Book Review: Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma

I am no lover of sequels. I just shut down really, when, in anticipation of a beloved author’s continued words on a character or plot or unfolding event, I run smack into a wall of some stranger’s thoughts.  I want JANE AUSTEN’s words, I want new works from her, something more to read, to savor, not a return to or a rehashing of any of the nearly perfect worlds of her six novels.  Those are complete to me, and I want them left alone, I want to protect her characters from someone else’s mutterings.  So I confess to not reading any of the many sequels and much prefer to just re-read Austen, who says most everything better than anyone. [After writing this, I was looking at Joan Klingel Ray’s Jane Austen for Dummies and find her words on pg 297, almost mine exactly…”  I have to admit that when I need more Jane Austen, I just reread Jane Austen….I am not a fan of sequels…and I would never attempt to convince [others] not to read the sequels…but I am content to let Austen’s characters’ lives end with her novels…” (p297)  So I am in good company I think!  ]…                       

The one book that cries for a sequel is, of course, Gone With the Wind – what young woman or gentleman does not want to see Scarlett’s “tomorrow”??- when surely Rhett Butler must reappear in her life, that his not “giving a damn” lasted a mere 24 hours.  But NO, I say, please leave it alone, let each reader take the story to other places if they must, but please, no words in publisher’s cloth to deny each of us this pleasure.

So you see, I am tough on sequels.  I have read two of Stephanie Barron’s Jane as solver of mysteries and find them entertaining, have several more on my TBR piles…. and a recent gift of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict had me on the road to a fast run through it, followed immediately by Austenland by Shannon Hale, and thenThe Man Who Loved Jane Austen (Sally Smith O’Rourke)…all in great fun and not really sequels.  The Mr. Darcys and the Elizabeths who show up here are original characters and one can find much amusement in the time travel concept.  I mostly feel a tad jealous that I didn’t think to write one of these myself!

The first real sequel to Jane Austen was by Sylvia Brinton, Old Friends, New Fancies: an imaginary sequel to the novels of Jane Austen, originally written in 1913, but recently republished by Sourcebooks.  This is on my TBR pile and my initial perusal had me up against all my sequel prejudices…this confection has almost ALL the characters from ALL the books ALL meeting up with each other in various couplings.  Yikes!…not sure I can handle that!

But I have tried to put all these prejudices aside after reading about Diana Birchall’s Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma on the Austen-L listserv.  I was indeed happy to find it on the shelves of my local Barnes & Noble! [Birchall’s book has some interesting publishing history:  released several years ago, but apparently only available in Australia, it has now been published by Sourcebooks for us to finally enjoy]  So between the Austen-L comments and Ellen Moody’s fine review on her blog, I was more than ready to give this sequel a chance…

Set 25 years after Pride & Prejudice, it tells the tale of the Darcy’s three children- Fitzwilliam the Rake, Henry the nearly perfect son (and so appropriately named HENRY…shades of Mr. Tilney are everywhere!), and lovely daughter Jane- and the changes wrought by the arrival of the Wickham’s two older daughters, Bettina and Chloe.  We see all those who peopled the pages of P&P, and all with their idiosyncrasies much exaggerated by the passage of 25 years:  Elizabeth and Darcy as loving as ever; Jane and Mr. Bingley the gentle milquetoasts (and with their one child Jeremy, who follows in the footsteps of his cousin Fitz, a.k.a. the Rake); the Collinses- the Mr. as priggish and sermonizing and Charlotte gone quite sour, and their MANY children; Lydia as we would expect, the wife of a drunkard, too like her mother, awfully crude, and one feels embarrassed each time she appears on the page; Miss Bingley (now Mrs. Babcock), outrageously outspoken and still jealous of Lizzy’s “fine eyes” these many years; Mary and Kitty, so little changed [though Ellen Moody’s linking of Kitty, the most undefined character in P&P, to Mansfield Park‘s Mrs. Norris is perfectly played!]; Georgiana, now Lady Neville, also with many children, and of course Lady Catherine is still about doing her best to command everyone…etc., etc.

Perhaps it is the distance of years, and enough new characters of interest, and the many references to the external world of the early Victorian age, and Birchall’s wonderful use of language, and that despite a fairly basic and predictable plot, it kept this reader intrigued… I found it really a pure delight!  (None of us are strangers to Ms. Birchall’s original wit in her other novels and blog posts… certainly her channeling of Mrs. Elton is quite funny and original!] 

And likewise in Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, who can resist a chuckle in seeing:

“Mr. and Mrs. Collins [withdrawing] to the [Darcy’s] drawing room to enjoy a thorough contemplation of its ornaments and the family morals”! (p89),

or Henry’s description of his cousin Bettina as “Miss Wickham, in her ringlets, and bare shoulders, and drooping leg-of-mutton sleeves, and lace mitts, was a fan-fluttering coquette in full-flourishing sail” (p151)…

or the long-lived Mr. Bennett on his deathbed saying to Lizzy “I confess that I have been in terror of joining your mother, and hence I have kept off the eventuality as far as was possible, but I think I have reached some sort of peace and can accept anything now…” (p160).

and the Collins’ “admirable promptness in taking up their new residence” [at Longbourne immediately after Mr. Bennett’s death] (p161).

and Mary, ever the same, in vehemently exclaiming upon hearing of Mr. Darcy’s books being scattered all over the house “any disorder in books is what always should be prevented” (p163), and her rearranging all the works of Hannah More so “everyone may consult them…her wisdom ought to be imbibed every day.” (p188).

So many more, but to share would spoil the story.  Do read Mr. Moody’s post on the book…her take on “Birchall’s perspective and details that often recall characters and incidents of not only P&P, but also Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Emma and Sense & Sensibility, as well as Austen’s own life” is quite insightful.

So will this lead me to other sequels?  I am not sure… so may books and so little time- and I still prefer time spent with true Austen.  But like the great sweet escape of a well-written literary mystery, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemmawas a most welcome find, and I do feel the need to be somewhat prepared for the JASNA AGM in Chicago in October, 4 days filled with the joy of sequels!  [and I do confess to being more than half-way through Brinton’s Old Friends, New Fancies…. and I do believe I am hooked, so perhaps to paraphrase Catherine Morland “I have just learned to love a sequel!”


Resources on Sequels:

And the list goes on…more to come, but this is all for tonight!

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma

  1. Pingback: Online Reviews » Blog Archive » Review: Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma

  2. Hi Janeite Deb, wow, what a great post. So informative and so many resources. Thank you for all of your excellent research and links; and for the great review of one of my favorite Jane Austen sequels, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma. I will borrow a comment made by another reviewer and say that in Ms. Birchall, Jane Austen is alive and well and lives in So. California! Her use of language is so complementary to Miss Austen’s that one is delighted to discover a new friend.

    Keep up the great work. Cheers, Laurel Ann


  3. In vain have I struggled. It will not do. I must and shall break through the barrier that is decently maintained between author and reviewer, however much of an impropriety it may be. For your review had a similar effect on me as Captain Wentworth’s letter did on Anne Elliot: “Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from…It was an overpowering happiness.” Jane Austen might not have approved of my communicating with you directly – you observe that she did not write to Walter Scott, or any of the other Joves that nodded at her. However, we also know that she collected the opinions of her friends and readers with as much glee, amusement and assiduity as I collect the cybernetic kisses and arrows that are bestowed upon me, and she would certainly understand the motive (whatever she would think of my hijacking her characters; but that is another matter).

    You almost make me wonder, with your more than kind appreciation, if you are some Friend of mine masquerading under another name – can you be Ellen Moody herself, transplanted to Vermont and writing in a very different style? But I think not. I believe you are, as Mr. Bennet said about Mr. Collins, “a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life,” which makes your praise even more wonderful. Elizabeth cried, “I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” which is an extremely apt description of one’s natural reaction to most reviews (don’t you think Miss Bingley might have found her calling as a reviewer for one of the snarkier blogs?); but your kind appreciation of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma has rendered me like Edmund Bertram on being assured of Fanny’s affections: “It was a delightful happiness.” I am sporting such a profound blush that I could almost say, like Emma, “I deserve to be under a continual blush all the rest of my life.”

    As Emma well knew, it is not a happy circumstance for a woman of my age to be both poor and unappreciated, and Pewter has been showered upon me less than I think my portion should be (a common failing among Austen’s characters: witness the young Musgroves, who were “always perfectly agreed in the want of more money”); but I am very happy in having had enough of praise to allow me to flatter myself that my work is liked by those I am pleased to call the Cognoscenti. Certainly you make me want to fly to Vermont forthwith, and climb the White Mountains, and get to know the Wild Women, and shout in praise of Mrs. Elton to the very rafters of Bygone Books!

    In short, as Elizabeth said, “Thank you, again and again, in the name of all my family.”

    Diana Birchall


  4. This is to thank you for the kind compliment and for linking my blog into yours. It is also (natch) to agree with you and say I too found Diana’s remark about Mary Bennet very funny. (Great minds think alike?)

    This is a lovely blog page. The tone is to my mind just right. I’ve now read some of the entries and have bookmarked it on my own blogsite.



  5. Pingback: Diana Birchall: Mrs Darcy’s Dilemma « Vulpes Libris

  6. Pingback: Another view…The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen « Jane Austen in Vermont

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