Monday, March 7, 2011

Mr. Darcy's Secret by Jane Odiwe

Jane Odiwe, both writer and painter, is an extraordinarily talents lady. He newest book, Mr. Darcy's Secret, treats the reader to not only an apt display of her literary ability, but also of the aesthetic vision she draws upon in her paintings. As I read the novel, I experienced the same kind of wanderlust I am overcome by when I look at the pictures from her travels on her blog,, as she paints the scenery of Derbyshire and the Lake District in beautifully descriptive language. Indeed, the entire book is like a portrait of the Darcy's after their marriage - a glimpse into the joys and challenges they are likely to experience as they get to know each other and learn to communicate as husband and wife. Like all great paintings, it is not a perfectly pristine image, but one that challenges the mind and questions our assumptions.

I do not want to reveal any spoilers and so will have to tiptoe around the issue of just what Mr. Darcy's secret is, but what I will say is that its existence, and eventual revelation, pose just the kind of conflict to the newlywed couple that all romances must address: how much of your partner's past is it fair to inquire into, and how much can each individual safely share with the other. It is a strange reference, but I am reminded of a Tom Waits lyric: "I tell you all my secrets but I lie about my past." In my own marriage, I have found that complete honesty is the best foundation, and it is gratifying to see that when a similar policy is finally adopted by the Darcys, it has the effect of liberating both from long harbored burdens while strengthening their bond. I realize this seems rather intuitive to modern readers, we must remember that during the Regency it was the norm for men to lead lives that genteel women were almost entirely sheltered from, and the notion that a wife would intrude upon her husband's past (and present) associations was rather revolutionary.

The other plot line in the novel focuses on Georgiana and her quest for love. It comes as a shock to Elizabeth to discover that Darcy would like to arrange the kind of marriage of convenience he himself rejected for his little sister, and while she struggles to understand the protective instincts that drive him, Georgiana undergoes an internal battle, not unlike the one her brother overcomes in Pride and Prejudice, between fulfilling her perceived familial obligations and following her heart. Much of the book is written from Georgiana's perspective, and it is here that Ms. Odiwe finds the means of projecting her own artistic sensibilities through her characters. While Georgiana is usually presented as a master musician, we know, thanks to Miss Bingley's praise of her accomplishments, that she excels in many areas, so imagining her as a devoted artist is an easy leap for the reader to make. It is her love of art that draws her towards her romantic interest, a Mr. Thomas Butler, and it is through their attuned eyes that we see Ms. Odiwe's talent for capturing imagery, as in this scene:
Georgiana took the route along the lakeside, not the quickest, but the most beautiful. Everyday there was something new to see in the ever changing scene, whether it was of wildlife frequenting the water or the effects caused by weather transforming the mere into one of ethereal fantasy as the light and mists descended to play upon the surface. This morning, swathes of white vapour draped like bridal veils across the water rose in filmy clouds up to the blue heavens, transforming all she could see into shades of lilac and cerulean so that the fells and the water met one another in mutual harmony. She must remember to describe the scene to Tom, she thought, and could not resist pulling out her pocket sketchbook she had made for such a purpose. The sun was breaking through the clouds, fanning sunbeam fingers restlessly, caressing the surface of the mere like a pianist scaling up and down the keys. Everywhere was silence and for a moment Georgiana felt as if she were the only person in the world, and so small did she feel against the majesty of the mountains that made such a stunning backdrop, as well as the surrounding beauty of the landscape, that she was filled with a sense of the divine. Her pencil made rapid strokes. It was no good, she decided. It was impossible to do justice without using colour and she vowed to return later with her paints and brushes.
Interestingly, while engaging in such visual language, Ms. Odiwe mocks the literary pretensions of several characters, as Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley become devotees to the contemporary vogue for romantic poetic expression. Both these ladies journey to the Lakes to be inspired by the sublime, leading to several amusing moments in the text. The Wickhams too find themselves in the region, and all these disagreeables act precisely in the manner we expect, adding to the drama of the story. I think Ms. Odiwe particularly succeeds in developing Miss Bingley, who for a time almost becomes sympathetic, but just when I was prepared to feel sorry for her a burst of characteristic spite returns her back to her proper place in my estimation. It would have been very interesting if Ms. Odiwe fully developed the storyline surrounding Miss Bingley, even perhaps redeeming this despised lady in the manner of her previous novels, Lydia Bennet's Story and Willoughby's Return. Despite my enjoyment of this newest book, I prefer these previous efforts and hope that Ms. Odiwe will write more stories of the sort in the future, as they are amongst my very favorite of the many Austen sequels I have read.

I want to leave you with this wonderful image Ms. Odiwe painted, based upon Cassandra Austen's famous picture of Jane from behind. I love the notion of Austen turning around to give us that endlessly craved glimpse of her face, as it reminds me of the very purpose of reading and writing Austenesque literature. Jane gave us the framework within which to let our imaginations run wild, and we, her devoted fans, simple adore filling in the blacks and elaborating upon the clues provided. This is what Ms. Odiwe has accomplished so well in both this picture and in Mr. Darcy's Secret: extending and celebrating our delight in all things Austen.   


  1. Jane is a wonderful author and artist, and a really nice person! Can't wait to read this book!

  2. Hi Jessica. I couldn't agree more. Enjoy the book!

  3. Thank you, Alexa, for this wonderful review. You always understand so completely what I am trying to achieve with each book, and I am so grateful and pleased that you do.

  4. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one, Alexa. And I especially enjoyed your comparison of art and literature. How perceptive!

  5. Hi Jane. My pleasure entirely! I am highly flattered that you feel I understand your authorial motives. Thanks for writing such wonderful books!

    Hi Meredith. Thanks! As I read the book, I felt like I was seeing scenic vignettes everywhere, and so the review had little choice but to reflect that experience.

  6. Alexa -

    Never thought I'd see a Tom Waits reference in a Austen blog. So cool. I just adore his music. This sounds like another great book from Jane Odiwe - I'm looking forward to reading it!
    BTW - I really enjoyed Henry and Maria. I thought it was a very interesting take on Mansfield Park - something that hadn't occurred to me at all.


  7. Hi Jj. To be honest, I never thought I'd make a reference to Tom Waits on this blog (I love him too!), but I continue to be surprise by where Austen takes my head.

    Thanks for your kind words about Henry and Maria. I was just picturing what their motivations might have been, a question which has long bothered me, and that served as my inspiration. Great to hear from you!

  8. Wonderful review, can't wait to read it!

  9. Thanks Felicia! I'm sure you will enjoy it!