Monday, April 26, 2010

The Darcy Cousins by Monica Fairview

I enjoyed Monica Fairview's latest book even more than her last, The Other Mr. Darcy (read my review), to which The Darcy Cousins is a sequel. Some of this can be attributed to her choice of main characters; while Ms. Fairview did an excellent job of redeeming Caroline Bingley in The Other Mr. Darcy, she now turns her attention to Georgiana Darcy, who, no matter how skillfully the former is portrayed, I find a far easier lady with whom to sympathize. Not that Miss Darcy is perfectly pleasant in The Darcy Cousins - in fact, she often comes off as a spoiled and malicious brat. Nevertheless, we give our heroine the leeway due to her age and situation: she is eighteen, thrust into the marriage mart without parental guidance, still combating Wickham's demon, and struggling to develop a sense of self. Into her life walks an American cousin, Clarissa Darcy (nothing at all like Richardson's heroine), who is endowed with all the confidence and daring Georgiana wishes for herself, and a gentleman from Kent, Henry Gatley, to whom she takes an instant dislike, thinking him haughty and judgmental. Is that not promising? Here is the scene in which they meet:

"Darcy!" said the flawlessly dressed young gentleman. "A very good morning to you."

Darcy greeted him like an old friend. He quickly performed the introductions. The gentleman was Henry Gatley, a property owner from a few miles away.

"And here are my two cousins, newly arrived from Boston."

An amused look passed over the young man's face. "Yes, I am well aware of the fact."

What he did not say, but meant, was that every single member of the congregation was well aware of it.

"You have strong powers of observation, Mr Gatley," remarked Georgiana, stung by his implication. What right had he to judge her cousins when he knew nothing about them?

She regretted the words immediately. Mr Gatley, who had barely acknowledged her beyond a quick bow at their introduction, turned his piercing gaze towards her.

"Indeed?" he said.

She flushed for the second time that morning, As if it was not bad enough that her cousins had drawn so much attention to their party. Now he thought her ill mannered as well. Not that she cared particularly for his opinion.

She raised her chin and met his gaze.

I greatly enjoy how Ms. Fairview, while creating two characters that are completely unique from Darcy and Elizabeth, follows the Pride and Prejudice formula for romance - from dislike and misunderstanding to recognition and love - just as she did in The Other Mr. Darcy. I do not feel as if I am spoiling the story by saying so, as all Austen readers should recognize in an instant that Mr. Gatley is the hero.

Lady Catherine is particularly well-rendered. As the first part of the book takes place at Rosings, we have ample opportunity to observe her in action. These are some of the most humorous parts of the book. For example, the narrative takes place during the spring and summer of 1814, when Napoleon (who seems to be haunting me lately - he's everywhere!) escaped from Elba. Hear what Lady Catherine has to say about the Emperor: "It is, of course, all Napoleon's fault, for he is becoming quite bothersome. He has certainly inconvenienced us, for now there will be too few gentlemen and we will be obliged to change the seating arrangement at the table." In the same scene, when Clarissa mentions the Boston Tea Party in context of her preference for coffee, Lady Catherine says:

"What tea party? What are you talking about?" She puzzled over this, until understanding dawned suddenly. "I do recall something about the people of Boston tipping all their tea into the harbour. Why could they not have sent the tea back, instead of destroying it? A shocking waste of good tea when it is so very expensive. I always thought it odd, but then, there is no accounting for taste."

Ms. Fairview also does an excellent job portraying Darcy who, while somewhat absorbed in his new family, is every bit the doting, loving, and sometimes overbearing brother he always was. I particularly appreciated that he still struggles with his pride and remains rigidly moral, even when it is most inconvenient. When Lady Catherine blames Clarissa for the disappearance, without a trace, of Anne de Bourgh, we see a perfect picture of the Mr. Darcy (and the Lady Catherine, come to think of it) I adore:

"Enough, Aunt," said Darcy, springing to his feet as well. "You are overwrought and do not know what you are saying. We will make allowances, given the unfortunate events that have recently transpired. But you cannot speak to my cousin in this manner."

"I will speak as I wish under my own roof!" relied Lady Catherine. "I do not need my sister's child to tell me how or how not to conduct myself. I hope you will not be foolish enough to continue in your defense of a young girl who has had only one goal since she arrived, and that is to turn my own daughter against me."

Darcy's face darkened. "Come, Lady Catherine," he said, maintaining control over his temper with difficulty. "Surely you do not mean to suggest that a mere child of seventeen could have such an influence over a lady of twenty-nine? If Anne is really so easy to persuade, then you can hardly blame Clarissa for it. It is patently absurd to suggest such a thing."

Lady Catherine stared coldly at Darcy.

"I am not accustomed to being addressed in this manner. I resent it exceedingly," she said. "You will cease your support of this unruly child at once."

"I have no intention of doing so," said Darcy, "Once again, Lady Catherine, these are exceptional circumstances. I am sure that in the normal course of things, you would realize that a mountain is being made out of a molehill. I suggest that we wait until tomorrow. By then, the whole thing will have blown over."

"I have given you my warning, Darcy," said Lady Catherine relentlessly. "As long as you continue to support the person who is responsible for my current unhappiness, then you leave me no choice in the matter. Do you withdraw your support?"

"No," said Darcy.

Her ladyship paused to take a deep breath, then announced, "You will see that I am perfectly capable of being reasonable. I will not require you to leave tonight. You will all arrange to leave Rosings by tomorrow morning."

While Mr. Darcy is so satisfyingly captured, I was far less please with Ms. Fairview's depiction of Elizabeth. Many of the qualities we typically associate with the heroine have been transferred to Caroline Darcy nee Bingley, while Elizabeth, most of the time, is reduced to a quiet observer of events or, worse, a neglectful gossip. There are a few scenes in which the real Elizabeth shines through, when responding to a rather malevolent prank of Georgiana's and again later when defending that same lady to her brother, but most of the time she is portrayed flatly, nothing like the sparkling creature of Pride and Prejudice. This is my only complaint of the book.   

Before concluding, I'd like to say something regarding what I consider the misguided marketing of this book. Sourcebooks loves to get the word "Darcy" in their titles (a phenomenon recently pointed out to me by Meredith of Austenesque Reviews, which is why it is on my mind), no matter how relevant the name is to the story. While in the case of The Darcy Cousins the title does suit the book, the subtitle, "Scandal, Mischief, and Mayhem Arrive at Pemberley...", is pretty misleading. I must assume that after Darcy, Pemberley is the key word to work into a title, as we never visit that mythic residence at any point in this narrative, all the action taking place between Kent and London.  So don't be mislead: while the book blurb makes it seem as if it is primarily about Cassandra Darcy and the disappearance of Anne de Bourgh from Rosings, this is a book about Georgiana. It just seems that her first name isn't as marketable as her last (Georgiana Cavendish must be rolling in her grave). Still, marketing aside, like all Sourcebooks publications the quality of the book is magnificent, the cover of this one being particularly beautiful.

I believe The Darcy Cousins might be my favorite rendering I have read of Georgiana Darcy. She is not over idealized, as tends to be the case, and watching her develop from school girl into woman was highly satisfying. Though the book is on the long side (414 pages), it felt like a fast read. Before I realized it I had reached the end and was very sorry to be there.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this new release from Monica Fairview! I love the conversations you chose to highlight! Lady Catherine complaining about Napolean is hilarious!

  2. Hi Meredith! It was a very satisfying read. I hope you don't mind my mentioning of our conversation. I should probably have asked you first. Sorry about that.

  3. No worries, I just read a post on Austenblog where they mentioned the same thing.

  4. Thanks Alexa for your wonderfully detailed review! Glad you enjoyed Georgiana's story.

  5. You are very welcome! Thank you for writing such a delightful book!