The more I watch, the more convinced I am that had Lydia not intervened with her--adventures, Elizabeth would not have made it out of Derbyshire unengaged, possibly not even unmarried.
This entire review is brought about by Linda Berdoll's novels, which are fanfic of this version of Pride and Prejudice in so many ways. So. Many. Ways.
When I recommended them before, I hadnt' finished re-reading and forgot that the books, though uniformly of the light hearted melodramatic variety (that I love), there are some parts that are not that at all.
Warning for triggering content below: specifically, the death of a child and sexual assault. If you have these particular ones and plan to read the books, please consider the below, as the rest of the books are far lighter and more humorous, so it might come as a shock.
I'm specifically citing these because the tone of the novel doesn't--at first--seem to lend to these, so to readers who have been dancing along may find it a shock.
Aside from the hilarity and Berdoll's truly unique approach to timeline jumping, there are several parts that are objectively some of the best approaches I've seen novels take on very peculiarly powerful issues for women; one of the most uncomfortable but also rewarding was Elizabeth's stillborn son and then the death of her fourth child, as well as the death of her father.
I was really surprised that the Elizabeth's deep grief and depression after both children's deaths are not only mentioned, but lingering as an ongoing concern for longer than a page or two. It was handled--to me--with surprising sensitivity, and more importantly, the writer had Darcy handle it with both natural awkwardness in his own grief and worry for her, but without making her grief all about him. It's an issue of their lives and both the depression and her healing are both a focus and part of the ongoing events of their lives as well, and it's not rushed.
To me, they were handled with what felt like exactly the right amount of sentimentality for a mother, first at the loss of her firstborn, then the death of her fourth. Nor was healing sex a deciding factor, but sex and intimacy as part and parcel among other events a milestone of healing and moving on.
The more complicated is the matter of sexual assault; Elizabeth is abducted in pursuit of rape. While this fails, the aftermath is covered with--again--surprising introspection, and it's pretty damn rare that the entirety of the thing is not about manpain, but Darcy's understanding and desire to follow Elizabeth's cues and needs, acknowledging his own feelings, while powerful to him, are secondary to hers. Again, it's not perfect, but it's extremely well-done.
Right, after finishing all three, more generally.
The second and third are weaker (in some ways, a lot weaker) than the first, but they also aren't the unfortunate lot of sequels to be boring or cover the same ground in repetition over and over. Berdoll ups the ante in each novel, which you wouldn't think she could after the entire Georgian-Napoleonic War (another surprisingly sympathetically and well written view of the aftermath of war) and um, twins. Berdoll's one failing through the second and third one is to take the the idiosyncrasies of Lydia and Mrs Bennett straight to unsympathetically annoying, which in the first book Lydia was fantastic in her single-minded narcissism and ability to land on her feet.
I'm not saying the path of Lydia's character didn't make sense--whoo boy, did it--but that the author seemed, like Austen, to value her annoying characters as much as she mocked them. Her chaotic neutral OCs (Juliette Clisson, Howgrave) nearly descend to the same irritating level of not-quite villainy, but I got the feeling that she needed villains (or semi-villains) and they were around and close enough. I also think--though can't prove--that she didn't mean to write the third book at all, because unlike the second, which did pick up the threads of the first very well, seemed to contradict some of the character growth and change (except the Darcys and Bingleys, who kept emotional and character growth apace).
(Note: Caroline Bingley is annoying but the third book, like with Lydia, descends fast)
However, I admit I took a vicious satisfaction in Wickham like whoa, and it was very in character (granted, for the third book, he would have to acquire a work ethic, but it was worth imagining he got one just to see what he did with it).
Sex in the Regency Era
Berdoll's coverage of sexual congress is not limited to Elizabeth and Darcy, or Elizabeth's sudden and surprising fascination with Darcy's boots (I don't think anyone would disagree with that) or Elizabeth's occasional indulgence in cross-dressing (Darcy takes this very, very well). One of the scenes in the third book (that make it kind of worth everything) is Elizabeth planning a assignation with Darcy in the wrong room; when Darcy finds her, she tells him in horror of walking in on her Uncle Gardiner and Aunt Gardiner enjoying intimacy, he in his wife's nightgown and she in his nightcap. Also, there's a lot in this book implied about riding crops (positively!).
Prostitution, both in the lower classes and the upper class are covered with a lot of thoroughness, both in the evils (disease, rape, pregnancy, murder) and in the sex positive with little to no condemnation of the act of selling sex in itself (both the Covent Garde crowd and the courtesans are villains due to being prostitutes; in fact, until the third book and the weirdness she pulled with Juliette (which wasn't about her being a courtesan but in a terrible marriage and a fixation on Darcy who was an early lover), all of them were presented as both early victims and survivors that use what they have to survive (and I just realized, all of them pretty much prosper for the most part; in Cesarinne's case, it's fairly clear at the end her job wasn't the problem, but her extravagance, as reflected by Juliette and Daisy, who differed in social class but not in profession and both reflecting self-discipline and pretty good heads for business), sympathetic without stripping away their agency. Juliette, Daisy, Cesarinne Thierry, Marie-Therese Lambert are all given entire life histories, families, journeys that both showed how they got to where they were, but why (Berdoll really loves her OCs; they have entire lives going on).
(Note on Daisy: I can't help but just like her, from prostitute to creating a safe space for pregnant women and children; the remarkable thing is that it's never reflected as a sudden development of a social conscience but what felt like a very subtle slap at the Regency-era view of the lower classes as children or immoral in nature (for that matter, a rather current classist view as well). When imminent starvation is less of a problem, being able to do more for others is almost immediate, and with Daisy being both member of that class as well as patron to it, without patronizing overtones (the text is fairly rough on social crusaders with save-people tendencies who don't recognize the situation of those they are trying to save). The text itself treats it so casually that it's almost a shock to realize Daisy opened a shelter for women in need and is learning to read and write because its irritating that she can't, and is casually noting that the number of babies in her house will require she get around to opening a school. You know. As one does.)
Howgrave's abuse of his wife, however, is clearly delineated as abuse; while not expert at it, Berdoll does state--rather awkwardly but without a lot of ambiguity--that riding crop sex is a-okay, but Howgrave's abuse was not fun and games but sadistic enjoyment of causing pain to someone who had to let him do it (being a wife and all). For good measure, she threw in casual abuse as well to clarify the difference between healthy sex and Howgrave's actions. Much less textual, but I get the feeling Berdoll was really trying to hit all her bases on sex positiveness within the structure of a novel about the Darcys, homosexuality is casually (very blink and you miss it) insert and not once referred to as a perversion, which is pretty much more than I have ever expected of any Regency novelist but Amanda Quick (she of the lesbian "aunts' who raise a daughter who are textually acknowledged as lovers in a solid and committed relationship, or furthering the relationship of two young women's love affair in a side plot).
(Required (non-explicit, referral only) reference to male-gaze threesome; Wickham hates them. They aren't about him. Juliette's affairs with women separately from men are alluded to both casually and pointedly, so I give the author credit for that bit not being about dissipation but about Wickham's narcissism.)
To clarify; I don't say this is done brilliantly or even without offense or in perfect consistency (Abigail's story is realistic, but is also set before the current timeline), but the author's general theme of All Consenting Sex That Does Not Cause Hurt to Others Is Fantastic, sex is healthy, sex is good, all permutations of sex are good is carried out pretty much whenever there is opportunity to get that out there, sometimes with mixed results, sometimes a little too heavy-handed, but always so sincere I'm charmed to death.
(Note: Lydia's getting pregnant while in mourning for Wickham is an exception in sexual condemnation, but to be fair, she's in mourning and gets knocked up by another officer while living in her mother's home with no income, a lot of debt, and without any sense of personal responsibility for her actions and the expectation everyone else will take care of her (and her kids). Social ridicule is no small thing for any family in that time period, and Lydia's actions consistently are driven by self-gratification without reference to the fact her actions when exposed to society are literally damaging to her family and friends, the same people she expects and demands support her and her family.)
(Note: I am torn on the Duchess of Derbyshire interlude. Berdoll doesn't employ any negative connotations to her living in a threesome with her husband and his mistress; the sexual condemnation is specific to her affair with Darcy's father and her excessive drinking and gambling, which follows Berdoll's general sex is great when it's not damaging to others. In this case, it was very damaging to Darcy's mother. Most (I won't say all because I don't have a perfect memory) condemnation of sexual congress is entirely based on betrayal and physical/emotional abuse.)
Women in Regency Romance
Berdoll's novel is rife with women both OC and not; I venture to say that they outnumber the men and they also, invariably, get a story all their own (Howgrave, a fairly major OC, gets far less than any of the major female OCs.
(I'm differentiating major and minor by independence of plotline and history)
The major female OC count is as follows (this is also to check my memory):
Juliette Clisson - French viscountess and courtesan, Darcy's early lover
Lady Millhouse - neighbor (less backstory but a lot of presence and involvement in the plot)
Sally Frances Arbuthnoy - introduced as an independent character (then relation to Abigail and John Christie made) with independent backstory and plotline
Daisy Mulroney - introduced as independent character with (slightly abbreviated) backstory and independent plotine (later connection to half-brothers Thomas and Frank)
Cesarinne Thierry - introduced as courtesan, backstory and semi-independent plotline given, later introduced as former love of Wickham; also friend and associate of Juliette
Hannah Moorhouse - actually appears briefly in the original novel as a servant in the Lambton Inn, becomes Elizabeth's maid
The minor female OC count (usually related to the above OCs stories)
Marie Therese Lambert - Wickham and Cesarinne's daughter (her backstory is more or less implied by her identity)
Abigail Christie - Pemberley maid, mother of John Christie and Sally (interesting, she goes from being a name-only support in Darcy's past and then part of John Christie's backstory to a developed character in her own right and mother of Sally, given a small but developed history)
Nell Arbuthnoy - developed in the second book, Sally's father's mother, also given a small but developed history and large role in Sally's story
Margaret Moorhouse - Hannah's sister, introduced as nurse at Pemberly in relation to Hannah
The major male OCs:
John Christie - Abigail's first son, Sally's half-brother, Wickham's son, full backstory
Harold Goodwin - nephew of canon Pemberly housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds, Darcy's gentleman's gentleman
Tom Reed - introduced as villian and related to a Pemberley footman, also Daisy's half-brother
The minor male OCs:
Major Kneebones - introduced in relation to Lydia, becomes her second husband, no backstory
Lord Beecher - introduced in relation to Anne, Lady Catherine's daughter, becomes her husband, then Caroline Bingley's husband, no backstory
Cyril Smeads - son of canon Pemberley housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds - introduced as steward of the Pemberley London townhouse in relation to Mrs. Reynolds (and acknowledged he has the job because of his mother); later minor villian
Frank Reed - Pemberley footman, also Daisy's half-brother
Newton Hinchcliffe - introduced as Lady Millhouse's nephew, utilized to further Georgiana's literary ambitions
Henry Howgrave - introduced as name-only in relation to Darcy in the first book, introduced as Juliette's husband in the third, involvement almost entirely in relation to her, no real backstory.
Also, these are a romp. A rompy-romp.
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