Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Young Master Darcy: A Lesson in Honour by Pamela Aidan

As soon as I learned that Pamela Aidan had written a prequel to Pride and Prejudice, based upon her acclaimed Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series, I instantly ordered a copy, and it has completely fulfilled my expectations. This novella takes place long before Elizabeth Bennet, the town of Meryton, or even Charles Bingley have entered into Darcy's life, in a time where both his parents are still alive. Young Master Darcy is thirteen years old and home from his first term at Eton for the Christmas holiday. The lessons he has learned at school have already begun to change him, but those bestowed upon him at home will forever change his life, determining the man he will become, for better and for worse.

The first blow to fall upon Darcy upon reaching the family townhouse in London is that his mother is ill and will die. The events that follow are all a result of his attempt to cope with and assimilate this information, as well as the family's struggle, with the assistance of the Fitzwilliams, to insure that Mrs. Darcy will enjoy a happy final Christmas at Pemberley. The story is both touching and funny, making me laugh and cry in turn. In an attempt to escape the oppression of the house, Darcy masquerades as a Lampton lad, joining in a group of young people who are preparing to put on a mummers entertainment for Christmas Eve. He knows his parents would not approve, and it is the fall out of this episode that leads to his "lesson in honour". Simultaneously, Lady Anne Darcy is trying to instill in her young son's head all the wisdom she had hoped to teach him as he grew up. Though she acts with the best of intentions, she achieves results that readers of Pride and Prejudice will instantly recognize as disastrous, especially when reinforced by the mummers episode. Take this scene: 
"Your choice of wife will be the most important decision you ever make, Fitzwilliam,"his mother continued. "It will, in large part, determine your own happiness and the success of Pemberley in the future. It is a decision you must not take lightly. It is a decision you must prepare for even now as a schoolboy at Eton." Lady Anne considered him for a moment before continuing.

"I know that marriage must seem a very dull topic to young man contemplating driving a team of horses, but I fear I may not have another opportunity before you are off again to school. I promise to keep my advice concise so that we may proceed to other subjects. Agreed?"

"Agreed, Mama," Darcy answered.

"Well, now, some requirements for your choice of wife. She must come from a good family, Fitzwilliam, the best family. This you must do for the honour and dignity of Pemberley." Lady Anne took a sip of tea.

"Secondly, she must be your social equal with manners that  reflect well upon you in every situation - in Town or in the country. You must do this for your own sake. Your wife's manners - her speech, deportment, behavior - cannot be an embarrassment to you, Fitzwilliam, or you will never respect her or know peace. Do you understand me?"

"I believe so, Mama. But..." Darcy spread his hands hopelessly. "I know nothing of girls. How am I to choose?"

His mother laughed again. "You mustn't worry about that now. It will happen in good time. You will meet many girls in the years to come, Fitzwilliam. You will learn how they think and act, what attracts you and what does nt. I dare say you will have many admirers since you arerich and grow more handsome by the day." Darcy blushed at his mother's enthusiasm.

"That is the danger, Fitzwilliam, for there will be many young ladies who will wish to become mistress of Pemberley." She leaned towards him and held out her hand. He took it, soft and light, in his. "I know you will be guided by your Father in this when the time is appropriate, but, for your happiness, choose a woman who is your equal in taste and feeling, a woman who respects and honours you and for whom you feel the same. If you remember and act on this advice, Fitzwilliam, you will be well and content."
Perhaps, if his father had lived to advise him, as his mother assumes, Darcy would have had the sanction he required to make an exception to this rule in the case of Elizabeth Bennet, but as that is not the case, we know too well the detrimental affects of such lessons. In Young Master Darcy, we witness a playful, fun loving boy, ready to interact with his social inferiors on a level of equality, being replaced by the aloof and proud man Austen created. It is not until he meets Elizabeth that this long buried aspect of his personality is allowed to reemerge. Ms. Aidan does an excellent job accounting for the defects we find in Darcy upon our first introduction to the man, and for how such a creature can transform into the hero that we so all adore. The novella is excellent. Readers of her trilogy will relish the introduction of original characters such as family retainers and the Matlocks, while those unfamiliar with Ms. Aidan's previous novels will find her portrayals of the young Wickham and Fitzwilliam uncanny. I highly recommend this book to all. 


  1. Wonderful review--really whetted my appetite for the book, which I hope to read soon. I really like the notion of Darcy's later arrogance and disdain being born out of a desire to please his mother and a promise she extracted from him.

  2. Hi Jane! I'm sure you'll love it. The book is extremely thoughtfully composed.