Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds

In Mr. Darcy's Obsession, Abigail Reynolds explores the period between Darcy's first wooing of Elizabeth Bennett and their marriage; a time that they were estranged for a while due to Elizabeth's misunderstanding of his intentions. 

Hard times have fallen on the Bennett family after the death of Mr. Bennett.  Jane has married a tradesman to provide some relief for the family; she doesn't love him but honors him and is grateful for his help.  She now works in trade herself; a shop that sells ribbons and other lady's accessories.  Elizabeth has been sent to her aunt and uncle to serve as a nanny.  It is there that Mr. Darcy once again encounters her, and realizes that no matter the difference in social status, she is the only woman he has ever wanted. 

Although determined to win her for his own, life intervenes.  Another Bennett sister, Lydia, has become pregnant out of wedlock, a situation much worse than genteel poverty as it meant the whole family would be socially ostracized, as would anyone who acknowledged them.  Mr. Darcy cannot help but contrast this situation with similar ones in his own family and comes to realise that the only difference is the money and power that allowed his relatives to hide their shame.

Meanwhile, he becomes more and more disenchanted with the social structure he has always taken for granted, with its huge discrepencies between those with money and the vast majority without.  His eyes are opened by the disgraceful actions of his cousin and uncle and their treatment of women, despoiling where they wished, never caring for the aftereffects they condemned the women they picked to. 

Regardless of the various situations, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth manage to break through the strictures of society and come to a happy ending.  The reader is taken along on their journey, while gaining insight into the day to day life of this period.

I was prepared to dislike this book.  I'm far too much of a feminist to accept a society where a woman's every move is dictated in advance, and there is little room for advancement or ability to follow interests.  But Abigail Reynolds has charmed me with her portrayal.  While portraying the romance and the passion that simmered beneath, she hasn't made her characters into ones consumed with passion and sexual desire every minute of the day.  Reynold's writing is gentle as the subject but she does not veer away from the inequalities that marred this social setup.  I enjoyed a further glance at the backstory of these characters and of daily life in this period.  This book is recommended highly for lovers of the Elizabeth Bennett/Fitzwilliam Darcy love story, and for those interested in an insight into this era.

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