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It’s always a pleasure to have Abigail Reynolds as a guest on Diary of an Eccentric.  Abigail is the author of several retellings of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, her most recent being Mr. Darcy’s Undoing (check out my review).  I love how she always manages to throw a new obstacle in Darcy and Elizabeth’s path to happily ever after; I never get tired of reading them!  Abigail is here to talk about why she thinks Jane Austen and her novels are so popular more than 200 years after her death and why so many authors devote their time to keeping Austen’s characters alive.

Please give a warm welcome to Abigail Reynolds:

For a writer who has been dead for nearly 200 years, Jane Austen is doing remarkably well these days. Her works are more popular than ever. New film and television adaptations come out on a regular basis, and there’s an entire subgenre of Austen-related novels that has blossomed in the last few years. Readers don’t seem to be able to get enough of Jane Austen’s characters or her world.

Admittedly, Jane Austen was a brilliant writer who produced books filled with wit, insight, and timeless characters, but we’re not seeing a deluge of adaptations of Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte, or any other brilliant writers. There’s something unique about Jane Austen’s appeal for modern readers.

Jane Austen was in the right place at the right time. The Regency period is far enough in the past that modern readers can project their own fantasies onto it, but not so distant that it’s hard to imagine living there ourselves. Poised in the time between the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, the people living in the Regency seem much more modern than those in medieval or Restoration times. There was a middle class in Jane Austen’s day. Manufacturing existed on a limited scale. Men used guns for hunting and war, and women bought fabric created in mills rather than spinning and weaving their own. The London ton operated along social rules which parallel modern society in many ways, with popularity and taste helping define social status in addition to birth. It’s a society we can recognize and to some extent picture ourselves in it.

Just as important is what’s missing in Regency times. Massive industrialization, individual laborers turned into factory drones working themselves to death, clouds of soot, and clattering railroads were only a few years in the future. The First Industrial Revolution had started in the late 18th century, but its full effects on society weren’t felt until the 1830s, a mere two decades after Pride & Prejudice takes place. Wages for the poorest workers fell dramatically starting in the 1830s and didn’t recover until the next century. The pastoral pleasures of Jane Austen’s world turned into the bleak and painful landscape of Charles Dickens. Of course, there was plenty of poverty and suffering in Jane Austen’s day as well, but she doesn’t portray it in her books, so we can pretend it isn’t there. A sort of genteel poverty is as bad as it gets.

Many readers are looking for an escape from the ills of the modern world. If we want to think about poverty and starvation, we can read the newspapers. When we want a simpler, seemingly gentler world, one that is both familiar and yet lacking so many of our modern issues, Jane Austen’s world is the perfect place to go. Jane Austen adds to that by giving us love stories and looking at characters with an amused rather than a jaundiced eye. What’s not to love?

Well said!  Thanks, Abigail!  I can’t wait to read more of your Pemberley Variations!

Courtesy of Sourcebooks, I have a copy of Mr. Darcy’s Undoing for one lucky reader.  To enter, leave a comment with your e-mail address and tell me why you think Jane Austen is so popular today.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, entrants must have addresses in the U.S. or Canada.  This giveaway will close at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, October 23, 2011.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks
Rating: ★★★★☆

Darcy was ready with a heated retort, then thought of Elizabeth.  “I am sorry if you have felt as if I do not value your opinion, because I certainly do,” he said, as close to humility as he could manage at the moment.  “It is not my intention to be arrogant.”

The colonel looked askance at him.  “Darcy, I did not say you were arrogant, though you are in the habit of doing whatever you please.”

“You may save your breath — I have had this lecture from Elizabeth already, and believe me, she did not mince her words,” said Darcy wearily.

(from Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, page 176 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

Mr. Darcy’s Undoing (previously published as Without Reserve) is another retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Abigail Reynolds asks readers to imagine “what if?” — in this case, what if Mr. Darcy had a rival for Elizabeth Bennet’s affections?  Reynolds opens the novel after Darcy’s disastrous proposal at Kent.  By the time Darcy convinces Bingley to return to Netherfield and rekindle his romance with Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, Elizabeth has already accepted a marriage proposal from James Covington.

Darcy had followed Bingley in the hopes of winning Elizabeth’s love, and he is shocked and dismayed upon learning of her engagement.  That doesn’t stop him from hanging around, though he tells himself that if he knows for sure that Elizabeth is in love with Covington, then he must let her go.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth feels an attraction to Darcy and must force herself to consider all the reasons why her marriage to Covington makes sense for her and her family.  Besides, there’s nothing she can do about the situation now — not without ruining her reputation and her family’s standing in the community, especially considering the damage already caused by Lydia after she runs away with Wickham.

In Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, Reynolds gives readers what they have come to expect from her Pride and Prejudice variations — different twists and turns as Elizabeth and Darcy navigate the same misunderstandings and plenty of heat as they skirt the bounds of propriety and often cross the line as they find they cannot keep their hands off each other.  Although Reynolds briefly brings in the wit and playfulness of Mr. Bennet, most of Austen’s secondary characters sit on the sidelines in Mr. Darcy’s Undoing.  Elizabeth and Darcy, their bantering, and their serious discussions about their relationship are the focus of the novel, and while I missed the tension typically supplied by Wickham, Caroline Bingley, and Lady Catherine, I enjoyed Reynolds’ take on a scandalized Elizabeth and a more emotional and seductive Darcy.  There also was some amusement to be had with Darcy’s jealousy and pain, as he goes so far as to chaperone Elizabeth and her betrothed.

I am always amazed at how many ways Reynolds can re-tell the same story.  She manages to keep the story fresh, throwing new obstacles in Elizabeth and Darcy’s path to happiness and making it so that readers almost wonder whether the two will live happily ever after.  While Mr. Darcy’s Undoing isn’t my favorite of Reynolds’ variations, it was a page-turner that I would recommend to readers who want a spicier Pride and Prejudice retelling.

Check out my reviews of other Abigail Reynolds books:

Pemberley By the Sea
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World
To Conquer Mr. Darcy
Mr. Darcy’s Obsession
What Would Mr. Darcy Do?

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy’s Undoing from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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