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Colonel Fitzwilliam should have been happy facing retirement. No more Napoleon, no more tromping the Continent, and his distant cousin had unexpectedly left him an estate. What was more, two of his favorite people, Darcy and Elizabeth, were travelling with him to visit his new home.
But the colonel wasn’t happy, not when he was forced to watch Darcy exchanging enamored glances with his wife. No, he wanted to pitch his cousin out the window. It didn’t help when Darcy kept lecturing him on the joys of wedded life— as if women like Elizabeth Darcy grew on every tree.
Then the snow started.
Now they were stranded at the home of George and Emma Knightley, another intolerable, blissfully wedded couple who wanted nothing more than to see his bachelor days come to an end. Thank heavens they never thought of matching him with the proud spinster who had also been caught in the storm. That would have been utterly intolerable.
Or would it?
I am a newcomer to Maria Grace’s Sweet Tea Novellas, but when I saw that this book was a mashup of three of Austen’s books, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to become acquainted with this series. What could have easily been a Pride and Prejudice variation on its own became even more intriguing as Maria Grace skillfully blended together some of Austen’s most well-known characters from Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion in her latest novella.
As Colonel Fitzwilliam has entreated Darcy and Elizabeth to join him for his first visit to Listingbrook, his newly inherited estate, the group become stranded in Highbury due to severe weather conditions. Just as finding lodgings seem out of their reach, they run into George Knightley, who happens to be Darcy’s longtime friend from their days at university. Always a gentleman, Knightley graciously offers his home to Darcy’s party, including a baronet at the inn who is also stranded without sufficient lodgings; Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth. Darcy has also brought along with his party a rather chagrined Mr. Bennet for the purposes of helping Mr. Bennet learn more about the care and management of an estate. Combined, they make an odd, but an amusing group at Hartfield.
Once everyone settles in under the care of Mr. and Mrs, Knightley, it appears that Colonel Fitzwilliam may have more than estate management on his mind. After meeting Elizabeth Elliot and her absurd, spendthrift father, the Colonel wonders if there’s more to the lady than meets the eye. However, those closest to him are concerned about his apparent interest in the lady, which causes some disconcertment amongst the house party. How are the Colonel and Miss Elliot to ever know their own hearts when it seems that their “courtship” will be anything but traditional in the eyes of society? Now older and somewhat altered after the war and several years after Elizabeth’s first “bloom,” can they hope to find the kind of contentment that the Knightleys and Darcys share with each other? Or will they decide that once they reveal their true selves to one another, they will part ways and continue to travel along their separate paths?
Maria Grace seamlessly combines Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion, and allows readers to imagine a world where some of Austen’s most comical, obnoxious, and thoughtful characters gather to spend time together in a way that allows us to enjoy these characters in a whole new way! I really had fun joining Austen’s older gentlemen, Mr. Bennet. Mr. Elliot, and Mr. Woodhouse, as these three very different men of the gentry, are engaged in sharing several days together under less than ideal circumstances. As Mr. Bennet is my favorite of these three gentlemen, I enjoyed his humor, along with the little comments he would make about being related to Darcy. I also thought Maria did a good job capturing the essence of each character, as she cleverly connected some of their actions and dialogues to their respective Austen novels.
The ladies were great fun to be around too. It was easy to see that Miss Elliot would initially struggle to see Elizabeth Darcy as a friend and that it would take some time for the two ladies to be on truly good terms with one another. Elizabeth Darcy, known as Eliza by the Colonel, loves Colonel Fitzwilliam, so she is naturally protective of him as a cousin, and I thought that the way she handled their unusual courtship was very kind. The fact that Emma Knightley and Elizabeth Darcy are perceived as the “all-knowing” matrons is humorous and it certainly doesn’t endear them to the somewhat bitter and jealous Elizabeth Elliot! Just be prepared to refer to Elizabeth Darcy as Eliza through most of the story, and Elizabeth Elliot as Elizabeth.
Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s relationship plays a pivotal role throughout this story too. The reticent and cautious Fitzwilliam Darcy is taken aback by his cousin’s seemingly sudden interest in Miss Elliot; therefore he acts as more of a hindrance at the beginning of their courtship than a helpmate. Darcy wants the Colonel to focus on his purpose for their trip; to determine the suitability and the future of his newly inherited estate, Listingbrook. It is only when he comes to understand the Colonel’s true feelings that he can enlist his heart and his mind to serve the Colonel’s needs. Witnessing the evolution of their relationship was another aspect I really enjoyed about this story, such as during exchanges like the one below:
“Are you so fond of her after such a very short an acquaintance? Even Collins’s acquaintance with Miss Lucas endured several weeks prior to making her an offer of marriage.”
“You liken me to Collins?”
“Why are you so intent upon hearing insults?” Darcy planted himself directly in front of Fitzwilliam.
“Why are you so adept at offering them?”
“You have always made a point to be extremely careful where women were concerned. What has changed, and why her?”
“What has changed? Can you not see? Everything— every bloody thing has changed.”
He threw his hands in the air, nearly striking Darcy.
“I have means now. I can support a wife. That has hardly been an option before.”
“Then why not seek out someone more agreeable?”
“Because I am not agreeable.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you—”
“No, Darcy, I am not.”
He skirted past Darcy to pace along the middle of the room.
“I am not the man I was. You may thank Napoleon for that. I usually curse him, though, as I have spent the last year coming to grips with the truth. I will never be who I once was. I cannot seek what I once might have. A sweet, young, innocent wife, a child-like thing like Mrs. Knightley who could turn to her husband for all manner of wisdom and strength. I would crush such a soul and I cannot, I will not, do that to another.”
Yet, the heart of this story is the courtship between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Elliot and Maria Grace does a lovely job developing a courtship story between two older and somewhat “battle-weary” individuals who struggle together to come to terms with the type of marriage they both wish to pursue for themselves. When they meet the residents of Highbury, such as Mr. and Mrs. Elton, at a community gathering, their patience is tested and their eyes are opened to the possibilities that lie ahead of them living within this small community. Will they both decide to take a chance on love so late in the game?
In Snowbound at Hartfield, Maria Grace has written one of my favorite stories centered on Colonel Fitzwilliam exploring his own chance at love. The pairing of Elizabeth Elliot is new to me and offers a nice alternative for the Colonel, especially in the way that Maria Grace has developed their characters. I certainly hope readers get a future glimpse into life at Listingbrook down the road too!
I would like to thank Maria Grace for providing me with an eARC of this story for my fair and honest review.
Meet Maria Grace
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.
She can be contacted at:
Maria Grace has offered a giveaway of this book for my Just Jane 1813 readers. To enter your chance to win an ebook of “Snowbound at Hartfield,” please leave a comment on this blog by midnight, ET on February 12th. The winners will be announced on February 13, 2017.
Thank you, Maria Grace, for writing such a fun and delightful mash-up of three great Austen stories and for your generous giveaway for my readers!
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