Writing a story in the first person is the purest form of character study. The writer does not even have the comfort of authorial omniscience to fall back upon; she must soldier on with telling the story despite her protagonist’s personal quirks (such as pride and vanity) through which the events of the story must filter.
Amanda Grange is not the first intrepid author to shoulder the task of retelling Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view, nor is she the first to employ first person or even the journal format. Previous such attempts have resulted in works that ranged from quite good to puerile nonsense, but Darcy fans may rest easy, for Darcy’s Diary is an enjoyable journey into the mind of one of the most popular characters in literary history.
The book expands upon P&P somewhat, beginning when Darcy makes plans to send Georgiana to Ramsgate and continuing for a few months after his wedding, tying up some loose ends from subplots unique to this retelling. Fortunately, Ms. Grange does not fall prey to the temptation to lift sections of Pride and Prejudice wholesale to insert them into her novel; however, the areas where the two stories cross (such as Darcy and Lizzy’s battle of wits at Netherfield during Jane’s convalescence) tend to drag a bit, probably because the reader already knows what happened and even possibly has committed it to memory *cough*. Ms. Grange assumes the reader’s familiarity with the source material, cutting here and there and adding enough of Darcy’s private thoughts on the proceedings to keep the reader interested.
Like most such retellings, the story picks up when the action moves away from the original. Darcy’s relationship with Bingley is examined, placing him in the role of a helpful older brother, advising his friend on everything from the lease of Netherfield to the propriety of marrying Jane Bennet; later, as we know, Darcy learns in which areas such advice is more welcome and more properly given. We are also treated to a couple of hilarious encounters with society debutantes in London that not only serve to provide a counterpoint in Darcy’s mind with Miss Elizabeth Bennet but are also extremely diverting for the reader. The scenes in which Darcy chases down Wickham and his wayward future bride in London are the best part of the book, well-realized and well-written and all fully in character. We could wish for more of this “original” material, though what we are given is all quite good.
There were a few details about Georgian culture and references to the original that did not agree with our understanding, but they are very few, and it is clear that Ms. Grange studied Pride and Prejudice closely. The style does not have the easy flow of the original, though we attribute that at least partly to the personality of the narrator as well as the limitations of the diary format.
Those Darcy fans who are looking for an angsty, melodramatic Darcy who beats his breast from the torture of unrequited love (even whilst recalling a history as ravisher of Pemberley maidservants and scourge of London lightskirts–or, Jane help us, adolescent fantasies about Mrs. Reynolds) will find no satisfaction here. Ms. Grange’s Darcy is an intelligent and slightly stiff young man who takes a personal journey that teaches him a great deal about himself and brings him what he needs, and what he is unconsciously seeking: to love life again after suffering loss and shouldering immense responsibility. It is this trait that is most delicately painted, and one which we are told is brought to the fore in the new film of P&P, making us think that the volume will be a fine companion piece for the new film as well as the novel. Darcy’s Diary is a gift to a new generation of Darcy fans and a treat for existing fans as well.