It is always the completely unforeseen events that lead to the most unexpected consequences, and such is the case in this variation on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. One of the crucial points in Austen’s novel is Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s fiery and passionate refusal and denunciation of the equally passionate but infinitely more repressed Fitzwilliam Darcy. What might eventuate if the robustly healthy Elizabeth falls prey to illness for almost the first time in her life just when Darcy comes to call? Bemused by her illness, she hardly comprehends what Darcy is asking, and her simple nod of acknowledgment is misinterpreted as acceptance of his suit by a joyous Darcy. By the time Elizabeth regains her health, it seems that every one of her acquaintance and many outside of it accept that she has become engaged to the last man in the world she would ever have considered marrying. Can she openly demand her engagement to the amorous but prideful Darcy be broken, a course fraught with hazards in the social milieu of Regency England? In a maelstrom of confusion, choices have to be made and disclosures closely considered. Elizabeth knows that nothing in her life will ever be the same, and the consequences will likely spread further than she can imagine.
While C.P. Odom has written other Austenesque novels, Pride, Prejudice & Secrets is the first I’ve read of him. Like many Pride and Prejudice diversions, he ponders what might have occurred if Elizabeth Bennet had actually accepted Fitzwilliam Darcy’s first proposal.
I wondered how Odom would pull this feat off, from a literary standpoint. What could possibly prevail upon Lizzie to accept such a condescending proposal, as his original one was? Fortunately, when Odom begins his diversion of the plot, he find a reasonable way to enable Darcy to be accepted by Elizabeth. From there, he continues the tale, not necessarily staying true to the original Austen narrative, but certainly remaining faithful to the characters tendencies and personalities. His love for Austen’s world is very evident, as I could see each individual reacting and proceeding as they did, given the new variables in play.
I was also initially impressed with Odom’s presentation of Darcy’s internal dialogue as he pondered asking Elizabeth to be his wife. In the original text he does give some explanation to his motivations, but his choice of words is poor, and Elizabeth rightly rejects his demeaning offer. In Pride, Prejudice & Secrets, we are given a view into his mind, and what brought him to the point of knowing that he was in love with her, could not live without her, and was prepared to endure difficult consequences to be her husband. Darcy’s mindset is still a bit elitist in this exploration of his feelings, but these contemplations actually humanized him in a way that had me rooting for him more than I have in the past. It’s evident that at his core, he has pure feelings for her, appreciates her for whom she is, and genuinely wants to have a marriage that is not of convenience, but of mutual affection.
Also somewhat distinct from the source material, we are privy to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s overwrought reaction to Darcy’s engagement in a way not seen before. Upon her initial discovery of this alliance, she offers her bitter response not to Elizabeth, but to her nephew. Their confrontation of each other’s polar opposite priorities is explosive, and if I might say, quite delicious! The way Darcy handles his aunt is truly epic. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for such a row!
I am still working my way through the novel, so I will continue to update this post as I complete my reading. However, my foremost impression of C.P. Odom’s work is extremely positive, and I wanted to convey these initial thoughts as a part of the Leatherbound Reviews blog tour. Odom's manner of writing is quite entertaining, and I look forward to seeing how things will develop with his version of Austen’s characters. And as they become available, I will also amend the post to include links to locations online where Pride, Prejudice & Secrets might be purchased. From what I’ve seen so far, I hope this title becomes a bestseller in the Austenesque fiction community.
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