Twilight of the Abyss: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, which was published right around the same time as First Impressions (when I was checking Amazon stats compulsively) and is almost the antithesis of my very happy book. Casey Childers uses the same pivotal moment at the Meryton Assembly as I do, having Elizabeth and Darcy dance together and quickly fall in love, but while my tale is all playfulness, hers is an exploration of the depths the human spirit can sink when love is denied. The novel opens upon a heartbroken Elizabeth, deeply depressed and confused, having been abandoned by the man she deeply loves and who she knows loves her in return. Jane and Bingley are married and have moved to an estate in Yorkshire, right along the coast, and it is this location that provides the dramatic backdrop to Elizabeth's sufferings. Events are told along two time lines, the present interspersed with flashbacks to the altered events of Pride and Prejudice. At first, I was concerned this format would prove confusing, but Ms. Childers pulls it off smoothly.
It was my faith that things would somehow work out that allowed me to finish this book, as my distress for Elizabeth was so acute that I had to repeatedly put it down and bawl my eyes out. Ms. Childers' obvious love for the characters kept me going, for no true Janeite could write such a novel without coming to the relief of our beloved hero and heroine in the end. I was not disappointed. And while the journey was difficult, it was well worth the struggle.
My favorite aspect of the book is the development of Jane Bingley. Watching her sister's distressing decline riles this notoriously sedate lady's anger, which she quite rightly directs at Darcy. Austen never tests the boundaries of Jane's devotion to Elizabeth, but Ms. Childers gives her the opportunity to be indignant, even cruel when necessary, in defense of her dearest friend and companion. She shines in this role, one usually assigned to Elizabeth, as demonstraited in the following scene:
Elizabeth's fever broke less than a day later. Jane's unsolicited care and attention brought about her recovery more quickly than anyone expected. That day, Elizabeth was sitting up in her bed, taking some broth brought up to her from the kitchen. Jane had been silent at her bedside for some time, and Elizabeth decided to reassure her sister so that she might see to other things.
"Jane, you surely do not have to sit with me. I will be quite well here on my own."
Jane shook her head thoughtfully, but it was several minutes before she replied. "No, you are not well. You have not been well for some time. Even now, you are not trying to be well. All of this could have been avoided if you had kept enough sense about you to care for your own health. You have had me worried and frightened for you again and again for months."
Elizabeth was taken aback by her sister's tone. She opened her mouth to speak, but Jane held up her hand. "I do not want you to say anything, Lizzy. For all you have had to say to me for months is that you are well, and I should not worry. You have nothing of substance to say, you lie to me - if not literally, then by omission. I do not wish to hear another word from your lips until you are willing to be honest with me," Jane finished, her voice caught in a sob.
Elizabeth looked at her hands, ashamed. Jane's words mortified her, and she knew every word of it was true. She turned back to her sister, tears of regret in her eyes.
"I am very glad you are well. Perhaps you might come downstairs tomorrow," Jane said, leaving the room.
I think this is so well done. Jane's anger isn't a passionate display, of the style Elizabeth is so renowned for, due to her handling of Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine, but a well-chosen expression of long contemplated sentiments. I love seeing Jane doing what is right, even when it is against her nature, and there is nothing that could have benefited Elizabeth more at this juncture in the story than a sharp set down, seeing as a swift kick in the seat is out of the question.
What of Darcy through all this? What could have happened to lay the feisty Elizabeth Bennet so low? A scandal in his family, involving the ever intriguing elder Fitzwilliam brother, drives him away, but I will leave readers to pursue that storyline without interference. This is a wonderful book which I highly recommend to all Austen fans - particularly those who felt First Impressions too happy (which would be my own criticism of my book, were anyone to ask me). Here is a nice dose of drama, achieved without reliance on the tawdry or sexual. Twilight of the Abyss is a plunge into all the intensity of pain and happiness that love, so fickle, invokes.