Duty and Desire

Written by Pamela Aidan
Review by Ray Thompson


For those curious to know more about the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Pamela Aidan has embarked upon the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy. Volume Two his adventures before he meets Elizabeth again at Rosings.

What was the relationship between the gentry and the ubiquitous but seldom mentioned servants found in Austen’s novel? How did the aristocracy entertain themselves in London and on their grand estates? How did Georgiana Darcy occupy herself during her brother’s absence? What was Colonel Fitzwilliam’s family like? The author gives her answer to these and other questions in this intriguing account told from Darcy’s point of view.

Because Aidan wishes to fill in details that Austen omitted, her novels lack the tight narrative structure of their source. Nor can she match its exquisite irony, but then, who could? What she offers instead are well researched historical novels that provide helpful insights into the social and political situation in England during the early nineteenth century, particularly the concern with rank and status.

She is faithful to Austen’s delineation of character, though it comes as something of a shock to discover just how much turmoil lurks behind the haughty demeanor that Darcy habitually adopts. Some details are extrapolated from the source: when Elizabeth gently encourages a shy young lady to show her needlework to the company, she is behaving with the same compassion that she shows a distressed Georgiana later at Pemberley. Elsewhere, Aidan gives her imagination freer rein: she sends Darcy off for a week to visit a friend who lives in an old castle so that she can not only show us more of the difficulties of finding a suitable marriage partner, but also introduce a blood-curdling adventure in the Gothic romance mode. His attendance at Lady Melbourne’s notorious ball, where her daughter Lady Caroline Lamb scandalizes high society by appearing so scantily clad and where he himself overshadows Beau Brummell with his elegant neckcloth, seems designed to provide historical verisimilitude; whereas the exchange of Christmas gifts allows the pleasant irony of Georgiana receiving, among other books, a copy of Sense and Sensibility. Some of Darcy’s adventures seem uncharacteristic of the figure found in Austen’s novel, but they are made part of the learning process that he must undergo to deserve Elizabeth. It will be a relief, however, when he meets her again in the next volume.