It’s going to be a Jane Austen couple of weeks on my Friday reviews, beginning with this great Jane Austen variation that was published recently from Monica Fairview! Thank you to White Soup Press for gifting me a copy for review, and the Austenprose blog for facilitating.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Mr Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice following his failed proposal to her is an absolute gamechanger in the storyline. It is here that he begins to explain some of Elizabeth’s misconceptions and realise how badly he has behaved towards her, and Elizabeth’s pride softens towards him.
But what if Darcy never wrote the letter to her? What if, instead, he returned to Rosings Park with his tail between his legs and agrees to the wish of his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh to marry his cousin Anne? And if Elizabeth, instead, returned home to Hertfordshire and married somebody else too?
That is the premise for Monica Fairview’s Fortune and Felicity, which admittedly had me gripped with the interesting idea. The story begins seven years after the failed proposal (“I must tell you how ardently I admire and love you!”), and we find that Darcy has recently become a widower with a five-year-old daughter, Kathy.
Our heroine, too, is a widow: Elizabeth Bennet is now Elizabeth Heriot, having married a sea captain who unfortunately passed away three years into their marriage. Elizabeth is now living with her sister Jane and her growing brood of children (but not with Bingley, of course, as they never had chance to reconcile).
Intent on having some independent means, Elizabeth realises her only hope is to become a governess, building on her experience with Jane’s children. This choice in giving Elizabeth a new role also gave Fairview scope to explore the socially ambiguous role of the governess, which I found really interesting, and functions as an integral part of the plot. Not a servant, but not one of the family, and of course, actually a gentleman’s daughter, Elizabeth finds the work interesting but the position disconcerting.
And of course, who needs a governess, but Mr Darcy and his little girl? When Darcy sees Elizabeth’s name on the list of applicants, he remembers her spirit, warmth and wit, and immediately professes her to be the best prospect for his daughter, who is spoilt and unyielding. So Elizabeth comes to Pemberley, and we see Darcy falling for her all over again, even though much has changed about them both during the intervening seven years.
Fairview’s novel is a really fun variation of Pride and Prejudice in which we do see the return of some interesting and beloved characters. I loved the role Georgiana played in the novel – now a married woman with two children, she has more confidence and plays more of a role in the happiness of her brother. Similarly, I liked that Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper of Pemberley, was back, also trying to play a key matchmaking role.
There was also a great performance put in by Miss Caroline Bingley, who is still a ‘Miss’ (unsurprising, really). She is delightfully horrible still and unwittingly acts as a catalyst in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship. I was quite sad not to see Mr Bingley make an appearance again, but it makes sense with the storyline Fairview has chosen for the reconciliation of Elizabeth and Darcy.
I also relished the dual perspective which built up the romantic tension between Elizabeth and Darcy, which I believe all fans of Pride and Prejudice will find comes to a very satisfactory conclusion. If you love the guilty pleasure of an Austen retelling or variation like I do, I think you will really enjoy this one, which is all about second chances.