Book Review - Pride and Prejudice (A Clandestine Classic), by Jane Austen and Amy Armstrong (3/5 Stars)
I purchased this book from Amazon on September 5, 2012
When the highly eligible and overtly handsome Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy first arrives in Hertfordshire, Elizabeth Bennet is instantly captivated, but his proud and arrogant manner is at odds with the heated glances he throws her way. Electrifying sexual tension soon leads to an unexpected kiss and Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down.
Misconceptions ensue and judgements abound but the attraction between the young couple endures. Can Elizabeth overlook social convention and give in to her desires for Darcy or will their Pride and Prejudice tear them apart?
When I heard there was a version of Pride and Prejudice with some steamy omitted scenes, I was very much intrigued. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are my all-time favorite lovers, and I know I'm not alone in that regard. That said, I purchased this version of Pride and Prejudice with some reservations. I've read a variety of the "published fanfic" Pride and Prejudice off-shoots, though they are all usually a DNF for me because of the mishandling of the characterization.
I made it all the way through this one, though I do believe that is mostly to be accounted for Ms. Austen's writing. That is not to say I didn't enjoy the steamier scenes between Elizabeth and Darcy; I did, but the insertions felt very forced. Ms. Armstrong did a good job of adapting a seventeenth century/regency feel, but the scenes themselves were so out of character it felt very much as an addition to an otherwise classic novel.
The thing about Elizabeth and Darcy is this: while there is a good deal of physical attraction, their main draw to one another is their intellectual regard. Darcy came to admire Elizabeth for the way she holds herself, conducts herself, expresses herself, and so on. It's her intelligence, her convictions, her kindness that entrance him. Her ability to match him in discussion, debate and support her beliefs and convictions, and so on. Of course he is drawn to her physically -- Austen herself alluded to this with repeated acknowledgment of Elizabeth's "fine eyes" and her eventual status as one of the "handsomest women" of Darcy's acquaintance. And Darcy, himself, is regarded for his physical attractiveness.
Austen's Darcy and Armstrong's Darcy are at such odds with each other so as to contradict their characterizations. No matter how strong Darcy's attraction to Elizabeth, I cannot be persuaded to believe he would do more than perhaps the only organic "clandestine" moment between them: kissing her at Netherfield. The other intimate moments between them -- the Netherfield ball and what occurs when Elizabeth is visiting the Collinses -- is a vast stretch of character. The Darcy who said the following would have had much too much respect for societal boundaries, and for Elizabeth, to behave as he did:
``I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.''
Furthermore, given what occurred between Georgiana and Wickham, and given Darcy never explains himself or his deeper sentiments before presuming to endanger Elizabeth's reputation, any intimacy between them is a vast stretch of his character.
And then, of course, is Elizabeth. Elizabeth is proper, yes, but fiercely independent and quite quick to make a judgement of someone's character. I wanted to see some of her fighting spirit in the new material. She should have slapped Darcy when he presumed to kiss her at Netherfield, she should have hated him by the time of the Netherfield ball (especially since he presumed a kiss), and she would never have allowed him so close to her after she had made up her mind regarding his character. That is not to say these things couldn't be believably accomplished, but it would take more care than what was presented here. Elizabeth Bennet is not the sort of heroine who throws her convictions out the window in exchange for physical pleasure, and to render her as such is, in my opinion, a great disservice.
I don't wholly believe this is the fault of Ms. Armstrong. As I stated, I am guilty of wanting to see intimacy between Darcy and Elizabeth, and have purchased the fanworks to prove it. I am not convinced, as I said, that reworking Pride and Prejudice to include those scenes isn't possible, but I have read nothing that has managed it believably. I think that is a testament to Ms. Austen's characters. I WANT very much to see more of them, but haven't been able to suspend my disbelief in the portrayals that have been provided. I do believe Ms. Armstrong could rework the Austen storyline into a contemporary setting, as others have, and I would very much enjoy reading something along those lines. The same characteristics that make Elizabeth Elizabeth and Darcy Darcy could be achieved believably alongside the steamy scenes if societal norms altered. Both Elizabeth and Darcy are very much products of their environment, such to the point the environment needs to change before does their behavior.
I enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice again, and commend Ms. Armstrong on a good effort in her additions to the original, even I ultimately didn't believe it. Her writing itself is strong enough I would like to read some of her other work.
I would recommend this version for those who love Austen and don't mind the occasional flight of fancy. The new intimacy between Darcy and Elizabeth might throw you momentarily out of the story, but the result is a fun guilty pleasure detour of an otherwise brilliant book.