“Again, I must disagree. I think Mr. Darcy is interested in you, and we may have an opportunity for more evidence of it. If this rain continues, we may have to stay here another night.”
“Do not say that, Jane. I would rather swim Mill Stream than endure another evening of such company.”
“But when you called Mother, she said that Papa had remained in London with our aunt and uncle because sections of the railway were under water. Besides, you have endured worse things than a stay at Netherfield Park.”
“Yes, but not since the armistice was signed,” Lizzy said, sighing in resignation.
(from Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy, page 63)
Mary Lydon Simonsen once again puts a creative spin on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy, set in 1920, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy each are working to put their memories of the horror they witnessed during The Great War behind them. Elizabeth was a Voluntary Aid Detachment stationed in France when she received word that a childhood friend was in a nearby ward with a fatal stomach wound. Elizabeth was with him when he died, and the loss hit her hard. She turned to help another patient and accepted his tenderness and comfort but never learned his name, for she could not bear it if she learned later that he’d died.
Captain Darcy was just one of many soldiers sickened during the influenza pandemic of 1918. While in a hospital in France, he called out to a nurse for water. This nurse became an angel to him, and he is haunted by the memory of her kisses and the night they spent cuddled together in his sick bed.
Two years after the war, Darcy’s best friend, Charles Bingley, buys a crumbling estate in Hertfordshire, and the friends receive much attention from the local women. Heavy casualties during World War I reduced the pool of eligible bachelors, and those with all their limbs and the ability to dance are in high demand. Charles is immediately captivated by Jane Bennet, but it takes some time for Darcy and Elizabeth to strike up a friendship. Before their relationship can move forward, Elizabeth must come to terms with the other woman in Darcy’s thoughts, the nurse who offered him comfort that night during the war.
Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy is a sweet novella about a pair of damaged souls who need to work through some issues before they can find happiness. Darcy and Elizabeth must move beyond their awkward first encounter at the dance that brings Jane and Charles together, and then they must overcome suppressed memories and unrealistic expectations. Simonsen shows how their wartime experiences give them a better understanding of one another and how even though Elizabeth is close to her sister, there is a distance between them because of what Elizabeth saw and what Jane didn’t.
Simonsen keeps only one aspect of the Pride and Prejudice plot intact: the misunderstandings between Elizabeth and Darcy. And those misunderstandings make up the only storyline in Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy. I think Simonsen does a good job putting Darcy, Bingley, and the Bennet sisters in the post-WWI setting and making Elizabeth a modern woman who holds a job and supports women getting the vote. However, at 121 pages, the book was too short. It felt like the whole relationship-building was rushed, and there wasn’t a whole lot of description to set the scene. Because it is so short, the characters aren’t as well developed as they could have been, but this isn’t a big issue because readers likely are familiar with the characters from Austen’s novel.
Still, Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy was a quick and enjoyable read, and I only wish it had been longer. I love seeing how creative authors can be in placing Austen’s characters in different time periods, and I like how Simonsen is able to take some heavy themes and create a lighthearted book.
Disclosure: Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy is from my personal library.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.