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franklin county times

A message for Jane Austen fans

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
June 27, 2004
I'm one of those women who has read "Pride and Prejudice" a dozen times in leather-bound illustrated editions and cat-chewed paperbacks.
I always hold my breath during Mr. Darcy's first, unsuccessful, proposal of marriage to Elizabeth Bennett certain that this time he will say the right thing or she will see past his formidable demeanor. It's agony to read the next hundred pages, waiting for Darcy to unbend enough for Elizabeth to realize she's misjudged him.
But, of course, the idea that the two might never come together is what creates the book's dramatic tension. Because it could so easily happen.
Most of the time, in my experience, it does.
Long before I fell for Mr. Darcy, I had discovered you can't do a thing with those kind of men: reserved, intelligent, private, undemonstrative and on a mission. Unknown and unknowable, they don't explain themselves to anyone on any subject, and they have a small circle of acquaintance with which they are perfectly content. It doesn't help that I have some of those same qualities.
Little wonder "Pride and Prejudice" is on my top five list.
If that seems strange for a known head-case like me, the other four are more predictably obscure: "Riddley Walker" by Russell Hoban, "A Time of Changes" by Robert Silverberg, "A Clockwork Orange" (or anything else) by Anthony Burgess and "Families: A Memoir and a Celebration" by Wyatt Cooper of, incidentally, Quitman, Miss.
Intentions and
interpretations
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett are the story's only three-dimensional characters; for the most part, the rest are deliberate stereotypes, variously vicious, insipid or obsequious.
I'm sure Jane Austen would be surprised to learn that "Pride and Prejudice" has been handed down into the modern era as a full-blown romance owing mostly to the release in 1940 of a movie version starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.
But, despite its intentions, the love story at the center is compelling and fans wanted sequels. Lots have been written. Up until last week, I had avoided them.
Eating the apple …
Grazing at Books-A-Gazillion, I ran across a disastrously irresistible new title, "Mr. Darcy takes a Wife," by Linda Berdoll.
This book imitates the formal, wordy prose of Jane Austen, with lots of commas and grace notes, but without approaching its elegance and restraint.
That's not really the worst of it.
The controlled comedic style of Austen's novel gives way in Berdoll's sequel to frowzy melodrama and all the convoluted language can't disguise the fact that Berdoll's Darcy and Elizabeth have 20th century sensibilities.
How can I put this delicately? Unless your contemplation of the Darcys' married life runs to the strategic placement of bedroom mirrors and the leaving on of one's riding boots, you're going to be disappointed.
It is what it is, I guess, but it's not a true-to-genre sequel to "Pride and Prejudice."
If you're a Jane Austen fan, don't watch while a first-time novelist of only moderate gifts peeps through Mr. Darcy's keyhole he would hate that.
Don't read this book.
I'm sorry I did.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail smonk@themeridianstar.com.

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