Monday, October 17, 2011

Young Master Darcy: A Lesson in Honour

I had the good fortune to attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) in Ft. Worth, Texas this past weekend, and Sunday morning attended the author book signing where I got to meet Pamela Aidan, one of my absolute favorite Austenesque authors.

I picked up a copy of her latest, Young Master Darcy: A Lesson in Honour, published in 2010. It's a slim book, clocking in at 120 pages, and so I read it on my flight back to Denver.

Reading it was pure pleasure. Aidan is a skilled storyteller, able to weave numerous themes together into a coherent story, and her writing is fluid, precise, and rich with an authentic voice laced with humor and good will.

The story takes place 15 years before Pride and Prejudice, with Darcy as a 13-year old on Christmas holiday from his first term at Eton. In the story, Aidan excavates the roots of those character traits, those virtues as well as shortcomings, that Elizabeth Bennet wrestles to understand in P&P. We see young Master Darcy grappling with the rapidly declining health of his beloved mother, playing with his baby sister, dealing with the increasingly nefarious behavior of George Wickham, responding to the friendly advances of a village maiden, complete with fine eyes and a lively wit, and learning the hard way what it means to be Darcy of Pemberley.

A few years ago I bought a book entitled Jane Austen's Christmas, which was fun to read, but I can honestly say that this is a far better book about Regency Christmas, complete with mummers, groaning tables, and wintertime fun and festivity.

After reading this delightful novella, I came to the realization that these days I am definitely preferring prequels to sequels. In a way, I'm a hopeless romantic, more than willing to let Austen, et al, have the last word and accept that her heroines and heroes did have a happily ever after. What tends to interest me these days is to look at what formed them, to trace the paths they choose that put them on the road to where Austen, et al, commence telling their stories.

I hope that Aidan provides more stories about Darcy's youth--I would love to read about how he came to employ his valet, Fletcher, how he became friends with the incomparable Lord Dyford Brougham, and, of course, how he and Charles Bingley became such inseparable friends.

If you haven't yet read Aidan's wonderful trilogy, Fitzwilliam Darcy: Gentleman, then you've got a wonderful treat in store. Aidan has also contributed a short story, The Riding Habit, to the just-released collection of Austen-inspired stories, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. The Riding Habit is a post-P&P story about Elizabeth's fear of horses and how she and her husband deal with it.


  1. I enjoyed YMD as well and hope that there are more in the pipline.

    What surprises me is your statement about coming to like prequels. I understand your reasoning, and I know you're not alone. A few months back I did a poll on what the readers at Jane Started It! would like me to write in the Anne and Frederick saga. By a wide margin the most popular idea was their first courtship.

    I was shocked because it ends so sadly. And though you know that years later their relationship comes to fruition, I thought it was too sad to really contemplate.

    Does this come from there being so much Jane Fiction being available and the readers looking for fresh angles? Is it the slowing down of the genre?

    I'm puzzled.

    I'm glad you had a good time at JASNA, Jane.

  2. This one sounds good - and I agree with you about prequels, I generally prefer them to sequels.

  3. Intriguing questions, Susan.

    The challenge of the prequel is that the writer must be fairly true to Austen in order to set the stage for what comes next.

    Considering what has been going forward in Austen fiction recently, I can see why prequels would appeal to the true lover of Austen. The genre doesn't seem to be slowing down as much as it is being watered down.

    Kudos to Pamela Aidan for giving us a quality read! So glad you were able to meet her, Jane.

  4. I picked up YMD at the AGM as well, but didn't have a chance to have Pamela Aiden sign it- but I did have her sign her story in Jane Austen Made Me Do It. I didn't know how many of the contributors would be at the launch party, but Laurel Ann Nattress (editor), Stephanie Barron, Syrie James, Pamela Aiden, Carrie Bebris, Margaret C. Sullivan, and Janet Mullany were all there! Great week for readers and writers!

  5. Thank you all! YMD was fun to imagine and then write precisely for the reasons Laura Hile raised. Prequels MUST be true to Austen, must present a plausible backstory and therefore must contribute to deepening the reader's insight into the character of the Austen's characters.

    Perhaps another reason we like prequels is that, even thought we know the end of the original, the faithful backstory increases the tension we enjoyed in the original and gives the reader a series of "Ah Ha! Now I know...That's why..." moments.