I have finally finished reading Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy. I promised that I would post something here when I finished, so here are some thoughts.
NOTE: I’ve made an effort to minimize the number of spoilers but this IS a review (of sorts); there are bound to be a few extremely mild spoilers.
Overall, the trilogy was an enjoyable read. Aidan carefully crafts Darcy’s character development over the course of the three books to provide a plausible explanation for the change in Darcy’s attitude towards Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s words powerfully affect Darcy (as can be assumed from Austen’s novel) and Aidan paints this out for us. But Aidan is a realist. Elizabeth may be the perfect partner in every other way, but society expects the heir of a large, successful estate to marry a woman of substantial birth and inheritance. Darcy is painfully aware of this duty and, in an attempt to forget Elizabeth, sets out to find a suitable wife. His experiences teach him much about himself and, through this self-discovery, what sort of woman he wishes to marry. He seems to think his soul-searching journey is over once he decides to propose to Elizabeth but, when she refuses and upbraids him for his pride and arrogance, Darcy embarks on yet another journey of personal growth. This development is not as convincing. In fact, Darcy’s tone borders on melodramatic when he begins to privately thank Elizabeth for this wake-up call of sorts and vows to become a better man.
I really enjoyed two of Aidan’s original characters: Fletcher, Darcy’s man, and Lord Dyfed Brougham (Dy). Fletcher is exceedingly good at his job because he is so in tune with his master. Fletcher often pipes in with quotes from the Bard, which reveal keen insight into a predicament Darcy faces. Fletcher is intuitive, witty and has damned good fashion sense. Everyone needs a friend like him (although I’d pass on the daily shaving and dressing service). Dy is a former schoolmate of Darcy’s, the only pupil who ever provided any sense of competition for Darcy. When Darcy meets up with Dy in the second book, his old school friend appears to be a carefree, fun-loving, clown. Dy soon reveals an intelligent, quieter side to Darcy. In the third book, Darcy learns that Dy is much more than he seems. And, although Dy’s secret seems to be more of a handy device to move the plot along, he is still one of the most intriguing characters in the book.
Aidan’s most prominent original female character is Lady Sylvanie Trenholme, a woman who is is half Irish, half English and raised chiefly in Ireland. She is portrayed as being charming, seductive, manipulative and vengeful. Darcy narrowly misses being caught up in her schemes romantically, financially and politically. As a woman and, in particular, an Irishwoman, she is strong but destructive (Yeats would have loved this ‘great and terribly beauty’!). I’m still not sure what to make of Sylvanie, although I do approve of Aidan’s treatment of one of Austen’s minor female characters, that of Darcy’s cousin Anne (whom Lady Catherine seems to think Darcy will soon marry). Anne has a secret which makes her a hell of a lot more interesting. I suspect Aidan felt a bit bad for Anne, who was little more than a caricature of a pathetic, lame creature in Austen’s work.
Georgiana also has a secret that Darcy feels that he must keep quiet in order to protect her from society’s scorn. Georgiana is religious- the wrong sort of religious, according to Lady Catherine. Darcy worries and frets over his ‘sweetling.’ Dy tells Darcy that he needs to begin seeing Georgiana as the young woman she is becoming but I didn’t detect anything remarkable in Georgiana’s growth as a character over the course of the books. She is well read and plays the piano beautifully, as would be expected of any properly educated girl of her station, but she is still shy and timid around those unfamiliar to her. To me, her character remained pretty static. Her past with Wickham haunts and shames her and, in spite of her sudden interest in religion and charity work, I don’t see her becoming a stronger character. Perhaps her brother is to blame. He goes to great lengths to protect her in his overbearing yet, somehow, endearing way. Georgiana, in spite of being less naive than she once was, is still incredibly sheltered. I wonder how she will react to her debut and upcoming season in London? Nonetheless, the final novel closes with some hope for Georgiana (although it’d have to wait for a future novel), in the form of every Regency girl’s dream: marriage. Allow me to restate: Dy notices Georgiana becoming a young woman. Darcy! Dude, quit sulking in that corner. Your best friend just checked out your little sister. Lucky Georgie.
Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy has plenty of the good stuff: romance, secrets, intrigue, compromised virtues and a touch of the gothic (think Austen’s Northanger Abbey or Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent). Aidan’s research of the period is admirable. I enjoyed looking up the numerous cultural references I didn’t recognize. Top that off with a killer fencing scene between Darcy and Dy and you have a recipe for a smashing good time. If Aidan set out to mimic Austen’s writing style, or that of the Regency period, I didn’t notice. Her prose and dialogue felt natural. There were certain points in the third novel that were slow-moving, but not painfully so. I would recommend the trilogy of books with one caveat: there is only one Jane Austen. Get over it. Embrace Aidan’s vision and enjoy the ride.