As we have mentioned before, we rather enjoy Elizabeth Aston’s series of Austen pastiches, but we realize they are not going to be every Janeite’s cup of tea–even those who generally enjoy Austen paraliterature. The latest book in the series, The Second Mrs. Darcy, is no different. We enjoyed it as much as the first three, and perhaps even more than the preceding volumes; we found the heroine, Octavia Darcy, the most likable heroine yet, and the plot intelligent and engaging; but like the first three, it just has nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice, other than a few place names and mentions of certain characters. Some might find that offensive; we cannot, try though we will; but if the book were of lesser quality, we could not vouch for our complacence.
Octavia Darcy is left nearly penniless when her husband dies of tropical fever in India. Mrs. Darcy had been sent to India by her family to find a husband, which she did in the widowed Captain Christopher Darcy, cousin of Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. She failed to produce a son, and his estate was left to a cousin, George Warren, the stepson of the former Caroline Bingley. Fortunately, a rich cousin on her mother’s side of the family leaves Octavia a fortune, and she returns to England in style, setting up a house in town and associating with a set of Whigs: among them the rich, the eccentric, the artistic, and the politically ambitious (and what Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have thought of such goings-on we cannot begin to imagine), including Lord Rutherford, leasing Netherfield Hall in Meryton after his nearby family estate burns down. Octavia and Rutherford butt heads over politics and assist in a romance, until George Warren threatens Octavia’s fortune.
We found the story absorbing, if a trifle predictable. It is closer to Georgette Heyer’s work than to Jane Austen’s in style, execution, and setting. Aston’s characters live “in the world,” in London with the very rich and powerful. Fitzwilliam Darcy, grandson of an earl and certainly quite rich, and his wife could probably travel in such a crowd, but we have always imagined the Darcys rather on the fringes of it, more comfortable at home in the country at Pemberley. To read a story associated with them set so much in London, peopled with characters who scorn that country life, to us does not fit with the world created by Jane Austen.
Austen paraliterature fans who need their Minimum Daily Requirement of Darcy and Lizzy will be disappointed with this book, at least in that context. The Darcys are mentioned a few times, that’s all. The press release for the book and the author notes in the back tout this as an advantage: since the beloved characters are not in the book, Aston can’t mess them up. This is, of course, true, but we suspect wasted effort, as many of the Darcy and Lizzy fans aren’t that particular; they just can’t get enough of their One True Pair. Readers who can divorce these novels from Jane Austen’s without resentment at the use (or misuse) of the Darcy name will enjoy these books, but they will not be to every Janeite’s taste. However, if the tar-hearted humorless spinster purist Editrix can manage to put aside her jealously-guarded Austenian prejudices and enjoy The Second Mrs. Darcy, we are certain that some of our Gentle Readers might do so as well.