Mr. Darcy’s Secret is Jane Odiwe’s third Jane Austen sequel for Sourcebooks. The story picks up after the Darcys’ marriage and Elizabeth’s introduction as Lady of the Manor. Lizzy is a quick study, for it is not easy for someone to pick up on all the intricacies of managing such a great house as Pemberley, but through her natural grace she quickly gains the respect of the staff and villagers and settles into her new home – where she uncovers a secret, one that places her relationship with Darcy in emotional jeopardy.
The delightful author Jane Odiwe has done it again – created a novel using Jane Austen’s characters that leaves you turning the pages to find out how the story will end. Jane Odiwe lives in Bath and London, and travels extensively all over England. This is obvious, as she is able to single out details as only someone who is intimately acquainted with the regions can. She has also researched Jane Austen and the Regency era for many years, so that the facts ring true and are sometimes surprising, as with the ability for people during that era to marry without posting the banns in one church in Derbyshire, a legacy from the days of King Charles 1.
In so many ways, Ms. Odiwe gets the characters right, which makes reading her books so enjoyable. Take Lady Catherine de Bourgh, for instance:
Lady Catherine de Bourgh looked Mrs Darcy up and donw with such an expression of horror and contempt it was all Lizzy could do to keep her nerve. “Does your husband know that you are running around the countryside dressed as a gypsy riding in a donkey cart, Miss Bennet?” she asked in scolding tones. “What on earth can you mean by disgracing Mr Darcy in such a fashion? Have you no idea of decorum, are you insensible to the honours bestowed on you by him, that fool of a nephew of mine who has singled you out above all other women to bear his name?”
Wickham remains his dastardly self; Lydia is still immature and silly. We learn more about Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, and how she is influenced by Lizzy, with whom she falls in love, and about her backstory with her governess, a most nasty creature named Mrs Younge. Miss Caroline Bingley provides comic relief in a funny story line, as does the ever reliably silly Mrs Bennet. In short, devotees of Jane Austen sequels will not be disappointed with Jane Odiwe’s latest venture in Austen territory. Reading Mr Darcy’s Secret prompted me to ask the author a few questions, and she graciously answered them.
For me, it was just a natural progression. Initially, I hadn’t wanted to write their story because I really wanted to do something different from the books that were being published. But, after writing Lydia Bennet’s Story, and Willoughby’s Return, I wanted to set myself a real challenge. I felt absolutely compelled to write Darcy and Elizabeth’s story, and also wanted to give Georgiana a happy ending. I’m a great believer in letting things happen organically, and perhaps I wasn’t really ready to write their story until now. I wanted to do justice to the characters, and have the kind of twisting plot with humour, surprises and shocks along the way that Jane Austen liked to write herself, which I hope I’ve achieved.
2. Does living in England give you a different perspective on how Jane Austen’s environment influenced her work? If so, how does this knowledge affect your own writing about her characters?
Perhaps it does, but if so, I think it is an unconscious perspective. This country is the place of my birth; I am English, and the feelings of connection to its people, landscape and history are very strong. It’s a part of who I am. I was a teacher, and consider myself very lucky and fortunate to have had the joy of teaching pupils from every walk of life, which means I have witnessed the behaviour and customs of a vast cross-section of society from the very poor to the very rich. I’m just an ordinary person, but I have been able to witness first-hand what it’s like to attend high society balls (a long time ago now) and enjoy 20th/21st century equivalents of the kind of experiences that Jane Austen would have done. Rather like Jane too, feeling apart from that world, not really belonging, made the observation of it all the more fun. I’ve seen a world of privilege, I’ve seen the extreme opposite, and everything in between. I think all of life’s experiences and the knowledge gained help to inform your writing, but whether this means that I am successful in writing about Jane’s characters, I will leave my readers to decide.
3. For you, which comes first? The plot or the characters? How long does it take for you to outline your book before you start writing, or do you just dive in and plot as you go along?
Now that is a tricky one, but I think it’s been different for every book. I generally think about what I’m going to write for a long time, several months usually, before I commit any thoughts to paper, though occasionally I might jot down a few initial ideas or key words. I think the idea for Mr Darcy’s Secret was really started by thinking about what we knew about Mr Darcy, or rather, what Elizabeth did not know. It occurred to me that she really didn’t know him very well at all. Jane Austen gives us no clues about his past, and so that set me thinking.
I used to meticulously write out the plot from start to finish before I commenced writing, but I’ve discovered that for me it doesn’t really work because the characters always do their best to take me away from what I’ve originally planned. So now I have a general idea of where I want to story to go, and have an idea of the ending, but the journey is always an adventure! The characters always want to tell their own story, and I let them.
4. What research for your book surprised you the most? Did you leave out any material that you found fascinating but couldn’t use? If so, please give an example and tell us why you decided not to use this bit of information.
The research that surprised me most was the fact there was a Gretna Green of Derbyshire. In the village of Peak Forest its church is dedicated to ‘Charles, King & Martyr’ (King Charles 1) and until an Act of Parliament was passed in 1804 its minister was able to perform marriages without having the banns read.
I really enjoyed all the research into Derbyshire which I’ve visited many times from school trips as a child to spending holidays with my sister.
There is a lovely tradition of ‘well-dressing’ which I would have liked to include, but I couldn’t fit it into the timeline or plot – unlike Jane, I decided we’d spend more time in the Lake District.
I remember as a child being disappointed not to see any of the villages we passed in Derbyshire decorated with flowers. The pagan custom started many years ago with blessing the water supply, and there is a history of making clay plaques pressed with flower petals to ornament the wells, which they still carry on today. I would have liked to have included a lot more of the folklore in the book. The area is well known for its stone circles, petrified rocks, witches and ghosts! Maybe next time…
5. Have you plotted your next novel?
I have written another novel, but I’m still tinkering with it…not quite there yet. It’s not a sequel, and it’s a bit off the wall, but I’ve really enjoyed writing it. It’s inspired by Bath, Jane Austen and Persuasion, my great passions after my family.
Oooh, you have me intrigued already! As always, Jane, it is a pleasure talking with you. I wish you much success with this book and the next, and thank you for stopping by .
Read my reviews of Jane Odiwe’s other books and interviews with the author in the following links:
- Willoughby’s Return by Jane Odiwe: A Review
- An Interview With Jane Odiwe, Author of Willoughby’s Return
- Lydia Bennet’s Story: A Review
- Interview With Jane Odiwe, Author of Lydia Bennet’s Story