What can I say? This book was brilliant. This was a very interesting take on the classic novel, playing on the idea of Pride and Prejudice being completely written in letters. It is believed that Jane Austen originally wrote Pride and Prejudice in epistolary form and so this is a very original and brilliant concept to develop.
“In this imaginative retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Amanda Grange now tells the classic story through the eyes of its compelling romantic hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy—in a series of revealing letters that casts a sparkling new reflection on the manners and morals of the landed gentry in 19th-century England… Here, for the first time, are the letters written by the exceedingly proud and stubborn Mr. Darcy, covering the life-changing events that defined him—from the death of his father, to his control of his Derbyshire estate of Pemberley to his conflicted courtship with the lively, intelligent, and delightfully willful Elizabeth Bennet. Try as he may, he cannot deny his attraction to this woman with fine eyes, a playful spirit, a mind of her own… and an embarrassing family that is frankly, and utterly, beneath him. But it is Elizabeth who controls both their destinies, and whose surprises will change Darcy’s life yet again.”
I have to admit that I was dubious about reading an entire novel in letters... I wondered how the story would flow and could be told through letters and letters only. But I had loved Ms. Grange’s Diary series which tells each of Jane Austen’s 6 major novels from the point of view of the hero (review here) and so I was definitely going to give this story a try! And I had no need to be worried about the letter format of the story for it was brilliant. It allowed the reader to be shown so many scenes from different perspectives as well the thoughts and feelings of so many different characters that we do not get to know that well in the original.
As I said, I found it really interesting seeing many of the events from the original told from another point of view. A few favourite examples of this for me would be....
Early on at Netherfield when Jane is ill, it was fun to see what the letter Darcy was writing to Georgiana in the drawing room actually said, as I always wondered what he was actually writing to her when Caroline asks him what he is doing so secretly in the corner and begs him to tell Georgiana how she longs to see her – and no, he wasn’t writing quite what Caroline wished him to!
Another example was the Netherfield Ball. I enjoyed all the different letters written after the ball; Elizabeth's view, Kitty's view, Mary's view, Charlotte’s view and Mr Darcy’s. The different accounts and seeing what was the focus of each account was very showing of the writer’s character (Kitty wrote mostly of the officers and the dancing for example!)
Another interesting section was Lydia’s elopement, seeing the letters from Kitty to Lydia about Wickham and all her secret and scandalous goings on, for we know that the news of the elopement when it happens is not such a shock to Kitty as it is to everyone else. And then during the discovery of the pair, seeing how the news of the scandal was spreading, for gossip really does travel fast! We also get to see Mr Gardiner’s perspective of his search of the pair, and then also Darcy's account - we never actually hear his account of the search in London.
Another fun event was the meeting at Pemberley, getting to see both Lizzy’s take on the unexpected meetings and subsequent interactions as well as Darcy’s and what was going through his mind.
There are many, many more which I could mention, but I do not want to spoil it all, just enough to whet your appetite!
I found it remarkable how the novel started before the time of the original, and in fact, the first 100 pages or so of the story are set before the start of Pride and Prejudice. It was not boring, however, for it gave interesting background to the story and it helped to set up events in the novel. Let me explain... we are shown things such as how Lady Catherine comes to needing a new rector, how Caroline Bingley becomes acquainted with (and besotted with) Mr. Darcy, why Netherfield Park becomes vacant in the first place, and much more. It really added great depth.
The story, in fact, began around the time of Old Mr Darcy’s death and shows how Darcy coped with this and the time directly afterwards. Darcy is written to by a variety of family members (such as a Mr Philip Darcy, his cousin, and another aunt, Aunt Adelaide.) It was nice to hear something of Darcy's family for it gives him depth and it made me feel as though I knew more about who he was much more quickly, as we know so little of him, really, until very late into the novel.
It's also nice to see into Elizabeth's past and the events leading up to the start of the novel. It gives a little more into her character, although she is well developed in the novel already. Her letters to Mrs Gardiner were always very lovely to read and I liked seeing more into the reasons for their strong relationship which we see later in the original story. But again, I am going to start to give away too much and so I shall stop!
As well as having many scenes from a completely different point of view, which often throws a completely different spin on the scene, the letters also show interesting insight into the thoughts and feelings of some characters we perhaps don’t get to know all that well in the original. There were also some interesting new characters which helped to add to the story. (Of course, seeing more into Darcy’s thoughts, and Elizabeth’s, was brilliant to read, but I shall focus on some different characters.)
Let’s begin with the scoundrel Wickham. I didn’t think it was possible to hate Wickham anymore than I did already, but clearly I was wrong, for while reading this story my dislike for him just grew and grew! You are really shown his true nature and all his roguish behaviour through letters he writes to his equally as bad friend Mr Parker, and also failed companion Mrs Younge. You see what is going through his mind during the attempted elopement with Georgiana and then the successful elopement with Lydia, and how both events came about. He really is abominable and if you like to hate Wickham, then read this.
As I always do, I love seeing more about Colonel Fitzwilliam. He is a great character and I always like to see him developed, which we see through his letters to Darcy. In these letters, I enjoyed the added comments about the war and insights into Colonel Fitzwilliam's adventures on the continent. I liked having some historical detail and all the talk of war I found fascinating.
Two of the Bennet sister’s who we don’t hear that much about are Mary and Kitty, however their characters are both explored in this story. In particular, we get to know Mary very well and she is such fun and responsible for a lot of the humour as you get to see the full extent of her moralising nature!
Anne de Bourgh and Georgiana Darcy are both further developed as well, and this is done through the strong friendship and the resulting letters between the two. I always imagined them as friends, and Anne does not seem such a weak character and it is her mother who is ‘playing up’ her illness.
And now to the new additions, starting with the Bingley’s; we all know Charles, Caroline and Louisa and that they have a background in trade, but we know nothing about their past and the rest of their family. We get to see their parents and the tone and style of the letters from their mother and father really highlights their background in trade, and his mother’s manner in trying to elevate them, through her sons and daughters, to a higher rank in society is clear. It really showed how unequal they are to Darcy and therefore how kind he is being to the Bingley's - and it illustrated how Bingley's attachment to Jane is not degrading, for really the Bingleys are below the Bennets. Caroline and Louisa also add to the humour throughout the story, particularly Caroline with her continual perusal of Darcy and how oblivious she is to Darcy’s utter annoyance with her and her foolish and embarrassing attempts to capture him in marriage!
Another interesting addition was Darcy cousin, Philip Darcy, who was possibly prouder than Fitzwilliam Darcy! The letters between the two cousins helped to show more about Darcy’s upbringing and his character.
Finally, the addition of the Sotherton family who are the owners of Netherfield Park and therefore let it out to Mr Bingley; in the family there are three sisters, all who help in developing the characters of the Bennet sisters. There are silly letters between Eleanor Sotherton, Kitty and Lydia, amusing letters between Lucy Sotherton and Mary Bennet (who are both as bad as each other with their continual moralising!) and meaningful letters between Susan Sotherton, Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas.
So, as you can probably see, I really loved this book. I also found it amazing that a story can feel so sweet and romantic and yet it never actually has Darcy and Elizabeth directly interact with each other, for never do either write the other a letter (except the explanation letter, which is very different (and wasn't actually in this book anyway)) as all their interactions were always explained afterwards and in a letter to another person! Now that shows talent on Ms. Grange's part.I found the format refreshing to read as well as being very clever and it worked brilliant for the story. I never imagined I would enjoy it so much! The letter style was absolutely fascinating and showed so much more insight into so many of the characters we already know and love as well as adding some very interesting new characters. The style never got tedious and the story always flowed and didn’t feel forced or stilted. Having different accounts of many scenes we known but from a variety of different perspectives was just brilliant. If you love Pride and Prejudice as much as I do, then I highly recommend that you read this story.
Your affectionate friend,