Can love truly deepen and mature in a marriage between two complex people from very distinct social classes?
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Before I begin my review, I believe it’s only fair to say that this was one of the most difficult books for me to assign a rating to because I think this is the type of book that one has many reactions to, and upon further reflection, new thoughts and ideas will develop over time.Needless to say, this book deeply affected me because it presented to me a rather singular perspective about Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage.
There is also another “Pride and Prejudice” companion sequel that has been published by Mr. de Jong titled, “My Brother and I,” which is told from a completely different point of view, and the narrator happens to be Edward Benton, the farrier’s apprentice on the estate. This book contains almost entirely new material from the first companion book, and I enjoyed “Elizabeth: Mistress of Pemberley” without first reading the companion book. One day, I plan to go back and read “My Brother and I.”
Unfolding within a setting that paid a lot of attention to the historical details of this time period, the marital relationship drawn in this book between Darcy and Elizabeth was often distant, sometimes caring and nurturing, and in it’s most difficult moments, controlling and resentful; yet it was fascinating to witness the carefully drawn actions and the well-crafted dialogue exchanged between these characters. As I read further into the book, I only wanted to read more and more of this story.
Just like the inner workings of a grand English estate, the story has multiple storylines and a long list of intriguing characters, who contribute to the management of the estate, as their very own lives are so intimately tied to the success of the Darcy family. At times, the book had an “Upstairs Downstairs” feeling to it, as the lives of the servants were given quite a bit of attention, along with the lives of the extended Darcy family. It is clear that the older servants have an important role in preserving quite a few family secrets and are very protective of Mr. Darcy, and yet they struggle to “warm” towards his young wife.
This becomes evident mostly as a result of Elizabeth’s inability to produce a child after a few years of marriage. Naturally, it is perceived to be her fault, since she is the woman in this relationship. This fact alone made my heart break for Elizabeth because, without an heir, she will never truly be considered the mistress of the estate.
The significance of Elizabeth’s role as the Mistress of Pemberley, and in a large way, of Derbyshire County, became clearer to her over time, as she also tries to unravel the history at Pemberley concerning Darcy’s mother, Lady Anne. Yet, she struggles to learn why there are so many secrets surrounding Lady Anne’s past life at Pemberley. With the aid of her own servants, Elizabeth attempts to bring light to the things that Lady Anne seemed determined to keep hidden away at Pemberley. Is Lady Anne’s past destined to become Elizabeth’s own fate as well and how much does Darcy really know about his mother’s ominous past throughout her reign as the Mistress of Pemberley?
The tone and the mood surrounding the storyline involving Lady Anne’s past and Elizabeth’s current role at Pemberley is one of the greatest departures from most of the JAFF I have read. Cornelis de Jong has interpreted these differences under the circumstances that he believes Austen herself set up for Elizabeth. He believes there would have been a large struggle during this arduous transition for Elizabeth as she began her life as Darcy’s wife; a new life filled with many ups and downs, into this tremendously demanding role for someone like Elizabeth, who essentially was, an outsider to Darcy’s social sphere, during a time in history where these differences would have been especially challenging to manage and to overcome.Therefore, the author ‘s views here really challenge conventional JAFF “wisdom” about how the Darcys’ marriage would have evolved during their first few years, as Darcy reverts to many of his former behaviors, while Elizabeth becomes less certain about the prospects of happiness offered to her through her marriage to Darcy.
Here, we have honest, hard-striking emotions conveyed across the pages of this novel, as we learn about Elizabeth’s very desperate struggles to find her strength, her confidence, and her footing, as she tries to earn the respect of the servants, and the Derbyshire community, in her new position as the reigning Mistress of Pemberley. Cornelis de Jong has given us a story that tugs at our emotions by having us witness the innermost struggles and fears of a very young, complex woman, who will not be easily controlled, and who refuses to be denied a life filled with love and respect.
The book shifts perspectives throughout the story, which I found added a certain level of energy and honesty to the writing because the narrators capture a pretty consistent feeling about Elizabeth’s journey throughout these tumultuous years. There are rather large spans of the text which are told through narration, and this decision creates for the reader a somewhat distant feeling from Elizabeth’s character. It’s important to know that this is truly Elizabeth’s story, and readers looking for a book which delivers many scenes where Elizabeth and Darcy are interacting together, will not find nearly as many here as in other JAFF books.
There are places within the story where certain pages read as though they have been scribed from handwritten entries from Elizabeth Darcy’s personal journal. I truly enjoyed these parts of her story, even when they recounted emotions that I didn’t really want Elizabeth to have to endure. Her honesty combined with her reflective stance in these entries were filled with soul-searching moments and thoughts that she probably would not even want to share with a confidante.
It’s actually the loss of her confidantes in her new life that led me to realize how isolated someone in her position could feel in this new role. Darcy is a Parliamentarian in this book, and within this role, he has enormous responsibilities that lie way beyond Pemberley. In the true spirit of his character, he takes this responsibility very seriously, which causes him to be away from Pemberley and from Elizabeth for large, extended periods of time. The reader does wonder if Darcy is frequently visiting with old “friends” during his time in London, but that’s really an inference the reader must make for him/herself.
Since Elizabeth dislikes Town, just like her own father, and feels a tremendous responsibility to successfully perform her duties in Derbyshire, she also suffers from the loss and heartache associated with being separated from her husband. In these times of separation, she often finds herself either with her servants, visiting with Darcy’s cousin or spending time with Edward Benton, the young farrier apprentice on the estate. Through the time they spend together, she comes to feel that Edward’s another mystery to be “solved” by her at Pemberley.
Elizabeth’s relationship with Georgiana is also one not often seen in other “Pride and Prejudice” sequels. Theirs is a sisterly bond that is unequal in many situations. As Georgiana is a relative through blood, she is shown a certain level of respect and care from Darcy in this story that he doesn’t display as strongly for Elizabeth. Therefore, Georgiana’s will often holds greater sway over certain decisions in their lives. When Georgiana is courted by a suitor that Darcy doesn’t seem too pleased with, Georgiana doesn’t show the type of deference to Darcy that we’ve become accustomed to from her character either.
Mr. de Jong has created a website where he gladly describes his thoughts pertaining to this book and he also answers many of the questions that readers have asked him about this story. He shares a detailed list of the characters in the book and an intricate map of Pemberley and its surrounding areas (see above) while providing more historical background about the events that took place in this story.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. de Jong is a talented writer. His book demonstrates a willingness to craft a story that tells a story that some readers will find hard to accept, which is a rather bold move, especially considering it is evident that a lot of time, care, and hard work went into this story. His careful attention to his writing craft, along with the historical information presented throughout the story, display his considerable knowledge of this time period. It is really up to the reader to decide how he/she feels about accepting his version of this marriage. Most readers may feel this is not the Darcy and Elizabeth they know from Austen’s book while others may find this portrayal as accurate and believable as any other portrayal of their marriage.
As I reflected on this story, I think what struck the deepest nerve for me was that this pair did feel like they could have been the Darcys and that Mr. de Jong has provided another perspective which offers us a lot to reconsider regarding their marriage. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the truths that were revealed by the end of this book, and I must admit that one of these revelations really shook me up about Elizabeth’s character. Yet, she’s smart enough to find a way to her own HEA, it’s just not the kind of HEA that we are accustomed to reading in a JAFF story.
Readers also must realize there’s a lot going on in this story that is “shown” and not “told” through the writing. I spent quite a bit of time rereading this book, especially near the end of the story, and also discussing this book with other readers, in an attempt to really process the interactions of these characters and to understand their motives throughout the story. There are also some storylines that are less developed than others, and readers must decide for themselves how some of these parts were resolved within the story. I enjoy when authors leave us some room for interpretation, but there were a few parts I would have enjoyed knowing more concrete details about by the end of this book.
With all of this said, I appreciated the way this story stretched my mind to allow other possibilities and considerations to be explored within a “Pride and Prejudice” sequel. Due to its controversial storyline, it may not be for every JAFF reader, but the sample on Amazon is quite long and gives you a good feel for the book. The writing is certainly solid and I believe it is a book that improves upon further acquaintance.
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Cornelis de Jong would like to offer one Just Jane 1813 reader the opportunity to win a paperback copy of this book. This giveaway is open to all readers. Please leave a comment on this post by midnight ET, on February 20th. The winners will be announced on this blog on February 21, 2016.
I’d like to thank Mr. de Jong for his generous giveaway and for writing a book which provides readers with a compelling and unique perspective on Elizabeth’s early years as the Mistress of Pemberley.