Friday, February 24, 2012
Just what it says on the tin - The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy tells the story of Pride and Prejudice from Fitzwilliam's point of view. That's not particularly original (and this isn't the first inversion I've read), but I'm willing to give almost any Pride and Prejudice spin-off a try. I probably should have skipped this one, though, because the characters didn't feel right. I just can't see Darcy visiting brothels - having an arrangement with a discreet widow, perhaps, but not gallivanting with Lord Byron and following his lead towards bacchanals. I was also uncomfortable with the transformation of Wickham from a mere cad to a rapist, and I can't see the Darcy I know protecting such a character. What I did like was the novel's treatment of Lydia Bennett - instead of a selfish brat, she's a silly child who's been seduced and there's an edge of panic to her exhibitionism as she begins to realize what lies ahead.
Warning - Spoilers
Vera Hillyard killed her sister Eden in a fight over the child to whom both claimed to have given birth. Decades after Vera's execution, a writer approaches the women's niece for help in untangling the mystery. Vera's son Francis has disavowed his family, and their older half-sister and respective husbands were not present for most of the important events, so the only reliable witness is their niece Faith Severn. As a young teenager, Faith escaped the London Blitz by living with her aunts, an intruder in a suffocating mutual-admiration society. Brittle, housekeeper-extraordinaire Vera had devoted her life to her much-younger sister, shipping her son off to boarding school and living apart from her officer husband when Eden was orphaned at age 14. By 1939, Eden had grown into a beautiful and outwardly sweet young woman - the ideal of femininity according to her sister, and an ideal which Faith could never hope to achieve.
Eden joined the WRENs, leaving Vera (who was only in her late 30s) lonely and wishing for another child (the son she'd abandoned a decade earlier had become - or perhaps always was - a manipulator who found joy in psychologically torturing his mother), so no one was surprised when Vera announced her pregnancy. Jamie, however, was born 10 months after Vera's husband shipped out, thus casting doubt on his paternity. Three years later, Eden married a wealthy man and after an ectopic pregnancy left her infertile, she temporarily takes custody of Jamie from an ailing Vera.
This is where things get hazy. Faith, by this time, is a Cambridge student and receives much of her information second hand or in bits and pieces to be assembled later. Her narrative is full of "I heard" and "I think" but the gist of it is that Eden refused to return Jamie to Vera because she claimed to be his mother. More than 30 years later, Faith still doesn't know which woman was telling the truth. Was Jamie the result of an affair or of a rare (but not impossible) 45 week pregnancy? Or did Eden leave the WRENs more than a year before the war ended (Faith saw her aunt in mufti when Eden was allegedly still in the service) because she was pregnant, and then gave her son to Vera to raise? This time around, I thought Eden was Jamie's mother...until I didn't. And then I did.