You have been warned.
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, edited by Marsha Altman
Ulysses Press, July 1st, 2011
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