I feel empty and alone. And yet, in this empty state, I have more to do than ever before. The servants are looking to me to guide them, and not just the servants, but the tenants and the villagers, all those who rely on me and Pemberley and the Darcy name to shelter and protect them, and ensure their prosperity and well-being. They are waiting for me to take the lead and I do not know where I am going to find the strength to do it.
(from Dear Mr. Darcy, page 7)
When Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, it was a version much revised from the original written in 1796-97. Like Sense and Sensibility, the first draft could very well have been an epistolary novel. In Dear Mr. Darcy, Amanda Grange imagines how Pride and Prejudice might have been told through letters between the various characters.
Grange introduces Fitzwilliam Darcy in a letter from his dying father, who instructs him in his responsibilities as the new master of Pemberley, tells him to wisely choose a wife, and encourages him to marry for love. Years pass, and the Bennet family is introduced just before Darcy’s friend, Mr. Bingley, moves into the neighboring Netherfield Park. Letters from Elizabeth show that Mrs. Bennet hopes the house will become home to a wealthy family with five eligible sons to marry the five Bennet girls and solve all her problems.
From here, the book follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice, with all the exposition and character development happening within the letters. Grange introduces a few new characters, including Philip Darcy, Fitzwilliam’s cousin to whom he pours out his troubles, and Susan Sotherton, a good friend of Elizabeth’s whose troubled family has to rent out Netherfield Park. Readers learn more about the Bingleys through letters to their mother, with the most entertaining letters being those between Mrs. Bingley and Caroline as Caroline tries so hard to get Darcy to see her as a potential wife. I also chuckled reading the letters between Mary Bennet and Susan’s sister, Lucy, as they strive to become Learned Women.
However, if Austen did originally write Pride and Prejudice as a series of letters, I’m glad she changed her mind because letters don’t do the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth justice. One can gather they have strong feelings for one another, but merely retelling the best scenes in the original novel to characters who weren’t there means readers miss out on the awkward encounters and the playful banter as they happened.
Even so, Dear Mr. Darcy is an enjoyable retelling of one of my favorite novels. Grange does a great job composing letters in various voices and enabling readers to get to know the characters despite the limitations of the epistolary format. I enjoyed this novel more than Grange’s diaries of Austen’s heroes; the diaries were enjoyable, but letters enable readers to see into the minds of the other characters. Austen fans will enjoy spending a few hours with this book, especially if they’re curled up under a blanket with some hot cocoa!
Disclosure: Dear Mr. Darcy is from my personal library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.