“And you may be assured that nothing in the world would have induced me to share my intimate concerns with you had I realised your true opinion of my character.”
“I have never made a secret of my opinion of your character, Mr. Darcy, but whatever your concerns, they are of no interest to me. Please let me be on my way, and do not attempt to continue this very inappropriate line of conversation. I am married, and happily so, to Mr. Wickham.”
(from Stronger Even Than Pride, page 44)
Stronger Even Than Pride is not a charming, mostly lighthearted retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Gail McEwen writes about an Elizabeth Bennet who refuses to read the letter in which Mr. Darcy explains everything about Mr. Wickham, and this seemingly small change sets in motion a series of dark events that will leave the Austen purists running for the hills.
Soon after rejecting Mr. Darcy’s proposal and returning to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth is reunited with Mr. Wickham, and because she so foolishly discarded Mr. Darcy’s letter, she agrees to marry him. The engagement is opposed by her parents, and even Mrs. Bennet — who wants nothing but to marry off her daughters — thinks it’s a mistake. But the headstrong Elizabeth marches off to Scotland and becomes Mrs. Wickham.
Of course, Mr. Darcy is angry, but that’s partly because he assumes she read his letter and chose to marry the scoundrel anyway. It’s not long before Wickham’s true colors start to show, and even his desire to possess Elizabeth in a way Darcy never can is not enough to keep him at home. Elizabeth, feeling used and abused and struggling in poverty, has no one to turn to; she can’t go home and must live with the consequences of her actions.
Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy still loves Elizabeth but is helpless to do much to improve her situation. When scandal envelopes the Wickhams and threatens even Georgiana Darcy’s happiness, all hope seems lost. Of all the obstacles to throw in the path toward Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s happily ever after, this is the one that could keep them apart forever.
I’m not an Austen purist; the more unique, the better for me. But Stronger Even Than Pride was almost too difficult for me to take. I must admit I almost abandoned the book on page 48, after a particularly graphic sex scene involving Elizabeth, Mr. Wickham, and his fantasies of the jealous Mr. Darcy watching them together. Truly, that scene — coupled with an earlier scene involving Mr. Darcy and a prostitute — made me ill. I have no problem with shaking the plot up a bit, but I didn’t need to “see” that. Sometimes implying what’s going on is enough.
However, I made myself keep reading because I had to know how things would turn out for Elizabeth and Darcy. Of course, having read so may of these Austen adaptations, I was confident there would be a happy ending, but I couldn’t see a way out for these characters. I’m happy to say that McEwen didn’t disappoint, and I clung to every word until the very end.
Stronger Even Than Pride is well written and well worth the initial discomfort. Even when I thought I couldn’t continue reading, I admired McEwen’s bravery in taking the story to a place I never imagined. I keep saying that Pride and Prejudice retellings need to be unique to keep my attention these days, and McEwen certainly delivered on that front. She shows that there are countless ways to re-imagine these characters and their circumstances, and taking them down a messy, thorn-covered path that is seemingly impossible to traverse certainly grabbed my attention. It’s definitely not a book for all fans of the Austenesque, but the character evolution, the intense emotion, the complicated relationships, and the promise of love and redemption make it worth giving a try.
Disclosure: I received Stronger Even Than Pride from Meryton Press for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.