Will both of their families act to keep Darcy and Elizabeth apart from each other for the rest of their lives?
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Since its publication this past summer, “Mistaking Her Character,” by Maria Grace, was a book that captured my interest and was quickly given a place on my TBR shelf. Ms. Grace has written several JAFF books, but this is the first one I have read. In this recent B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, Maria Grace has written an original and often entertaining “Pride and Prejudice” variation that strays largely from canon.
“Mistaking Her Character” read for me like a smash-up between “Pride and Prejudice” and “Cinderella.” While I enjoy both of those stories very much, I was surprised by the darker tone of this story, along with the portrayal of the Bennet family in this story. In quite the deviation from canon, the Bennet family lives in Kent under the employment of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, where Doctor Bennet, serves as a private physician to Anne de Bourgh.
Jane and Elizabeth are the step-daughters of Mrs. Bennet. Due to the sickly nature of Anne de Bourgh, Dr. Bennet finds himself frequently at Rosings Park. Yet, he is not alone in his work, as he usually requires the assistance of his compassionate, hard-working and intelligent daughter, Elizabeth Bennet. Father and daughter work tirelessly together to appease Catherine de Bourgh’s never-ending requests, in their attempts to help Anne recover from her reoccurring ailments. Throughout their interactions, Dr. Bennet frequently complains about Elizabeth’s behaviors and berates her in front of other people, to the point where his cruelty towards Elizabeth is almost unbearable to witness. Thankfully, the servants at Rosings see the true goodness and tenderness present in Elizabeth’s character, which makes them loyal to her in many ways.
Always one to enjoy having her say, Lady Catherine decides to play the role of match-maker and invites several young people to Kent, in her efforts to help the Bennet daughters find suitable husbands. Her guests include Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Wickham and Georgiana. Lady Catherine has intended for Mr. Bingley to become better acquainted with Jane Bennet and for Mr. Wickham to become better acquainted with Elizabeth Bennet, as he also learns the finer points of managing an estate from Lady Catherine’s steward.
As the plot moves forward and Anne de Bourgh’s health becomes compromised, Mr. Bennet is forced to stay at Rosings Park to attend to her medical needs. Yet, it’s Elizabeth who spends days on end, toiling away to help Anne recover from her illness. Since the fear is too great that other people will make Anne even sicker, people who may have been exposed to any type of illness or compromised in their own health, are required to stay away from Rosings Park. Therefore, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Wickham find themselves staying as guests with the Bennet family, while Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, Darcy, and the rest of the guests at Rosings Park stay close to the manor, tending to Anne and becoming better acquainted with each other. After spending significant time in each other’s company, Darcy and Elizabeth find themselves drawn to each other. Always one to keep a watchful eye on Darcy, Lady Catherine detects Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth and tries to put an end to it because she believes that Darcy is intended to wed Anne.
While Wickham becomes more familiar with the other females in the various parties, his motives become unclear to the other characters. Instead of quietly and gracefully courting Elizabeth, he seems to have some schemes of his own planned for his future. Can his plans be averted, or will his nefarious plots come to fruition, wreaking havoc among his victims?
As the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that a difficult and winding road lies ahead for many of the characters. The numerous twists and turns placed within the story were one of the story’s stronger points. While the plot was engaging and allowed the story to move along at a steady pace, I felt like I was reading a “Cinderella” story almost as much as a “Pride and Prejudice” variation and I had mixed emotions about how I felt towards this book.
The writing is well done. Maria Grace laced her story with fascinating information about Regency Era medical practices, allowing the reader to feel immersed in the time period, as well as within the setting of the story. I loved the roles that several of the servants played in this book, as their actions were the results of the deep feelings they held from within their hearts towards Elizabeth. I admired the Gardiners in this story as well, and felt they were somewhat similar to the Gardiners from “Pride and Prejudice.”
My favorite character here was Darcy because he was loyal, steadfast in his commitment to Elizabeth and determined to support the people who were willing to help him throughout the story. He saw Elizabeth as the caring and nurturing person that she was and he also recognized her efforts to support Georgiana throughout the story. He also had great strength in his character, which for me, is always an important quality in Mr. Darcy, because it sets him apart from many other men of comparable wealth and social standing.
Elizabeth’s struggles throughout this story felt very real for her, yet her character didn’t fit my ideas about who Elizabeth Bennet is as a person, because for me, she really read more like Cinderella in this story. This was due to the way she was constantly degraded by other people in the book and the way she kept doubting herself throughout the story. It also didn’t seem to make sense why Mr. Bennet abused her so much, since she was typically obliging towards him and so thoroughly competent in her work as his assistant. I have enjoyed other stories where Elizabeth has a contentious relationship with her father, but lack of a motive seemed to make this relationship difficult for me to understand in this story.
If you are looking for a “Pride and Prejudice” variation that takes great liberties with the plot, as well as with the characterizations of several of the story’s main characters, this is a well-written, gripping and entertaining story. If you prefer your characters and/or story lines to ring a little truer to canon, this may be a story that is a bit more difficult to recognize and enjoy as a “Pride and Prejudice” variation. This book has several high ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, so perhaps my criticisms are more about my tastes and preferences in JAFF books. As a JAFF reader, I have learned that I prefer changes in the story lines a great deal more than revisions made regarding the character’s personalities, values and/or beliefs.
This is the first book that Ms. Grace has planned for this series. The way she ended this story does make this read as a stand alone book; yet, there were a couple of events at the end of this story that left me curious about the next book. With that being said, I will definitely be willing to see how the next part of this story develops within the next book in this series.