REVIEW: The Darcys Give a Ball

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darcysgiveballcov.jpgReview by Allison T.

“The romantic attachments of one’s children are a constant distraction,” says Mrs. Darcy to her sister Mrs. Bingley, and such is the theme of Elizabeth Newark’s The Darcys Give a Ball (Sourcebooks, 2008). Originally published in 1997 as Consequence, the book’s subtitle is “A Gentle Joke, Jane Austen Style,” and indeed this work is both gentle and amusing. As for the children, well! Fitz Darcy (Mr. and Mrs. Darcy’s eldest) is in love with his cousin Amabel Bingley, while Henry Darcy is falling for Eliza Collins (the youngest of their children, described as a “changeling,” not exactly pretty, but possessing a pair of fine eyes). Meanwhile, spoiled Juliet Darcy is angling for the handsome and dashing Gerard Churchill.

In an effort to distract Henry, the Darcys decide to give a grand ball in Juliet’s honor. And who should they invite? (Take a deep breath here.) Well, the lovely Dorothea Brandon, of course, and her cousin Nell Ferrars, the two young Tilneys, Priscilla and Frederick, and Alexander and Paul Wentworth (their father has been made Admiral, we are happy to note). Mrs. Darcy, who confesses to always having had a slight tendre for George Knightley, takes care to invite the Knightley twins, Colin and Christopher, and the two Bertram girls (their father is now Sir Thomas) as well as their cousins Pamela and Angelica Yates. Of course, they must invite Georgiana’s daughter, Lucy, as well as Colonel Fitzwilliam’s two red-haired children, Torquil and Catriona (he married a Scottish lady).

Fortunately, Mrs. Darcy does not need to invite the eldest Collins boy, who has married Eugenia Elton and is now vicar of Highbury. And, also fortunately, the Wickhams are all in Ireland (it is apparent that Lydia is being Irregular again). But trouble looms when Miss Caroline Bingley—a nifty combination of her old self further soured by an added soupcon of Mrs. Norris’ personality—steps in to try to manipulate Lucy and keep her away from Jonathan Collins, a pleasant young man who is interested in insects and natural science. And worse is yet to come when Walter William Elliot, somewhat older than the others in his generation, and Selina Ferrars, daughter of Robert and Lucy, show up.

Newark’s work is charming—though it is challenging to keep all the kids straight—and The Darcys Give a Ball is an enjoyable way to pass a few Austen-related hours. I have two quibbles: the book is set in the year of Queen Victoria’s marriage (1840), but the dances mentioned—the polka, the cotillion and redowa-mazurka—were not yet popular in England. However, while inaccurate, mentioning these dances does serve to mark the book as being in a later period than most sequels admit to being. Similarly, the cover illustration (over which the author probably had no control) shows a gentleman bowing to a row of ladies attired in gowns of 1810: obviously the cue to us simple-minded Austen fans that this is an Austen sequel (like we can’t do the math when we learn that the Darcys’ eldest boy is 25). These quibbles aside, The Darcys Give a Ball is a welcome addition to the Austen sequel bookshelf (or bookcase, depending on how many sequels you indulge in).