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Monday, June 27, 2011

Quickie: The Pemberley Ball by Regina Jeffers

Please note: Reviews for Quickies and/or Short Story Saturdays are spoiler-filled.
You have been warned.

Regina Jeffers

The anthology in which this is found has some of the most bizarre stories in it.  I've already talked about  A Long, Strange Trip, in which the characters are on psychedelic mushrooms; and I've told you about A Good Vintage Whine, in which Darcy and Bingley are locked in a wine cellar, drunk off their asses.  Another story, which was removed from the anthology, is what I can only describe as Monty Python does Regency slapstick romance.  [I don't mean bizarre to be a bad thing, mind.  Just...interesting.]

The treatment of The Pemeberley Ball is rather sedate in comparison, and yet I found it almost as bizarre.  The story takes place just after Darcy's second proposal, when both he and Elizabeth begin to doubt their wisdom in deciding to marry each other.  All of the progress they've made has been dashed.  Their faults are forefront and over the top: they are Darcy and Lizzie at the beginning of P&P, dialed up to 11.

It was strange.  To go straight from the happy, loving proposal and acceptance, to Lizzie acting reckless and overly-exuberant and Darcy so far beyond reserved and haughty that he's almost malicious - there was a disconnect there for me.  Perhaps its nerves or self-doubt, but Darcy becomes positively mean.  The word "snarl" is used a lot when he speaks; he takes little jabs at Lizzie and is fairly rude to everyone else; he even seems to dislike Georgiana at some points.  He's very Jekyll and Hyde, and it was offputting.  I think, if this had been the Darcy we saw at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, I could have never gotten over my dislike of him.  This one is a prick.

Most P&P authors struggle to reconcile the early, less pleasant aspects we see of Darcy and Lizzie with the more lovable, "good" aspects of the end of the story.  This story seems to address the doubt they both feel that either of them has really changed.  Is it just a phase, a passing fancy, and are they signing themselves up for a miserable life together?  They both seem to think that, but yet they can't stand to be apart from each other.  So they both sabotage the relationship, throwing ridiculous obstacles in each others way to see what will put the other off and prove it's all been a fluke.  It was interesting (to say the least), if at times unbelievable, and though I liked it in the end, I still had somewhat of a hard time getting there.  And though everything culminates in the the titular Pemberely Ball, where all appears to be well, by the end of this story, I still have very little confidence in the happiness of their futures together.   They've taken steps backwards for me, gone to their most negative, hurtful extremes, and I was left most of the story feeling a little baffled.

But through it all, their love for each other shines through (if bizarrely), and I guess that's the point.  No matter how much they may clash, they love each other and could never live apart.

The Road to Pemberley: An Anthology of New Pride and Prejudice StoriesThe Pemberely Ball can be found in 
The Road to Pemberley, edited by Marsha Altman
Ulysses Press, July 1st, 2011

You can enter to win The Road to Pemberley here!

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  1. Misty, I am sorry that “The Pemberley Ball” was so disconcerting to you. I wanted to create a “What if” that spoke to reality. Although my “Cinderella syndrome” screams for a happily ever after (which this story has), I do not believe the road to such happiness would be an easy journey. In this piece, I wanted Darcy and Elizabeth to suddenly realize the ramifications of their decision to marry. Austen tells us that, “At such a moment, the arrival of her friend was a sincere pleasure to Elizabeth, though in the course of their meetings she must sometimes think the pleasure dearly bought, when she saw Mr. Darcy exposed to all the parading and obsequious civility of her (Charlotte’s) husband.” Also, “If he did shrug his shoulders, it was not till Sir William was out of sight.” As well as, “Elizabeth did all she could, to shield him from the frequent notice of either (Mrs. Philips and Mrs. Bennet), and was ever anxious to keep him to herself, and to those of her family with whom he might converse without mortification; and though the uncomfortable feelings arising from all this took from the season of courtship much of its pleasure …” I can easily imagine how intimidated a 20-year-old Elizabeth might have been at the prospects of becoming the mistress of Pemberley. Unlike female members of the ton, Elizabeth had little training in the “essentials” needed to Pemberley’s mistress, as well as Darcy’s wife (in Society). Her mother had allowed the girls to name their own educations. We also receive from Austen a note of how Elizabeth’s “playfulness” continued into their marriage. “He (Darcy), who had always inspired in herself a respect which almost overcame her affection, she (Georgiana) now saw the object of open pleasantry.”

    With Darcy, he confesses, “But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude, which cannot, which ought not to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle.” Men of this time period, especially those of Darcy’s status and wealth, though conscientious and not egotistical, were quite accustomed to having their own way. They were educated in strict principles they spoke of their power over others. To imagine that Darcy would abandon everything he has ever known (without the occasional relapse) always feels too idealistic to me.

    I have a tendency to see the glass half empty. I believe that people often have second thoughts when they make such a momentous decision. Heck, as soon as I order the ranch dressing, I begin to think I should have gone with a light Italian instead. In my opinion, Elizabeth might feel a bit inadequate after her decision. She might even unconsciously sabotage it. Darcy, too, might have some qualms about what he is asking of her. If he truly loves Elizabeth, he would want to protect her, even if that meant protecting her from the censure she might encounter. Unlike today, divorce was not an option. This was a FOREVER situation, and neither Darcy nor Elizabeth wanted a loveless marriage. In Marguerite Kaye’s newest novel, the hero and heroine are discussing Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. In it, the hero says, “The wit is acerbic, none of the characters are sympathetic, and there is none of the sentimental romanticism endemic in female writers.”

  2. Oh, I can absolutely understand their panic and doubt in the situation. It hasn't been that long since she told him he'd be her last choice, ever - there's bound to be some questioning in that. And I think that's as it should be. They are both smart people, and they ARE going to question and wonder and have doubts, and maybe even self-sabotage. I like exploring that, actually. I'm a realist, and a bit of a glass half-empty person myself.

    The only thing that kept it from *not quite* working for me was the extremity. I just had a hard time reconciling both their personalities and their actions with the Darcy and Lizzie I know. That being said, I never set it down, and I didn't dislike it by the end. But I had major reservations that bore mentioning.
    Hope I didn't give offense, I don't want you to think I hated the story. I just...questioned some things, purely from a personal-attachment-to-the-story standpoint.

  3. Well I like the anthology already simply because it inspires discussion and debate. Although my opinion might be in the minority I love the "what if" scenarios. I can certianly see the future for Darcy and his Elizabeth being a struggle. Two headstrong intelligent people rarely blend together without friction. I remember a prominent struggle between my husband and I over how the glasses should be stacked in the cupboard. I am also acutely aware of not fitting into his social "class" when we starting dating. After 20 years I am still judged unworthy by some family members. So have at it Regina! Let's see how they work it out.


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