From the desk of Shelley DeWees… Gentle reader, guest writer Shelley DeWees, blog author of Uprising, writes book reviews for me. A Darcy Christmas: A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart is her first review for this blog. Welcome on board, Shelley.
A collection of stories designed to awaken the holiday spirit, A Darcy Christmas is a quick read showcasing veteran and amateur Austen spinoff writers. In the beginning, I was excited. I really wanted to be seduced by the magic imagery of the winter festivities, feel the warmth of some imaginary fire, manifest the taste of hot chocolate on my tongue while gazing at grainy photographs and luxuriating in a wool blanket…but success wasn’t to be mine.
The first problem was easy to spot: the short stories are printed in the wrong order. Books are like sandwiches in the way they should be designed. The fillings are important, yes, but they can be made to be better with the introduction of really delicious bread. Is your PB & J not to your liking? Too much jelly? Not enough peanut butter? Is the crunchy peanut butter a bit too crunchy? We all have our preferences. However, they seem to go by the wayside if the bread, beautiful in its simplicity and perfect in its splendor, is amazing. Who cares if the jelly to peanut butter ratio is off when the bread is wonderful?
If the first short story had in fact been the second, and Christmas Present by Amanda Grange had been the opening glimpse into Christmas à la Darcy, perhaps the subpar fillings would’ve been less noticeable. Instead, the book begins on its weakest leg, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol by Carolyn Eberhart. As a fledgling author, Ms. Eberhart deserves commendation for her first publication. That being said, her portion of A Darcy Christmas was wholly unoriginal, insipid, and fraught with characters whose predictability astounded me. The connection to Charles Dickens’ timeless classic was, in my humble opinion, more than should’ve been allowed. Darcy essentially fills the shoes of Scrooge and does some soul searching, this time about whether he should renew his offer of marriage to Elizabeth (and with a little less snobbery, hmm?). The ghosts visit him, they show him the same humdrum imagery we’ve come to expect from the original story, and he has an easily-foreseeable revelation. Though a story about Darcy’s inner broodings over the loss of Elizabeth would be interesting, this one fell short and needn’t have taken place during Christmas at all.
Amanda Grange’s Christmas Present represented a noticeable uptick in the book’s procession. The story is engaging and sweet as we watch Elizabeth and Darcy bring their first child into the world, and the imagery is full-on wintery goodness. Familiar characters make their appearances including Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Kitty and Mary Bennet, and Bingley and Jane who have also become new parents. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet emerge too, albeit with Mrs. Bennet’s overly prominent vulgar comments and an odd social presence that seems a bit far-fetched. Beyond that though, everything is copacetic. Darcy and Elizabeth have no worries on the horizon and thus, no reason for their story to continue. This ever-positive view of their life together seems to have saturated the imaginations of all brilliant authors including Sharon Lathan, whose contribution rounds out A Darcy Christmas.
Her story, which shares the same title as the book, is another rendition of Darcy-and-Elizabeth-lived-happily-ever-after. Elderly and rich beyond measure, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are busy hanging a family portrait when they begin to look back on their days, first as infatuated lovers and then as a cohesive couple. We see Darcy brooding over his first proposal, quietly but thoroughly berating himself, followed by a picture-perfect honeymoon scene, the birth of 5 children, the death of Mr. Bennet, and the marriage of their oldest son. There are, of course, few problems. In fact, the only recognizable woe comes in the form of a slightly disfigured daughter who is otherwise healthy, spunky, and smart.
It is at this point that I let out an audible sigh positively reeking of been-there-read-that. Isn’t there anything else that Darcy and Elizabeth could do with their lives? What about “Darcy and Elizabeth: The China Years”? Or how about a story where they lose all their money, move to a slum, and learn their true love for eachother as they slowly move forward? Though I realize that Jane Austen’s writings are most assuredly focused on the upper class, I tire of the same ‘ol “Everything is Perfect” spinoffs where Christmas means finery and feasts, gifts, treasures, and luxuries. A Darcy Christmas embodies some of the worst qualities of the holiday season, overconsumption and stuff-mongering among them.
And so it was that I felt no kinship with Christmas because of this book, no sudden urge for eggnog, no desire to buy things for my best Janeite friends or to call my Mom just because. This book left me wanting for a real story of life as a Regency twosome, with all the ups and downs that were part of everyone’s daily existence (even the very rich people of English high society). I’m tired of the “Look how happy we are!” stories that seemingly have no substance, no vulnerable underbelly, no challenge to them. A Darcy Christmas was a disappointment, not only as a vehicle for the Christmas spirit but as a statement of values as well.