The True Darcy Spirit (Darcy #3), by Elizabeth Aston
If you really like the author and the way she treats the supposed second generation of Darcy women, then it would be possible to like this work. As for me, someone with decidedly mixed feelings about the author’s treatment of Austen’s writings and family, I found this book to be a mixed bag, like the author’s work in general. In fact, the more I read of Aston’s works, the more I am convinced that the author is really not aware of what she is doing. She makes works that are full of knowing winks and references to Austen’s body of work as a whole (here she not only winks at Pride & Prejudice, which is to be expected, but makes the odious Mrs. Norris a substantial threat, and somehow known to the characters as someone who helps take care of wayward women who elope unwisely. That said, Aston misses the heart of what makes Austen’s novels such a joy to read. It is not merely that Austen was rather unsentimental about the dangers faced by her characters, but that she manages to show her main characters as honorable and decent (if hardly perfect) women even while showing the shenanigans and corruption of her age that surrounds her characters. Aston lacks that crucial insight.
The plot itself is something that one would expect as wish fulfillment for fallen filles. Cassandra Darcy is the oldest daughter of Anne de Bourgh, but she is not loved by her stepfather and after being falsely accused of tussling in the bushes with a talented German painter, she is sent off in disgrace to stay with a relative, where she rashly elopes with a debtridden naval officer on half-salary who only wants her for her supposed dowry. Refusing either of the options provided by a lawyer cousin, Horatio Darcy, she seeks to make it on her own as a painter in London, finding help from her former maid and avoiding the clutches of the loathsome and not very uxorious Lord Usborne. Eventually she gets caught up in an affair about letters that would incriminate Princess Caroline that her estranged husband, the loathsome Prince Regent, would like to have to help his divorce case against her, and seeks to find a place of honor and respect despite her previous disastrous elopement, which occurs because the author has a high taste for these things, even having a mysterious and shrewish old man in Mrs. Shawardine providing the ability for Mr. Horatio Darcy to settle down with someone who is not Lord Usborne’s wife, with whom he has been carrying on his own adulterous relationship.
The author appears all too interested in writing with the moral worldview of Prinny and his set or the contemporary moral worldview than that of Jane Austen. Perhaps it would seem unrealistic and rather tame for characters to be as virtuous of those of Jane Austen’s leading ladies–for while there are plenty of supporting characters who are by no means chaste or honorable ladies, one thing that can be said about Jane Austen’s heroines is that they are all decent and moral ladies, ladies that any decent and honorable man would be able to respect. That cannot be said for the protagonists here–one of whom runs off with a man and then refuses to marry him because he’s a golddigger and the other of whom has to be almost bribed to marry his proud and dignified and worthwhile cousin and make an honest woman out of her. Neither of these characters are the stuff by which happy endings in Jane Austen’s novels are made of, but are rather the sort of characters that Austen would use for a darker moral subplot. On top of that, the author includes another important pooftah whose death at the hands of Lord Usborne conveniently allows Horatio to come into independence and political power. How very convenient.