Friday, September 17, 2010

Mr Darcy's Little Sister

There are so many sequels to Pride and Prejudice that I wasn’t sure where to start. Told from the points of view of Elizabeth, Mary and various Darcy relations – Mr Collins hasn’t yet had his turn in the spotlight, but I feel sure this is merely a matter of time – the sequels cover quite a spectrum.

But the story of Georgiana, Darcy’s shy younger sister, seemed intriguing and I requested an ARC of C. Allyn Pierson’s novel Mr. Darcy's Little Sister from Sourcebooks. What interested me about her in the Austen novel wasn’t her sweetness and gentleness, but the fact that she had nearly eloped with Wickham. What can I say? Heroines who make such serious mistakes are fascinating. I was wondering if there would be any repercussions of that in this book.

In a way, there are. Georgiana lacks self-confidence, partly because of that error and partly because she is sixteen and has been protected by Darcy for all her life. As a result, she’s very much the awkward adolescent in this story. But she grows up gradually – with Elizabeth’s warmth and wit guiding her – as she deals with two fortune-hunters, Lady Catherine de Burgh, and her own increasing affection for a man who seems to have only a paternal interest in her.

First, the good points. While history isn’t my forte, the background of this book is far more than wallpaper. Georgiana is chaperoned everywhere (even during a kidnapping!), is presented at court and writes charmingly polite letters to her new in-laws. Clothing styles, teas, balls… everything is described in detail and rings true.

It was also pleasant to read about familiar characters. Elizabeth and Jane have happy marriages – which is a change from sequels such as The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet – and Mr Collins provided reliable comic relief.

“I congratulate both of you again, my young cousins, on your excellent good fortune in your marriages. It will be most gratifying to me to do my part in assuring your future happiness.”

Jane and Elizabeth glanced at each other, their faces unrevealing but their eyes wide. Elizabeth found her voice and said faintly, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Collins?”

“I said I shall be delighted to perform the marriage rites for my two dear cousins.”

On the other hand, Georgiana’s romance wasn’t as appealing as it might have been. Readers who like guardian-ward relationships may be fine with this, but Georgiana’s guardian seems very much older than her – on page 236 he remarks that “My elderly bones are not accustomed to such rigors.” Add that to her extreme youth, and I found it difficult to enjoy them as a couple.

For her part, Georgiana doesn’t realize she’s attracted to him until the midpoint of the book. Then she dresses differently from her usual style and color so that he notices her. In other words, the very real problems that Elizabeth and Darcy faced in Pride and Prejudice – issues that they had to overcome over the course of a novel – aren’t present here.

Instead, Georgiana seems to have many smaller problems – how to become more poised, how to stop people from ignoring Elizabeth, how to comport herself at the wedding, etc. – and the book moved from one to the other. Unlike Elizabeth, she had no concerns such as her lack of financial prospects or an embarassing family. So while she was an unobjectionable heroine, she wasn’t the most vivid of characters either.

There’s plenty to like in the book nevertheless: Lord Byron makes an appearance, Elizabeth is finally accepted into haute society and Jane has her first child (after some nonsensical ramblings of doom from Mrs. Bennet). Plotwise, this book didn’t work for me, but it does have familiar characters and an elaborate, accurate background. Other readers may enjoy it more.


colbymarshall said...

Hm...not sure if it'd be up my alley or not.

Marian Perera said...

I think I'm burned out on P&P sequels now... just too many of them.

Maybe we could have a Much Ado About Nothing sequel? I always wanted to see more of Beatrice and Benedick.