanding. She must not be somewhere in the world thinking ill of him.
(from Remember the Past, page 45)
I’ve said it a lot lately that Pride and Prejudice retellings need to be very unique these days to keep my attention, and Maria Grace’s latest novel, Remember the Past, certainly fits the bill. As soon as I started reading, I knew that this was going to be different from all the re-imaginings I’ve read before. What if the Bennet family had a fortune, so marrying off the daughters wasn’t their sole concern? What if Lady Catherine was kind, grateful to her nephew for saving her and Anne from a life of genteel poverty? What if there was no Mr. Bingley to win Jane Bennet’s affections?
In Remember the Past, Admiral Thomas Bennet has retired from His Majesty’s Navy and purchased an estate in Derbyshire after being thrown out of Longbourn by his scheming brother. While Alston Hall is being readied for occupation, the widower Bennet, his daughters Jane and Elizabeth, and his twin sons Francis and Philip are invited to stay at Pemberley, where the widower Mr. Darcy lives with his sister, his mother-in-law Lady Catherine, his sons George and David, and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. Darcy is immediately drawn to Elizabeth, who excites a passion in him that he never felt while married to Anne, but after a scandalous first season in London, Elizabeth cannot trust another man.
Even in these much changed circumstances, misunderstandings abound. When Darcy admires Elizabeth’s willingness to sword fight with the boys while trying to put aside his feelings for her, she thinks the look in his eyes signifies his disapproval. She also feels slighted when both her father and Darcy dismiss her feelings about Wickham serving as her father’s steward; she senses a littleness about him from their very first meeting, and thankfully the Admiral taught his daughters how to protect themselves!
Meanwhile, Bennet is a man used to delivering orders and expecting that they will be carried out, but he soon finds that the women in his life increasingly refuse to submit to his will. When it comes to Darcy, Elizabeth isn’t the only one who needs to set aside pride and prejudice, as Bennet’s own happiness, as well as his daughter’s, depends on him doing so.
Remember the Past is a fantastic retelling of Pride and Prejudice not only because of the original characters — from the rambunctious Bennet twins and Darcy brothers to the menacing but gentle Piper, the Admiral’s valet — but also because of the huge risks Grace takes in leaving only the bare bones of the original novel intact. It was exciting to read a retelling in which I could not predict anything, other than the ultimate happily-ever-after ending. The novel itself was exciting as well, with everything from sword fights to dangerous floods, and if it hadn’t been for work and family responsibilities, I would surely have finished it in one sitting.
Grace stays true to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Darcy even while drastically changing the circumstances in which they meet and fall in love, but her delightful versions of Lady Catherine and Mr. Bennet drew me to the novel from the start. Moreover, I never once missed the characters left out of this retelling (Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, the younger Bennet sisters, Mr. Collins, etc.). Grace also does a good job balancing the heavier topics of grief, violence against women, and duty to family and friends with moments of humor and lightheartedness. I’ve long enjoyed Grace’s Austen-inspired fiction, but Remember the Past is her best work so far, and I can’t wait to see where she takes these characters next.
Disclosure: I received Remember the Past from the author for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.