I don’t usually care for novels that poach upon the literature of beloved authors. Aston, however, pens her tale of romance run awry by misperception with such perfect pitch that it is hard not to indulge in a few hours of distraction as heartbroken Phoebe Hawkins, Mr. Darcy’s niece, leaves the social whirl of London’s season for a visit to Pemberley, the Darcy estate.
Within the span of twenty-four hours, Phoebe is cast from the raptures of love and a potential marriage to the impressive Arthur Stanhope to abject despair when her father refuses to permit the marriage. Even her outrage at her father’s unfairness could be overcome but for Phoebe’s impulsive visit to Stanhope’s residence, where she finds her worst suspicions validated.
Furious and distraught, Phoebe disdains Stanhope’s overtures, fleeing to Pemberley. There great renovations are taking place, a talented Mr. Drummond creating a magnificent glass house for Darcy’s hothouse plants (hence the title, Mr. Darcy's Dream). Hoping to create another Xanadu, Darcy trusts Mr. Drummond to carry out his ambitious plans.
Soon after Phoebe arrives at Pemberley, she is joined by Louisa Bingley, who plans to keep Phoebe company during her time at the estate. From there the drama erupts: a testy French governess, a nosy aunt who lives to spread gossip, a houseful of opinionated servants, a villain, an unlikely love match, and of course, the unexpected arrival of Mr. Stanhope in pursuit of his delinquent beloved.
The appropriate tensions surface in point-counterpoint, Phoebe’s confusion exacerbated by her strong feelings for Stanhope regardless of her best intentions, the intrusion of Whig and Tory political agendas, and the usual assortment of bumbling suitors, interfering relatives and the reappearance of a nefarious character from previous Aston novels.
Capturing the class distinctions and petty grievances of 19th-century English society where men dominate, women are protected from the ugliness of the world, and a successful marriage is the optimum goal of a young lady of means, Aston wields her plot and characters as skillfully as any drawing-room drama of the era. Of course, we can predict how this story will end, romance winning over obstacle, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyable frivolity of simpler times, a delightful diversion.