Mr. Darcy tried to hold it back, but he knew he could not keep a straight face for long. “Something tells me you have a lot to say on just about any subject, madam. I gather your tongue has less restraint than a child with a farthing in his pocket in a sweet shop.”
“Are you calling me impertinent?”
“Does it rain in England in November?”
(from To Refine Like Silver, pages 39-40)
Quick summary: To Refine Like Silver is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that is among the most unique variations I have read so far. Elizabeth Bennet meets Fitzwilliam Darcy and his sister, Georgiana, in Derbyshire while helping her Uncle and Aunt Gardiner settle into their new estate. Elizabeth recognizes that the light has gone out of Georgiana’s eyes, and she vows to help her overcome the pain of what happened to her at Ramsgate. In Jeanna Ellsworth’s retelling, the pain in Elizabeth’s own past is a huge obstacle to her happiness with Mr. Darcy, but Elizabeth is a survivor, and in sharing her faith with the Darcys, she helps them understand what it means to trust in God and how one’s trials refine, not define, them.
Why I wanted to read it: I enjoyed Ellsworth’s previous Pride and Prejudice variations, Mr. Darcy’s Promise and Pride and Persistence, so even though I don’t read much Christian fiction, I was curious how she would shake things up this time.
What I liked: Ellsworth really poured her heart out into this novel, sharing with readers through Austen’s beloved characters how she was able to emerge from depression. There is much grief and anger in this story, but the banter between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy keeps it from being too heavy. Ellsworth takes several characters on different journeys in this variation, including Elizabeth, Darcy, and Georgiana, of course, but also Mrs. Bennet, Caroline Bingley, and Mr. Wickham. Because Ellsworth really alters the storyline, I had no idea how the characters would get to the obvious happily ever after, so it was easy to get lost in this book. I also liked Ellsworth’s take on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, making them more playful with one another (the frog-catching scene was hilarious), and she makes Mrs. Bennet and Miss Bingley even nastier than in the original, which certainly creates some tension (and made me want to throttle them).
What I disliked: The religious aspect of the book generally comes out through the characters’ actions and conversations with one another, but there were times I felt that it was a bit overdone. However, I had no problem overlooking this because it made sense in the context of the characters’ spiritual journeys, and the plot changes were so interesting.
Final thoughts: To Refine Like Silver is a story of surviving the worst that life throws at us, feeling the pain but not letting it consume us, trusting that happiness and joy will come again, and learning to forgive (but not forget) in order to find peace within ourselves. Regardless of one’s faith, I think the words of wisdom from Elizabeth’s prayer journal could be helpful to all. Ellsworth’s novels always bring a smile to my face, and her Pride and Prejudice variations are both refreshing and romantic.
Disclosure: I received To Refine Like Silver from the author for review.
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