Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo contains the same successful ingredients as her first book, Jane Austen Ruined My Life. A young woman, Claire Peterson, leaves a man (her boyfriend) and family behind in the U.S. and travels to Oxford to join a Jane Austen study group. She arrives at the last minute to present her sister’s paper on Pride and Prejudice, only to meet a gorgeous, drop dead handsome man in the mold of Mr. Darcy. The moment she meets James, Claire’s heart instantly goes pitter patter. Better yet, he expresses as much interest in her as she in him. But this is not the end of Claire’s good fortune. She also meets a ditzy older woman named Harriet Dalrymple, who inexplicably entrusts her with yellowing bits of paper containing the original version of Pride and Prejudice, titled First Impressions. Claire is in 7th heaven when she realizes what a treasure she’s been reading. She even shares a portion of the manuscript with Martin, a Jane Austen scholar, who confirms its authenticity. But Claire is puzzled. Why of all people was she chosen to read the book? Why is it being kept from the public? And who rifled her room, tearing it upside down? Did someone know about the manuscript, and if so, how did they know Claire had it? The Formidables, the secret group that guards Jane Austen’s literary reputation, much as her sister Cassandra had done, once again make an appearance. Like the ex-husband in Jane Austen Ruined My Life, the Claire’s boyfriend travels to England, only he is kind and long-suffering, not diabolical, and his presence in Oxford forces Claire to choose between him and James.
A recent review about Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart proclaimed, “These books will be loved by fans of Jane Austen and true romance fans alike.” Well, yes and no. My sense is that the reader who has only seen Jane Austen films (and not read her novels) and who is unfamiliar with Beth Pattillo’s first book, will like this book tremendously. Beth Patillo’s writing style is likable and breezy, and the plot of the book is just interesting enough to hold your attention.
But I think that many Jane Austen fans will be as put off as I was by the book’s main premise, which is that the original plot of Pride and Prejudice was drastically different from the final novel. In Ms Pattillo’s version, Mr. Bennet has died, leaving Mrs. Bennet in the horrific, nearly penniless situation she feared. Elizabeth Bennet must leave her family and make her way in the world as the companion of Anne de Bourgh. While living at Rosings, she meets Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy …
Ms. Pattillo made several decisions in writing this book that I found jarring. First, she makes the assumption that Jane Austen’s original plot of Pride and Prejudice was nothing like the final product. Throughout her book, Miss Pattillo included large portions of the so-called original manuscript to whet our appetites. While she can write well, she is no Jane Austen, and these excerpts make that fact painfully clear. The excerpts also did not pique my interest, for the story seemed tepid and without Jane’s sparkling wit and biting humor. Perhaps this was Ms. Pattillo’s intention, for how else could she rationalize that Jane Austen would completely revamp her first novel? Oh, there was a hasty explanation at the end of Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, but the comparison of Claire’s growth as a woman to Jane’s own growth as a woman and author seemed tenuous at best.
First Impressions was written in 1796-1797, probably in epistolary form. While no copy of that lengthy and bloated first draft remains, it was so popular within the Austen family, that the family repeatedly requested Jane to read it to them. They LOVED the story! A niece heard her Aunts Jane and Cassandra giggle as they went over its pages, and Jane Austen’s father thought so highly of the book that he tried to get it published in 1797, but he was unsuccessful. Perhaps the book was too long, for Jane did cut the book’s length and revise it in 1812 before its publication in 1813. Had Ms. Pattillo presented us with the edited out portions, let’s say (and provided us with more back story regarding Mr and Mrs Bennet or with more details about how Mr. Darcy contrived to arrange the marriage between Mr. Wickham and Lydia) I might have bought into her book’s premise.
Because the plot of Mr. Darcy Stole My Heart so closely follows the outline of Jane Austen Ruined My Life, this second novel has a formulaic feel to it. Despite my own reservations, I suspect that many readers will like this book, for it does provide several hours of light and frothy escape fiction. There is no violence, as so many books feel the need to include these days, and there are no weird or distasteful plot developments. I would hope that Ms. Pattillo, if she plans to write a third book that involves The Formidables and their guardianship of Jane Austen’s literary reputation, will deviate just a little from her now tried and true formula and dare to be different, just like the author she so ardently admires.
I give this book 1 ½ regency fans (out of 3)