Mr. Darcy’s Daughters: A Novel, by Elizabeth Aston
If you read this novel, you likely know what you are going to get, and will likely not be too disappointed by it. It is a mostly competently written Regency fanfiction sequel to Jane Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice, and even if it is an unnecessary work with some seriously weak characterization, it happens to be an enjoyable sort of work if one does not think too hard about it. There are many worse books that I have read than this one, and at no point in the frothy novel about five girls and their romantic misadventures did I feel that I was wasting my time. Some books have massive and colossal ambitions, while others aim modestly and achieve their target. This book is clearly within the second camp, a pleasing and modest genre piece that brings a few hours of reading pleasure. As someone who likes both genre fiction  and the writings of Jane Austen in particular, at no point did I feel this book was an insult to Jane Austen or a diminution of her excellence, even if the author clearly draws the most insightful aspects of her inspiration from Austen rather than creatively.
The enjoyment of this novel consists of two different levels. For one, the novel itself contains a great deal of wit and humor, much of it consisting of winking and nodding references that readers will appreciate, largely because no one would possibly read a book like this without being fond of Regency romances as a whole, and once you are familiar with and fond of a particular literary world, it is enjoyable to slyly reference other works. Second, and more originally, the plot of his novel is bubbly and sparkling, like a pleasing glass of Martinelli’s apple or grape ciders after a long day of work. Five daughters of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy have a disastrous but ultimately successful season of socializing in London in a novel that deals in a breezing way with such problems as dating or courting homosexuals, teen pregnancies, falling in love with the fiancé of a relative, dealing with religious hypocrites, and having powerful and unscrupulous enemies. If you strip away the setting of the late 1810’s that this novel takes place—more on that in a bit—this novel contains a story that could easily be told about people I happen to know. The changed time period merely makes it less objectionable to see middle-aged people hitting on teen girls, because that sort of thing is extremely awkward in real life, and merely classy and charming here. Context matters a great deal in life, and suggest that some of the book’s readers likely missed their calling as heroes or heroines in a frothy regency romance novel by being born out of time. Although I managed to pick up the book from the library, I was the fourth person to read the particular copy of the book after checking it out, and at least two of the other people—one of them who was my mother—both enjoyed it and enjoyed talking about it, so much so that I had to tell them not to give spoilers before I had the chance to read it myself.
There are really two grounds on which to criticize this book that keep it from reaching the achievement of Jane Austen herself, aside from the fact that this is clearly and obviously a derivative work. For one, the characters in this novel are very thin, some of them to the point of being unconvincing even as cardboard pictures of people. The worst offender here is the oldest daughter, Letitia, who is entirely unconvincing as a human being. Most of the other characters fare a bit better, and it is clear that the second-born Camilla is the star of the show. Even by the random odds of genes, along with the environmental benefits of being born a Darcy, the girls should have ended up with a happier set of personality characteristics to go along with their wit and looks. The second problem is a more substantial one, which would have likely hindered Jane Austen from enjoying this novel, as flattering as it would have been, and that is the problem that the author is obviously writing from the point of view of a contemporary woman—the social issues being dealt with, like teen pregnancy and homosexuality, are clearly matters of contemporary social importance, and there is no way that a cultured lady would have thought and spoken like the characters, or written like the author, who is writing a costume drama. To the point, Jane Austen herself once counselled a young relative of hers who was trying to be a novelist to write what she knew, and to leave aside detailed description of places and time she was not familiar with where her lack of knowledge would expose her. A large part of what makes Jane Austen’s novels so compelling is that they were written by an immensely talented and witty and observant writer about the people and the world that she turned her wit and powers of observation and description to. Merely competent costume dramas written two centuries after the fact cannot hope to compete on that level, even if they do offer a few hours of enjoyable reading so long as one does not think too much about the dodgy chronology and the unrealistic behavior of the barely two-dimensional characters.
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