Only Mr. Darcy Will Do: An Austenesque book reviewer’s life is so romantic. They get to visit the world of Jane Austen over and over again, absorbing more and more of the sighs and oohs and aahs that come from her settings and characters, and they often times get to do it before anyone else does (“Have you read __________? I’m so totally into it that I stayed up till 3 a.m. just to finish! You know? Have you seen it?” The silent stare your friend gives you will then make it clear…You’ve read it. She has not.). When the doorbell rings, the book reviewer runs down to greet the mailman, her eyes sparkling with curious delight. What did I get this time? Ripping open the box is like Christmas, and it takes everything they’ve got not to plop down on the couch and start, right then and there, dinner be damned.
There is also, unfortunately, a time in a book reviewer’s life that isn’t so rosy. Normally, reading a book you’re not particularly fond of is a matter between you and you (or between you and the person who recommended it to you) but for the book reviewer, it’s different.
That being said, this particular reviewer also has opinions of her own about what constitutes a good book. It is in Austenesque literature that I look for something original, something imaginative, something that hooks me into Regency England with the devotion and fortitude of a forklift. I don’t think I’m alone when I vehemently say…the same old story of Elizabeth and Darcy is not something I want to read: the push-pull of courtship, the misunderstandings between the two of them, their marriage followed by a perfect existence where all is copacetic and no problems arise, ever. Money, parenting, family, health, societal dilemmas simply aren’t there, and are often times not even alluded to. And while I realize that this fantasy is one in which we could all swim in for a certain amount of time, my swimming time is over. What would true Darcy/Elizabeth love look like if they actually had to fight to stay together forever? Would it last? Moving in with someone, married or not, Regency England or not, is tricky (to say the least). What would that experience be like? Societal upheaval back then was surging out of control…does it really leave them completely alone, untouched and unharmed for the rest of eternity?
I say this because Only Mr. Darcy Will Do, despite having been written with wondrous care and expertise, pushed me into the deep end of a pool I’m through swimming in. In Kara Louise’s story, Elizabeth finds herself at a crossroads when her father passes away soon after she’s refused Darcy. Unable to support herself, she’s forced to take a job as a governess to make ends meet, and thus loses all hope of every traveling within the Darcy social circle again. But, lo and behold, she ends up seeing him again through a string of well-timed circumstances, and after spending months brooding over whether she should’ve accepted him. Again, the push-pull of courtship proceeds. Again. “How will it end?” is a question you’d never have to ask.
In its current form, Only Mr. Darcy Will Do cannot exist as a stand-alone story while the characters remain so undeveloped, relying so heavily on Jane Austen’s pen. Of course, deviating wildly from the character pattern would not have been allowed for a “retelling” novel, but perhaps it would’ve been more interesting. Huge pieces of potential plot points were skipped over in order to return the reader to the dull Darcy/Elizabeth back-and-forth. Perhaps in this instance, adherence to the original should’ve been secondary to expanding Louise’s idea (which truly had potential).
The Reviewer: From the desk of Shelley DeWees, of the blog, The Uprising, and reviewer for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. This is Shelley’s fifth post for this blog.