Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is an addiction of mine. Like chauceriangirl with her epic love for Chaucer, I will read any permutation/mash-up even remotely related to Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. Sometimes, the results are brilliant, such as Pamela Aiden’s three volume retelling, in which Mr. Darcy’s character development is given a unique perspective completely in line with with the historical events and social mores of the time. Other attempts are dreadful, such as Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, which turns the property into erotic soap operatic nonsense. Most of them, Regina Jeffers’ Darcy’s Passions included, fall into the third category: kinda good with some problems.
Mr. Darcy in Jeffers’ version makes a rather lovely journey from his arrogant, prideful beginnings to the more gentlemen-like man Elizabeth Bennett falls in love in with. Several characters are fleshed out, most particularly that of Georgiana Darcy, who is beautifully sketched as a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. She is at once naive and decisive, and her relationship with her much adored older brother is exquisitely drawn. Darcy’s character transitions are delineated by his changing relationship not just with Miss Elizabeth, but with all those he interacts with. He is continually learning and growing, and though he occasionally falls back into old habits and patterns, he learns to recognize and rectify his behavior before it can get out of hand. Though certainly no Jane Austen, Jeffers, for the most part, does a nice job of retelling one of literature’s great love stories.
The trouble lies in the last third of the book. Not content to leave off at Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage, Jeffers continues the story another eight months through the conception of the Darcys’ first child, the engagement of Col. Fitzwilliam to Anne de Bourgh, and the introductions of Georgiana and Kitty respectively to the gentlemen they may eventually marry. Part of the strength of the first two-thirds of the novel is that Jeffers had Austen’s general plot and dialogue to fall back on. It gave depth and believability to Darcy’s version of events. This was lacking in the latter part of the book, to Jeffers’ detriment. In addition to speaking words that did not feel true, she had her characters using modern colloquialisms, such as when Elizabeth claimed that she “totally forgot” something. It kicked me forcefully out of the story and I was never quite able to buy back into it. It also seemed that Jeffers couldn’t figure out what Darcy and Elizabeth might talk about in private. Most of the conversations were some variation of the proposal scene in the original version. In one section, she had them quoting word for word, a mash-up of Beatrice’s and Benedict’s best lines from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Considering how drastically Shakespeare’s couple differs from Austen’s, it just didn’t work. After the third go-around on the same exact topic of conversation, I began losing my patience. Finally, Jeffers was unable to resist the temptation to up the melodrama by creating a situation in which one character almost loses his/her life, prompting the other character to realize how wrong he/she was about an earlier argument. It was just silly and felt like something one would find on fanfiction.net.
One could successfully argue that all of these permutations are fan-fiction, but I expect higher quality from the published kind. Jeffers might have been better off condensing the last third of the book into an epilogue. If you are a dedicated fan of Pride and Prejudice and you love to read every version out there, then by all means avail yourself of Darcy’s Passions. It is a truly enjoyable read up to Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s engagement. If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice yet, then skip this and go for the original – superior – version.