What I once spurned, I would now give all my wealth and status to have. … Through my own stupidity, I have thrown away my best chance of happiness.
(from Understanding Elizabeth)
Robin M. Helm’s latest novel, Understanding Elizabeth, is a variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice told entirely from the point of view of Mr. Darcy. The novel opens at Netherfield, with Elizabeth Bennet in residence as she cares for her sister, Jane, whose illness is more serious than originally believed. When Darcy stumbles upon Elizabeth’s journal entries tucked into a book, he succumbs to the temptation to read her thoughts and get to know her better.
Unfortunately, he learns that Elizabeth, her family, and all of Mertyon are aware of the insulting words he said about her to Mr. Bingley at the Meryton Assembly, and he wishes he could take them back, especially as he has come to appreciate Elizabeth’s beauty and intelligence. As he fights an interior battle between wanting love and doing his duty to his family and estate, he is given the opportunity to secure his heart’s desire, but there is a serious price to pay, and Darcy must learn what it truly means to love someone in order to make the right choice.
Understanding Elizabeth follows a similar timeline as the original novel, but there are plenty of differences to hold readers’ interest. I especially enjoyed seeing Darcy balance his desire for Jane to recover with his frustration at a potential rival for Elizabeth’s affections in Dr. Stedman, and bringing Mr. Bennet to Netherfield for the duration of Jane’s illness gives him a chance to tease Darcy and observe his true character and his changing opinion toward the Bennets.
Helm does a great job bringing the secondary characters to life, creating a more steady and observant Bingley and a more confident, take-charge Georgiana, and there were several intriguing original characters, my favorite being Watkins, Darcy’s perceptive valet. There was plenty of drama involving Darcy’s otherworldly offer and, of course, Wickham, and plenty of tender moments with Elizabeth. But where the novel shines is in its first person narrative, as readers get to experience Darcy’s realizations of his perceived character, his efforts to change those perceptions, his weakness amidst a feeling of hopelessness, and his determination.
I felt like I really got to know and understand Darcy, but Helm also does a good job of letting readers get to know Elizabeth through Darcy’s close observation of her. There were so many scenes that brought a smile to my face, from the chess games with high stakes to Darcy’s soul-bearing conversations with Georgiana and Richard. Understanding Elizabeth is a thought-provoking take on Pride and Prejudice and the lengths people are willing to go to find love and happiness.
Robin is generously offering 2 copies of Understanding Elizabeth to my readers: a Kindle copy (international/domestic) and a print copy (U.S. only). To enter, please leave a comment on this post with your email address and your desired format should you win. This giveaway will close on Sunday, February 26, 2017. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!
Disclosure: I received Understanding Elizabeth from the author for review.