Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman by Maria Hamilton

Before I commence this review, I must apologize in advance for not doing the book justice. You see, I read it over a month ago, in that long ago, pre-mommy time, but never got to writing the review. Though I can fully attest to the novel's ability to distract and sooth at a most apprehensive time, I'm afraid I forgot some of the finer details of the plot. I hope readers will, nevertheless, find the following valuable.

Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman is a classic "What if?" reimagining of Pride and Prejudice. Maria Hamilton begins her story as Darcy and Fitzwilliam depart from Rosings, the former devastated by Elizabeth's scathing rejection of his hand. The plot veers when our hero decides to rectify some of the wrongs Elizabeth accused him of by returning to Netherfield in order to ascertain if Jane Bennet really does have deep feelings for Mr. Bingley. From this first humbling decision, Darcy pursues a course designed to improve his own temper and win Elizabeth's heart. The book follows the couple through courtship, providing a highly pleasant sojourn (despite one explicit scene, which I could have done without) within the world Jane Austen created.

One amusing consequence of Darcy's inquiries into Jane's heart is the inevitable misconstruction Mrs. Bennet places upon his actions, the consequences of which are obvious. Another fun twist arises from Ms. Hamilton's construction of a rival for Elizabeth's hand in the form of John Lucas. Darcy attends a summer assembly (an unusual occurrence) in Meryton, providing him with an explicit opportunity to reform his past behavior. I thought this scene between the two gentlemen, fueled by Mrs. Bennet's gossip, particularly interesting:
"What intrigues me is your offensive movement to this unguarded position. Clearly, something has drawn you out. You must be seeking something or someone already on the dance floor." Seeing Darcy color and the set of his jaw tighten, it was John Lucas's turn to retreat. "Please, do not worry. I have only said as much because that is why I am here as well." Looking significantly from Darcy to where Jane was dancing, he added, "I am no threat. While she is very beautiful, my tastes run elsewhere."

Darcy was in a quandary. He was relieved that his real purpose was not revealed, but upset that he may have unwittingly added fuel to any gossip about himself and Miss Bennet. If he denied that Miss Bennet was the reason for his coming over, it might open up speculation as to what it was he had been doing. John Lucas seemed to clever to let the matter drop so easily. Hoping to avoid further comment on the subject, Darcy turned the tables and asked, "And where do your tastes run?" 

"Ah, a direct question. A brilliant strategy. I see I was right in seeking you out. You also reject the confines of social rules.We must play chess someday. I will reward your boldness with a response." Looking significantly at Elizabeth, he said, "I find her sister most appealing."

Trying to hide his intense and conflicting emotions, Darcy asked, "You must be well acquainted then."

"Oh, yes, I have known her since she was a girl.But our dispositions are too similar. I often provoke her. I doubt she will accept my invitation to dance; I recently enraged her by disagreeing with her about a passage from a play we had both read. But I have reread the entire book and am armed with evidence that my position is superior. I will attempt to dazzle her with my wit and undoubtedly will leave defeated. But a man must always make an effort. Do you not agree?"
So much for books being inappropriate in a ballroom! The novel is full of both familiar (Miss Bingley's role is particularly gratifying) and new twists and turns that drag out our time with this most beloved couple, providing yet another new path to their ultimate happiness. I recommend this sweet retelling to all of you who can never get enough of Elizabeth and Darcy.

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