Pamela Aidan tackles Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, in the first of a trilogy, a diary of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s society and the nature of his natural prejudices in Regency England, covering only the first third of the famed romance.
Pomp and circumstance, class-consciousness and snobbery are the hallmarks of Darcy’s world as he steps begrudgingly into country society, never to be the same yet clinging relentlessly to the prejudices of his position, a true gentleman of the times.
Flitting around the edges of Austen’s classic, this retelling offers many clues to Darcy’s ambivalence and increasing affection for Elizabeth, yet he remains his own worst enemy. Surrounded by his friends the Bingleys, the enthusiastic Charles, enamored by Jane Bennet, and the snide sisters who openly disdain the Bennets, Aidan seeks to reinvigorate the story.
Clearly, Elizabeth Bennet is more than Darcy is prepared to handle, his cosmopolitan manner useless in their mutual contretemps, as they engage in an attraction of opposites, thrusting and parrying, the first tentative advances thwarted by Darcy’s judgmental nature.
The heart will have its way, regardless of Darcy’s inner turmoil or Caroline Bingley’s constant harping on the inadequacies of country folk. It is, after all, Elizabeth Bennet who teaches Darcy the folly of his pretensions, she who claims the moral high ground again and again while he remains shackled to convention.
There is some risk in exposing too much of Darcy’s thought processes, struggling as he is against an inappropriate emotional attachment; his pretensions frequently border on the boorish, grounded in assumed superiority that was tolerable when only implied, more grating when it is pervasive. And there are two more novels to come, by which time the reader will be more than aware of Darcy’s shortcomings and trepidation in his unpredictable romance with Elizabeth.
True love has never taken a rockier path, a full cast of characters shrinking into relative insignificance other than as plot devices to further the story. The focus remains on the stubborn Darcy and the noble Elizabeth, who asks nothing of him that she is not prepared to offer herself.
Mastering the delicate social balance of Regency England, Austen’s Darcy is a tool of the aristocracy, constantly surprised by the excellent qualities Elizabeth displays. Austen’s tension is perfection; Aidan achieves some of that tension as well, but the prose is mired in collateral conversations and historical details, information that may or may not improve on the original. Still, An Assembly Such as This is a great reminder of the classic love story, the ying and yang of literary excellence.