The Darcy Connection (Darcy #5), by Elizabeth Aston
Having previously read (and at least mildly enjoyed) a previous book by the author , I had some idea of what to expect going into this novel and my expectations were met in both positive and negative ways. It must be said that Aston is an enjoyable writer, and she certainly loves putting her heroines in compromising positions. In this particular book, the sympathies of the reader are clearly meant for the mildly attractive but “provincial” Eliza Collins and not her more attractive but also somewhat glacial older syster. The author accomplishes this fairly obvious task both by making Eliza somewhat more modern in her behavior and sensibilities than would have been proper and also by making the attractive Charlotte rather emotionally unavailable and very unappealing. If you are looking at this novel as a somewhat overly modern early Victorian novel, there is a lot to appreciate here, but sometimes the author forgets to make her characters act according to the mores of their own time, which is a notable quality that one can find in her work as a whole (as I am becoming more familiar with now that I have read more of her work).
The plot of this novel is fairly straightforward. Eliza Collins has made a somewhat imprudent secret engagement with a son of the local gentry and his parents approve and pressure Mr. Collins (now Biship of Ripon, an anachronistic title) to send her daughter to London in disgrace, where she has no clothes suitable for going out while her sister attracts drooling male suitors the way a florescent light attracts doomed moths. Predictably, there is a misunderstanding where a worthwhile gentleman of banking background accidentally offends Eliza but the two are well-suited and eventually get together (spoiler alert). Meanwhile, Charlotte finds herself pursued by several different men and charmed by the odious George Warren, stepson of the former Miss Bingley (now Mrs. Warren), who comes off rather hatefully here. Given that I have seen this draconic woman in several novels, I can safely say that the author has her in mind as a woman scorned determined to wreck havoc on any Darcy or any of their connections, which she manages to accomplish here including one scene that prompts the required marriage after a somewhat deux et machina scene involving a ferocious and suddenly present Mr. Darcy. As long as you’re not too concerned with the convenience of the plot and with the lack of proper modesty of these clergyman’s daughters, the plot is certainly spicy enough for broad interest.
Of course, this particular book prompts the reader to ponder the interest of so many sequels and continuations to Jane Austen’s work as a whole. How is it that the not particularly attractive Mr. Collins and the very plain Charlotte Lucas have two daughters as pretty as the Bennet girls, with less glorious results? Is there a non-paternal event we need to be concerned about here? Someone needs to do some basic study in genetics to figure out how those genes could randomly produce two beautiful daughters aside from the needs of a novelist for appealing heroines rather than plain janes accompanied by sturdy abigails as maids? At any rate, implausibility is the least of the author’s concerns. The author seems to be most interested in writing an exciting plot and thinking of as many daughters as possible that can be connected somewhat distantly to the Darcy family and thus able to draw upon his goodwill and protection as well as the enmity of those who hate the the family. At five novels in there is little sign that the author will be stopping any time soon.