This is a Pride & Prejudice variation which varies quite widely from the original book. Aside from the changes unfolding as you read there are a number of changes to past events which aren’t obvious at first, such as a much smaller age gap between Georgiana and Darcy, 3 years instead of 12, and the history of George Wickham is also different – there was no attempted elopement with Georgiana and Wickham never joined the militia, meaning that hasn’t been to Meryton and has never met the Bennets. Following the disastrous Hunsford proposal Darcy informed Bingley that he had been mistaken in his estimation of Jane Bennet’s feelings towards Bingley. Feeling a need to escape for a while Darcy has spent the last two years visiting his estates in Scotland and Ireland. Personal mail wasn’t forwarded at his request. Finally, Darcy feels that he is over his unrequited love for Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and he is ready to marry and produce the requisite heir for Pemberley.
‘It had taken a long time, but he was certain now of one thing – he could meet her as an indifferent and common acquaintance.’Georgiana is unaware of the reason for her brother’s prolonged absence but is thrilled that he is finally thinking of marrying. Although she and her husband have been unable to have a child of their own she wants her brother to be happy and she looks forward to lavishing love on a niece or nephew. Georgiana has a candidate for a bride too, her husbands’ step-brothers’ widow, a Mrs Preston. She is plain, but aside from that Georgina feels that she might fit Darcy’s personality quite well. Having given up on love Darcy is amenable to considering a marriage with Mrs Preston, who he feels will not expect him to love her.
Meanwhile Bingley is at the end of his tether; though happily married to the former Miss Jane Bennet he is extremely worried about Elizabeth. After Elizabeth’s return from Kent a Count, Stefano, came to Hertfordshire and became besotted with Elizabeth, who showed no interest in him. The Count proposed marriage to Elizabeth but was refused consent by Mr Bennet. Following Mr Bennet’s death soon afterwards, the Count renewed his addresses to Elizabeth, receiving far more encouragement from Mrs Bennet. Then one night Elizabeth disappeared and suddenly Mrs Bennet was in possession of a large sum of money, having sold her daughter’s hand in marriage. News was next heard of Elizabeth having married the Count, presumably against her will. The next contact relating to Elizabeth was via a servant, who informed the Bingleys that Elizabeth had been involved in a violent altercation with her husband in which she witnessed her husband killing her maid, and had herself been grazed by a bullet. Her husband had then set the house on fire. The servants had hidden Elizabeth and put out word that she was dead. A grave in Meryton holds the body of a servant who perished in the fire and the secret of Elizabeth’s survival has been carefully kept from all but a handful of people.
Lizzy is by no means unscathed by her experience. She’s had a breakdown of sorts and barely communicates. If she sees a man she often panics and the need to limit the people in Meryton who know she’s alive means that Elizabeth is cared for by Jane and one servant. She has escaped from the house on more than one occasion and it is purely by good luck that she hasn’t already been discovered. Bingley is praying that his good friend Darcy will assist them with their need to get Lizzy away from Meryton and be assured that she will be cared for by somebody who loves her and will be able to keep her existence a secret. This is obviously asking a huge amount of Darcy – firstly, it is asking him to take on the care of somebody who rejected his offer of marriage and broke his heart, which will be hard enough, but Bingley is also asking Darcy to sacrifice his future. Should Lizzy recover she is married to a dangerous madman so she wouldn’t be free to marry Darcy and the likelihood of Darcy marrying somebody else willing to put up with the care of her husband’s first love seems slim. Darcy sees all the disadvantages of him taking on Elizabeth’s care but once Darcy sees Elizabeth and realises that he is one of the very few people she responds positively to it becomes a very difficult task to walk away from the only woman he’s ever loved in her hour of need.
‘If he took Elizabeth to Pemberley, he would be giving up the prospect of a future with another woman, and there would be no future with Elizabeth as his wife, as she was already married.
Could I settle for another woman, knowing that Elizabeth is alive? Can I live with the prospect of caring for her a lifetime without being able to marry her?’
Will Darcy succumb to the pressure of his responsibilities to marry and provide an heir for Pemberley? Will Lizzy ever recover? Is there any chance of a happy ever after for our poor couple!?
I thought this was a really inventive and unusual premise. Some elements reminded me of a story by Victorian author Wilkie Collins, called ‘The Woman in White’ which features a villainous Italian Count, sees a character presumed dead and touches on mental illness. It’s certainly very sad to read of the circumstances that Lizzy has found herself forced into due to her mother’s avarice. In some variations Mrs Bennet is shown to be pettily spiteful to Elizabeth but her behaviour here transcends the petty, it’s genuinely evil!
I wasn’t sure about the behaviour of some of the characters, Caroline Bingley in particular does something that I can’t see her doing, as any shame on the Bennets is also shame on her, via her brother’s family connection. Also, many of the characters are quite demonstrative, which surprised me a tad. For those who prefer to avoid them there are some sex scenes although they are not especially graphic.
There are some strong gothic elements in this story – madness, violence, villains, peril and high drama. The characters tend to be either good or entirely bad and every female who Darcy meets in society is abhorrent, they are either trying to catch his hand in marriage or secure him as a lover. This is certainly a gripping story, not the type of thing you pick up if you have 10 minutes here and there to fill, you need a good stint of reading time because I needed to know what happened next to the characters but was almost afraid to read on and find out! There is no need to worry too much as eventually no bad deed goes unpunished, rapturous happiness awaits the deserving and best of all, we see a victim become a victor. I would recommend this as an extremely romantic, extremely entertaining read but not for the Austen purist, as I felt this story had a more gothic romance feel than Austen feel to it.
*I received a copy of this book from the author for my honest review
Edited to add: Brenda has very kindly offered a giveaway of this book, to three lucky commenters. Please see giveaway post for details!