In her latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Abigail Reynolds imagines a scenario in which Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are forced together by circumstance and thus their fate is taken out of their hands. When Mr. Darcy visits the Hunsford parsonage with the intent of proposing to Miss Elizabeth Bennett, he never imagines that the wild, torrential rains will strand him there as a local river floods, cutting off all access to Rosings Park. Unfortunately for Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth has refused his proposal, but the damage to her reputation is already done – left alone with Mr. Darcy, unchaperoned for several days, Lizzie must now marry Mr. Darcy to remain respectable. But neither Darcy nor Lizzie anticipate her father’s fierce opposition to the match, or Darcy’s meddlesome family. Force apart after being so quickly forced together, Darcy and Lizzie must find a way to remove the obstacles in their path in order to reach their happy ending.
Abigail Reynolds has written several re-imaginings of Pride and Prejudice, with this latest novel, Mr. Darcy’s Refuge, exploring what would happen if Darcy and Elizabeth had to marry due to society’s rules, even when they had not yet learned to love each other. I’ve read most of Reynolds’ variation novels and I’ve enjoyed the majority of them, as I like imagining how Darcy and Lizzie’s story might have unfolded differently. Reynolds clearly has a deep and abiding appreciation for Jane Austen’s most beloved novel and, for the most part, her versions of Darcy and Lizzie resemble Austen’s originals.
Alas, I did not enjoy Mr. Darcy’s Refuge as much as previous novels, due primarily to Reynolds’ depiction of Mr. Bennett. In this variation, Mr. Bennett goes far beyond being a disinterested father. Here, he is hypocritical, harsh and even cruel to his favorite daughter. Reynolds supposes that Mr. Bennett had a previous unfavorable connection to Mr. Darcy’s uncle, one that causes him to develop his own extreme prejudice against Mr. Darcy based on false information.
While this is a neat echo of Lizzie’s behavior in Austen’s original novel, I found Reynolds’ Mr. Bennett off-putting and distracting. Even taking into account his previous lack of responsibility for his daughters, his treatment of Lizzie seemed so out of character. He spends the majority of the novel being unyielding and unreasonable, to the point that even sensible Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner go behind his back and openly encourage Lizzie to disobey her father. While Wickham makes an appearance, I felt that this version of Mr. Bennett was the real villain of the novel and that disappointed me.
Generally, I did like reading Mr. Darcy’s Refuge for a different take on Pride and Prejudice and I especially enjoyed Reynolds’ spin on Jane Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam in this particular variation. Unfortunately, the novel’s portrayal of Mr. Bennett was so extreme that it ultimately dampened my overall enjoyment of the story. I do think there are many of Reynolds’ Pride and Prejudice variations that are entertaining and delightful. This one, however, fell short.
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