Review by Diana Birchall
(We received two reviews for this book on the same day: one reviewer liked it better than the other, and we found both reviews exceedingly entertaining, so we decided to present both.–Ed.)
It was with enormous foreboding that I took up this volume. I am an old-fashioned Austen sequellist from the First Wave of Austen Sequels; style is what I care about; and as more and more sequels have appeared, I’ve been less and less able to read them. Like Jane Austen, who wrote, “I have made up my mind to like no novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, E.’s, and my own,” I have arrived at the point where I can really like very few sequels by other people – their visions jar mine, and there are so many! Eventually even the deepest obsessive grows weary. It’s as Queen Victoria, who had eight children and God knows how many grandchildren, said: it goes on like rabbits. And the proliferation of sequels is getting very rabbit-like. Nibble nibble nibble, hop hop hop, Darcy nibbles Elizabeth’s ear and hops on her. Enough!
So here am I, grown grey in the service of Jane Austen, and another (yawn) sequel lands on my desk. It’s called Two Shall Become One: Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Original title, that. Nicely written forward by the Authoress, who forthrightly states that she was only recently introduced to Jane Austen by the puerile Keira Knightley movie. I do not have a good feeling about this. In fact, the feeling is so bad, I almost fling book back at Editrix ungratefully. “You are ungrateful,” says Frank Churchill to Emma. Too right I am. But then, duty being the moving spring and all that, I start to read…
What is it about Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding night? Why is it a truth so universally acknowledged that it’s all anybody seems to obsess about? Well, it’s the greatest love story in the world, and Jane Austen being Jane Austen, somehow unforgivably omitted to show us the consummation. It waits for a more degenerate, debased age to spotlight the genital groaning. However, there is no use my pretending superiority here. I, too, have thought about Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding night. Judy O’Grady and the Colonel’s Lady…we’re all alike. And – surprise, Sharon Lathan does not give us the Pornographic Particulars right up front! No, she cunningly understands the sensual use of delaying tactics. No straining appendage until a decorous forty pages in. Have I then been “myself creating what I saw,” as Mr. Knightley said? Could it be possible to read this sequel, written in a lively and energetic style, with an open mind, if not legs?
So I do. And I like it! I like the utterly convincing way Mr. Darcy explains himself as a virgin – who would have believed it possible? My heart goes Thwunk! when he tells Elizabeth, “I have saved myself for you, even before I knew who you were.” Swoon!
Again as Mr. Knightley said (sorry all my quotes are Emma ones: most inappropriate under the circs), “”It will be natural for me to speak my opinion aloud as I read.” Following his example, then:
Ah, here comes a Sex Scene. The Consummation, at last. Very lush and yummy. Mind you, we have long left anything remotely resembling Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice forever far behind, in the Harlequin Hall, but there’s nothing wrong with that; a girl (or austere middle aged woman) cannot live on prose style alone. These are not Darcy and Elizabeth, but a man with a big house and a big, um; and a woman with perfect skin. Still, so far the only thing I’ve found really annoying has been the names – why is he William, and by no stretch of the imagination ought she to be “Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy” unless divorced. Oh, now look, by God, they’re going to do it again! My smelling salts! “It seemed to continue forever…” Yes, well. They near “the point of bursting…Eventually it was more than they could bear, both taken by acute spasms that shook them head to toe in rapture beyond the words to convey.”
Poor Jane Austen, she only had words, not (as we suppose) orgasms.
Now they’re examining each other’s nipples and scars…now they’re doing it AGAIN…As I said, a writer with Energy. And Again. Lizzy likes it rough, it seems. Oh, very cute, he learned his technique in Pemberley’s excellent library. No wonder he could not comprehend its neglect, ingenious virgin that he is. (Writer does have a sense of humor.) Well, I never thought I’d read a Pride and Prejudice sequel impatiently for the sex scenes, but here they are doing it some more. Now they are at Pemberley – gorgeous descriptions of the place, I must say – time for a little more sex – well, actually, a LOT more sex. Punctuated with lavish, even delicious descriptions of the library, the staff, the gardens, Christmas. It really is something to be Mistress of Pemberley! Quite the fantasy. Lizzy needs some rubies to complement her burgundy gown, but doesn’t own any? “Begging your pardon, Mrs. Darcy, but you do,” says the servant. Ah, and he gives her a Settlement. “What jewels, what pin money you will have!” her mother said presciently, in Another Book. Oh, and she’s getting gowns, too! And all she has to do is sleep with Mr. Darcy! Nice work if you can get it.
The book is not what you might call elegantly written (“Most days they moseyed around Pemberley” – but then the point isn’t the days, is it), but if you cut to the chase and drop expectations to bedroom level, then you will be distinctly pleasured. Typical line: “She wore the sheerest, clingiest, and shortest chemise he had ever beheld, thigh-high silk stockings, and nothing else…” Or, “Show me your grotto, my love…” You get the picture. Yet it wouldn’t be fair to categorize it merely as soft porn or hot romance; there is a rococo purple delectable quality wafting like musk over the nude bodies of the heated Darcy and Elizabeth. It’s like the Staircase Scene in Gone With The Wind going on…and on…and on. And there’s room for that in the world. This is a fantasy of sex and material riches in judiciously equal proportions, and for those that enjoy this (and who but a total Miss Prunes and Prisms would not?), this they will enjoy. And good Lord, it’s only Volume One! More grottoes, more rubies, more lingering focus on Elizabeth’s perfect breasts, more Chatsworth floor plans, and assuredly more progeny to come. Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell money. Why hasn’t a romance publisher picked it up? A little editing (get rid of the moseying, at least), and thousands of sex crazed Janeites – and how could I ever have thought that a contradiction in terms? – will buy, buy, buy.