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“… the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
When Elizabeth Bennet left Fitzwilliam Darcy with those words, she was a sheltered, naïve girl who had never felt the sting of real poverty. What if her circumstances were more precarious? Would she still express herself using those harsh words? What if she were the victim of a raging storm of worldwide economic hardship that touched virtually everyone? How would the consequences of that hardship affect the other beloved characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? If Elizabeth thought she was running out of options, what would happen then?
1932 is a twist on Jane Austen’s classic tale. Elizabeth Bennet has always led a pampered existence as the daughter of a university professor in the Midwest until the safety of her world dissolves around her due to unforeseen adversity. Amidst the ensuing upheaval, what — and who — might she discover as she rebuilds a life for herself and her family in the sleepy, backwater town of Meryton?
“Funny how one little rock can move all that water. Like one young woman could change my entire life.” William Darcy, 1932, by Karen M Cox
I had the pleasure of reading 1932 as one of my very first alternate era stories in JAFF. Ever since then, Karen M Cox has become one of my absolute favorite alternate era authors of this genre and since I have never posted a review for 1932, I felt that the release of her new companion story to 1932, The Journey Home, would be a great time to dive into a reread of this book and review it for my readers.
Ms. Cox has placed her story within the timeframe of the infamous Great Depression in the United States, where people all over America suffered the loss of their jobs, their homes, and sometimes, their very own dignity. As this story opens readers are made aware that the Bennet family is suffering from the devastating loss of Dr. Bennet’s position at a university in Chicago where Elizabeth Bennet has also been taking courses to pursue a career in teaching. Without any hopes of receiving a similar position in Chicago, the Bennet family take up an offer made by their Uncle Gardiner to relocate their entire family to the family farm owned by Mrs. Bennett’s family.
As the family travels to Meryton, a small town located in rural Kentucky, they immediately find themselves being observed by the curious locals. On their arrival, Elizabeth accidentally meets a young and handsome farmer, his younger, pretty companion, and their two adorable girls. After conversing briefly with the family, Elizabeth’s impression of the young man isn’t exactly favorable. However, he is immediately drawn to her and the way that little Maggie has become smitten with Elizabeth upon her first sighting of her and over time, he finds himself more and more intrigued by her:
What was it about Elizabeth? Beauty? Jane was actually more beautiful. Charles was right about that. Elizabeth was not beautiful in that limited, superficial way; she was more. Her eyes sparkled with wit and intelligence. Her smile was bright and open; he loved to see it, although she rarely turned one on him. She was good to people; even though Maggie was only four, she was a good judge of kindness and sincerity. After all, the little rascal avoided Caroline Bingley like the plague.
The move to Meryton has a significant effect on the lives of the entire Bennet family. In an effort to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table, each Bennet girl pursues a different way to earn money and/or goods for the family. As the eldest daughter, Jane receives a job offer to work as a clerk at a local store named Netherfield, where the young and successful Charles Bingley is looking to expand his business into other locations. Charles is “assisted” by his spinster aunts, Caroline and Louisa, who aspire to help him become a big success in these endeavors. Elizabeth, fortunate to receive work in her Uncle Gardiner’s veterinarian office, soon becomes the object of Mr. Darcy’s admiration. Self-conscious, but deeply concerned about the fall in their stations and their struggles to even keep food on their table, the Bennet sisters work hard to retain their dignity and pride as they acclimate to their new situations.
Hard work, however, is not enough to raise their fortunes and when Darcy surprises Elizabeth with a proposal of his own, she decides to accept him mainly for practical purposes. Serious, quiet, and unwilling to reveal the depth of his true feelings, Darcy remains a mystery in his young wife’s eyes. How is it possible that they will ever find a way to live happily together when disdain and disrespect seem to be communicated through his actions towards Elizabeth and her family’s situation. Yet once he starts to dig into her actions, can he truly believe she doesn’t have some ulterior motives of her own that she’s concealing from him?
Karen Cox has done a wonderful job composing a story whose main storylines stay close to canon, while at the same time she weaves a stirring story that is uniquely her own. Her characterizations of Elizabeth and Darcy in rural America capture their spirit and personalities from canon, while their misunderstandings and inner conflicts throughout the plot challenge them to overcome several of the barriers that may drive them apart in the long haul. It is this constant, yet subtle and gradually developing romantic tension between these two main characters that Ms. Cox beautifully crafts to develop a story that is rewarding to savor from beginning to end:
He was incredulous at her frank reply. She was so direct, so starkly honest, so impertinent, so compelling, so enticing . . . beguiling . . . enchanting . . . He found himself leaning toward her, losing his awkwardness in her warm, shining eyes.
Elizabeth felt him kiss her lips, gingerly, tentatively, like dipping a bare toe into a bath or taking a small sip of hot soup from a spoon. He kissed her cheeks, her jaw, the place behind her ear, her now closed eyelids. She felt him right her hand that held the champagne flute, before he took it from her and drained the glass. He set it on the low table in front of the sofa and drew her up to her feet. He kissed her hand and pulled her into a gentle embrace, his hands roaming over her back in gentle, rhythmic strokes.
This story also includes some mature adult scenes, which true to Ms. Cox’s style, are beautifully written and serve to develop the intimacy between these characters that they initially struggle to develop through their conversations with one another. Cole Porter’s evocative song, “Night and Day,” smolders in the background throughout a few key moments in this story.
The minor storylines in this story are also well-crafted and engaging. Georgiana’s story, which is the focus of Ms. Cox’s new novella, The Journey Home, is told with a poignancy that made this storyline worthy of its own novella. Jane and Bingley’s storyline plays a smaller role in this book, therefore so do Caroline and Louisa’s characters as well. Having them cast as spinster aunts are, I would imagine, Karen’s small laugh at these ladies. Witnessing an older Caroline trying to ingratiate herself with the younger William Darcy will likely make readers smile (and chuckle!) at her behaviors.
I also thought Ms. Cox found a really clever way to tie Jane Austen’s story, Persuasion, into this story. I love how she used Anne Elliot’s struggles to highlight some of Elizabeth’s own struggles. Darcy had a true sensitivity within him to understand all that Elizabeth lost when she moved to Meryton. Just like Captain Wentworth, he saw things in Elizabeth that other people may have forgotten due to their reduced circumstances, but Darcy always thought about how to try to help Elizabeth through the loss of a future that would probably never be for her.
After reading this story twice along with the newly released side-quel story, The Journey Home, I highly recommend these two books to lovers of Austenesque and historical romance fiction. Smart, emotive, and well-plotted, Karen M Cox shows us why this book won the Bronze Ippy Award in 2011.
Karen M Cox is an award-winning author of four novels accented with romance and history: “1932”, “Find Wonder in All Things”, “At the Edge of the Sea”, and “Undeceived”. She also contributed a short story, “Northanger Revisited 2015”, to the anthology, “Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer”, and wrote “I, Darcy”, a short story in “The Darcy Monologues” anthology.
Karen was born in Everett WA, which was the result of coming into the world as the daughter of a United States Air Force Officer. She had a nomadic childhood, with stints in North Dakota, Tennessee, and New York State before finally settling in her family’s home state of Kentucky at the age of eleven. She lives in a quiet little town with her husband, where she works as a pediatric speech pathologist, encourages her children, and spoils her granddaughter.
Channeling Jane Austen’s Emma, Karen has let a plethora of interests lead her to begin many hobbies and projects she doesn’t quite finish, but she aspires to be a great reader and an excellent walker – like Elizabeth Bennet.
Connect with Karen: www.karenmcox.com
Visit with Karen on several of the usual social media haunts such as Facebook, (karenmcox1932), Twitter (@karenmcox1932), Pinterest (karenmc1932), Instagram (karenmcox1932), and Tumblr (karenmcox)
IT’S GIVEAWAY TIME!
I have a giveaway of an eBook of “1932” for one Just Jane 1813 reader. To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by midnight, ET, on August 13th. The winner will be announced on this blog on August 14, 2017.
I’d like to thank Karen Cox for writing this lovely alternate era story that has been a long-time favorite with her fans.
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