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Last year, on the Austen Variations website, a serial story was posted, with the authors taking turns in posting chapters. At the end of the chapter there was a poll which gave the readers a choice in the direction of the story. This must have been such a challenge for the authors involved, picking up the threads of the story where somebody else has left it, and having to follow the readers’ choice of direction rather than the writer’s own muse. I read most of the challenge as it was being posted and was therefore really interested to see this published version of ‘The Darcy Brothers’ by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds.
This is a variation on ‘Pride & Prejudice’ where the variation is a change to Darcy’s family. Here, he has a brother two years younger than himself, Mr Theophilus Darcy. The Darcy brothers unfortunately do not have the closest of brotherly bonds, and Theo has become Darcy’s scapegoat for a number of events including Georgiana’s failed elopement with Wickham, as Theo accompanied her to Ramsgate and was very close to Wickham. Darcy is paying his annual visit to Lady Catherine and has decided to take his brother with him, to keep him out of trouble. Darcy and Theo have a very unhealthy relationship at the start of this story. Theo craves his brother’s approval, but also derives great enjoyment from needling and annoying him, and a perverse pleasure in proving all his brother’s worst suspicions correct. At the beginning of the book I really didn’t like the side in each other that the brothers provoked (because anybody with siblings will know that they can bring out the absolute worst in you!); Darcy was more humourless, intolerant and unpleasant than I am used to, and Theo, while being amenable to others, was quite childish in his provoking manner. I found his childishness towards Lady Catherine much more amusing though:
‘Dipping a quill in ink, he began a sketch of his aunt with fangs and bat wings, then neatly labelled it ‘The Old Bat’.’
Theo has very keen powers of observation and is quite sure that something is wrong with his brother, who has, unbeknown to Theo, travelled to Kent under the spectre of dread that Caroline Bingley has put into his head that Elizabeth may have married Mr Collins. Being a person with an enquiring mind, and having nothing else to do in the country, Theo has decided to try and puzzle out what is preying on his brother’s mind:
‘A plan began to take shape in his head. True, it would mean undertaking several of his least favourite things – awakening early in the morning, attempting to be polite to his aunt and avoiding annoying his brother – but sometimes sacrifices must be made.’
Once Theo is on the case, it doesn’t take long for him to come to some quite accurate conclusions regarding his brother’s feelings, but unfortunately Darcy isn’t blessed with the same level of success in determining people’s feelings and he isn’t sure if Theo also has feelings of admiration towards Elizabeth. Elizabeth has even less reason to think well of Darcy in this variation, as she sees him add mistreatment of his brother to his list of crimes, not realising that Theo is extremely provoking to his sibling. With so much pushing them apart, is there a way towards happiness for Darcy and Elizabeth? And can the Darcy brothers ever bridge the gap between them and be brothers in more than name?
I thought this was an interesting idea for a variation because on the face of it, Darcy having a brother shouldn’t make much difference to his relationship with Elizabeth unless he directly interferes, but of course, having a different family dynamic would make Darcy a different person, and he is a sorely-tried man with a brother like Theo. The root cause of this isn’t Theo’s fault, he has been blamed unfairly by Darcy for a number of events, but he has perversely exacerbated the problem as much as possible, because, like his brother, he is a proud man, and will not admit that he wants his brother’s respect and love so their relationship has evolved into a bit of a vicious circle.
While at Rosings we see a very different side to Anne de Bourgh. I really enjoyed Anne’s character, and have never seen one quite like it in my Austenesque reading. Having been so secluded from society, Anne hasn’t learned the boundaries required for polite society, and is extremely outspoken and headstrong (I wonder where she gets that from?!), which I found very entertaining. She also wants to ‘help’ Darcy’s courtship of Miss Bennet, for her own reasons. I also liked the new character of Theo’s good friend, the genial man-mountain Sir Montgomery Preston.
Through the trials and tribulations they face, we see the Darcy brothers draw closer together and overcome the obstacles to true brotherhood that they’ve placed between them; it’s lovely to see them becoming closer and as they do, you can see Darcy changing to become more like the character that we know and love, and as Darcy changed I enjoyed the story more and more. This is a less romantic variation than some as the focus is more on the brothers, particularly Theo, but it was entertaining and interesting. There was a really interesting section relating to how wounds were dealt with which was fascinating to compare to medicine today. I was also interested to see whether having this many authors would lead to changes in style throughout the book, but reading the published version I don’t think I’d have realised that there were so many authors involved in creating the story if I hadn’t have known the fact.
I don’t know whether it’s intended for this story to have a sequel but I think there is definite scope for it, and I’d love to read it if one is written. I would like to see what happens to Theo after the close of our tale! I’d recommend this to Austenesque readers, and I’d rate it as a 4½ star read.
*I was provided with a copy of this book to review for Leatherbound Reviews.