I thought then of the pages I’d read at Harriet’s the day before. They hadn’t included any mention of Mr. Darcy. What might Austen’s original version of the character been in that first effort? I’d always known he was a figure who transcended the novel that gave birth to him, but why? Because I certainly didn’t get it. What was it about Mr. Darcy that made women swoon and sigh two centuries later? He wasn’t the only compelling hero in the literary canon. Yet somehow he had captured the feminine imagination.
(from Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, page 62 in the ARC)
Every time I re-read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of my all-time favorite novels, Mr. Darcy’s arrogance for much of the book amuses me, probably because I know how it ends. I’ve often wondered why some of us are so infatuated with Mr. Darcy, given the insulting things he says to people for much of the book, but for me, I like the idea that love can change people for the better.
In Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, the latest novel from Beth Pattillo, Claire Prescott wonders the same thing about Mr. Darcy when she attends an Oxford seminar about Pride and Prejudice in place of her pregnant sister, Missy. Claire is in her early 30s and unemployed, and she feels out of place. When she meets James Beaufort, a Manhattan publisher, she’s taken aback by his good looks but a little put off by his Darcy-esque arrogance and mood swings. But she can’t deny her attraction to him, especially when she thinks about her long-time boyfriend, Neil, a sports fanatic who gets so caught up in watching games that she’s not even sure he realizes she’s gone to England.
Shortly after arriving at Oxford, Claire meets Harriet Dalrymple, an elderly woman in the early stages of dementia who claims to be related to Jane Austen’s family and possesses a secret copy of First Impressions, the manuscript Austen wrote in her early 20s that would later become Pride and Prejudice. Harriet’s character is a bright spot in Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I visualized her pulling 200-year-old manuscript pages out of various nooks and crannies in her cottage, including the gardening shed. Claire wonders why the story is so much different from the book that is viewed by many as one of the greatest works of literature, and what she reads and learns as she tries to help Harriet figure out what to do with the manuscript just might help her decipher her feelings for Neil and James, patch up her relationship with Missy, and deal with unresolved grief from losing her parents at a young age.
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart is predictable and not overly emotional or thought-provoking, but it’s a fun book that I found difficult to put down. I most enjoyed the storyline involving Harriet, and I loved the book-within-a-book aspect of the story. Reading First Impressions — a figment of Pattillo’s imagination — along with Claire was the highlight of the book. What happens to the Bennets within its few pages is very different from the Austen novel I know and love, and it made me wonder about the other books I’ve enjoyed over the years and how they began in the author’s mind and changed during the writing process.
However, while I liked Claire, I don’t think enough of her relationships with Neil and Missy is shown for me to really be affected by the evolution of her character. The book opens with Claire walking onto the Oxford campus, and readers only know Missy through a couple of quick phone calls and get a glimpse of Neil when he shows up in England to find Claire. Still, I could see what Pattillo wanted to accomplish in creating a character who lives for the people in her life and not for herself, and in some ways, I could even relate to Claire. You don’t have to be an Austen fan to enjoy Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, and although I think it helps to have read Pride and Prejudice to understand how First Impressions differs from it, it’s not necessary. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart is a quick read, perfect for when you need something light and amusing to read between more emotional, heavier books. It was just what I needed at the time.
Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists for review.
© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.