Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, page 1
Copyright © 2014 by Lara S. Ormiston
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There are so many people I should thank—my husband, for his patience, my mother for encouraging my love of reading, and the ladies and gentleman of the DWG (you know who you are) who offered inspiration, advice, research and proofreading, all free of charge. This small first attempt would not have been possible without all of you.
It is a great pleasure to write this foreword for Unequal Affections by Lara Ormiston. In the context of rapid democratisation of the reading and writing of fiction through self-publishing and the internet, the transition made by this story from a private audience of Jane Austen aficionados on a fan fiction site to wider print publication is a testament to the quality of Ormiston’s work.
When I first read this charming novel, I wondered again why so many readers crave more of Jane Austen’s stories, especially ones about Darcy and Elizabeth. Why do we want the tales to continue, demand more both of the source material and from it? Why do the trials and tribulations of one witty, moderately pretty, lively young woman and her reserved, proud and aristocratic suitor so stir our imaginations? We might harbour doubts about the ability of love to bring about lasting change in our own personal lives but we remain convinced of the transformation of these characters by their self-reflection and consequent self-knowledge. In Austen’s world, the path of true love may not be smooth but its obstacles can be overcome. The “utmost force of passion,” when tempered by reason and morality, can provide a happy ending.
Pride and Prejudice, in 2013, the 200th anniversary of its publication, retains an amazing reach and popularity. It has sold at least 20 million copies and is read in the original and in translation not only in Europe, Australia, and the United States but also in India, Japan, South America. This means that writing an alternate story for Darcy and Elizabeth is fraught with unsettling dilemmas. How can a writer ensure that our favorite characters tread a different path but reach the same destination? One reason good fan fiction works is because the reader knows the background, the characters, the final resolution; new world building is not required. However, paradoxically, the road to the happily ever after is thus made more complex since it has to be both different and believable. The Austen universe is not just about Regency clothing, glittering assemblies, or formal speech. To write credibly in that universe is a challenge, and Ormiston’s novel undertakes it with panache.
The spectre that consistently haunts Austen’s work is the contradiction of the moral and the practical life, the reconciliation of duty to one’s family and society with the quest to be true to one’s self. For in spite of the castigations of her contemporaries such as Charlotte Bronte or later writers such as Mark Twain and D. H. Lawrence, there is ardency aplenty in Jane Austen. Ardent emotion, however, must exist in a moral and ethical context; passion without morality or sense cannot come to any good, as the fates of Lydia Bennet and Maria Bertram display. But no one who reads of Fanny’s tribulations in Mansfield Park or the famous passage in Persuasion where Captain Wentworth helps Anne Elliot into the carriage can ignore the depth of feeling expressed with such restraint, yet resonant with emotion, the beauty and the terror of these loves. No one who reads of Elizabeth’s reactions, after Lydia’s marriage when she hears that Darcy may be returning to Netherfield, can doubt the turmoil of feeling in her heart.
This is where Ormiston displays her skill and élan. She takes a plausible scenario (Elizabeth making a different decision at Hunsford) and makes it credible. But crucially, she places this alternative scenario in the ethical, moral, and religious world of Austen and she does this naturally, with no sense of strain. Austen may not talk often about religion but she was deeply devout. In an increasingly secularized world, it may be difficult to understand how strong those beliefs were, how essential for daily life. Elizabeth’s vivaciousness is nothing like Mary Crawford’s unfeeling wit; Darcy’s conduct as brother, friend, landlord, master, has as much to do with his moral and religious code as his family and background. Ormiston writes these passions with grace and subtlety. If, as readers, we ever had concerns that Darcy is more “violently in love” with Elizabeth than she with him, Ormiston’s imaginative reconstruction in elegant and witty prose traces how that asymmetry might be overcome.
There is a reason why the mindscape of England, for readers of Pride and Prejudice, many of whom may have never been there in the flesh, is haunted by a young dark-eyed woman with a light, pleasing figure and easy playful manners and a proud, tall, and handsome man walking the gardens of a stately mansion reflected in an azure lake. For as novelist Howard Jacobson said at the Hay Festival, this year, once we are immersed in this novel, nothing matters more than that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy resolve their misunderstandings, confess their affection, and get together. This desire is not just about the corporeal, it imbues our sense of historical landscapes and domestic spaces, resonates with our ideals, and gives weight to our history. And the most sincere accolade I can give to Unequal Affections is that after reading it, I was replete. Darcy and Elizabeth got their happily ever after, even though their road was different to the one they travelled in canon. In the end, more than anything else, that is the measure of this novel’s success.
—Professor Devleena Ghosh
University of Technology Sydney
Chapter one of this book begins in the middle of chapter thirty-four of Jane Austen’s novel, immediately after Mr. Darcy makes his passionate but rather insulting proposal to Miss Bennet. The point of divergence is Miss Bennet’s reaction to this proposal, and all that results from that.
Jane Austen aficionados will doubtless be aware that the official date of Darcy’s first proposal in the Hunsford
The following dates apply:
April 16—Darcy proposes.
April 18—Darcy and Fitzwilliam go to London.
April 26—Elizabeth goes to London.
May 5—Elizabeth and Jane go home.
May 25—The regiment leaves Hertfordshire.
“Darcy, if you try to tell me that Miss Bennet is unworthy of me, I’ll—I’ll—!” Mr. Bingley’s hand clenched. “I’ll do something!”
They were in London, three days after the Netherfield ball. Mr. Bingley had been surprised to discover that the guests he had left behind on his country estate had followed him to town, and upon being now told the reason, he was anything but pleased.
“She is not unworthy of you, but her family is,” Darcy replied evenly. “And unfortunately, she cannot be separated from her family.” Bingley was not to know how he felt the force of that statement himself. “Think, Bingley! It is not only that Mrs. Bennet’s family connections would diminish the status your family has worked so hard to attain; beyond that, can you really imagine introducing that woman—those sisters—to your acquaintance with pride? Do you think you can bear with complacency their vulgarities and intrusiveness for the rest of your life? What marriage could survive that? And you may be sure that the very amiableness of Miss Bennet’s temper will prevent her from ever setting them at a distance. Not only will you have to bear with them, but the whole of your acquaintance will have to bear with them too. Consider your friends for a moment—consider your sisters! You may be willing to mortify your own consequence, but what of theirs? Miss Bingley is not yet married; you cannot think it will recommend her to any future husband that he must take on himself such connections as Mrs. Bennet and the younger Bennet girls!”
Mr. Bingley had grown a little pale and was clearly struggling. “But they are all very good-natured—” he protested weakly. “They are not so bad as you say, I am sure.”
“Yes, they are,” returned his friend sternly. “You did not observe them as I did, for you saw no one but Miss Bennet. Mrs. Bennet is a vulgar, shallow, scheming woman who had no compunction in boasting of your wealth, even before you made an offer. Miss Mary Bennet lacks sense and taste, and as for the two younger girls—mark my words, Bingley, one day one of them will disgrace her family by her foolish behavior. They are spoiled, vain, and silly, with no sense of propriety and hardly even of common decency. Their mother positively encourages them, while their father has the sense to know better, yet chooses to mock them rather than make any attempt to restrain them.”
Bingley quailed under this merciless description of the Bennet family and turned away in utmost agitation. Darcy saw him grasp the mantelpiece until his knuckles turned white. The moment his friend ceased speaking, he burst out, “But I love her, Darcy!”
“I know,” replied Darcy quietly.
“And I daresay you may say I have been in love before, but never like this!” He began to pace the room. “There’s no woman in England like her! She’s an angel! I don’t—I don’t think I could ever be happy without her!”
“You were happy before her.”
“But that was before I knew her—that I knew such a creature existed.” He paused, and Darcy waited. “No,” he said finally. “No, you cannot ask it of me.”
Darcy frowned. “But—”
“I’m a man of honor, Darcy!” he cried. “So are you! Would you have me behave so infamously—to pay her such attentions, raise such expectations and feelings, and then desert her? You would never behave so yourself, surely!”
“Do you believe she loves you, then?”
“Yes! Well—” he flushed, “not as much as I love her, perhaps, but sincerely, I am convinced of it. She does return my regard.”
“I disagree,” said Darcy coolly.
Bingley turned a shade paler. “What?”
This task was turning out to be even more unpleasant than Darcy had anticipated, but he steeled himself to continue without flinching. “I took the opportunity to observe her carefully on the night of the ball. Her countenance was ever serene and smiling, indicating a general complaisance but no discernible depth of feeling. She received your attentions with pleasure, it’s true, but no differently than she received any other young man’s attentions.” He waited a moment while this information sank into his unhappy friend’s mind. “She likes you, Bingley, but I do not think she loves you. I acquit her of scheming—that is her mother’s part—but if you proposed, she would certainly accept you; how could she do otherwise, in her situation? You will give her no other choice. Family duty, prudence, will all compel her to accept you no matter her feelings. If you do not propose, you will certainly disappoint Mrs. Bennet’s hopes but not necessarily Miss Bennet’s. She will not be heartbroken. In fact, she may even be slightly relieved.”
During this whole speech Bingley had sat with his head in his hands. When Darcy finished, there was a long silence before he finally looked up, his face haggard. “I—I was sure she cared about me,” he whispered.
“I’m sure that she does, as a friend. I simply do not believe she is in love with you.”
“Do not believe?” He searched his friend’s face almost desperately. “But are you sure, Darcy?”
“I’m not omniscient, if that’s what you are asking. But based upon my own observation, I am completely convinced within myself that her heart has not been touched.”
That Darcy’s conviction weighed heavily on the other was clear. He passed a shaky hand through his hair, and unshed tears shone in his eyes. “There’s no reason she should love me,” he said huskily. “There is nothing outstanding about me. I’m not especially handsome or especially clever or especially good. I did think, but . . .” He jumped up and walked around the room in a disjointed fashion. Darcy simply waited in silence. “You are right, you know,” he said at last in a low voice. “I’ve been trying to think of any particular look or word—anything that might have indicated a clear preference on her part, anything that would prove she loves me. But there was none. It was just her general sweetness, her kindness.” He sighed deeply.
“Charles,” Mr. Darcy spoke gently, “I know this is painful for you, but you must consider before you truly have gone too far to draw back. Is it really worth the humiliation of such a family, such low connections, to acquire a wife who, however sweet and kind, cannot even return your affection? Can you really rate your own happiness above your obligation to your sister? Would you even be happy in such a marriage? You love her, but is just having her enough? Is having her, but not having her heart—giving up so much, putting up with so much without even an equal return of regard—sufficient? Could it be sufficient for any man?”
Another long silence, then Charles said, “No. No, it is not sufficient. I could not be content to love but not be loved in return. If she had loved me, Darcy . . . ,” he sighed brokenly. “If she had loved me, then I would have given anything for her. But I can’t make her love me, can I?” He looked over at his friend.
“No,” Darcy agreed. “No, you cannot.”
By the end, she only felt curiously detached. It was a shock—there was no denying it was a shock, and the agitated young man with the glowing eyes and impassioned tones seemed like a stranger. He was a stranger, she realized all at onc
She had been proposed to by a stranger. A very rich, very handsome stranger who was very much in love with her. She could not possibly accept him—but, suddenly, she could not possibly refuse him either, not now. This was, she knew clearly, a chance unlike any other she would ever receive. She could not turn him down for the satisfaction of it. She had to think.
When Darcy at last ceased talking, leaned his broad shoulders on the mantel, and fixed his eyes on Elizabeth’s face, she did not bear any of the expressions he might have expected to see there. She looked merely . . . thoughtful, with a slight frown as if there were some puzzle she was trying to solve. He waited impatiently until she raised her eyes to his. “I thank you for the honor of your proposal,” she said slowly, “but I cannot answer you. I need time to consider.”
Darcy clearly had not expected such a reply. “I did not—for what reason?”
She looked at him seriously. “I had no expectation of receiving addresses from you. Until you began to speak, I had never considered the possibility.”
He turned away uncomfortably. “I had thought my interest in you was rather obvious.”
“Not to me.”
He frowned. “Did you really believe I would pay you so much attention if I had no intentions?”
Now it was her turn to look surprised. “You must forgive me, sir, but I had not realized you were paying me attention. It is true we met often, but we spoke little.”
Darcy opened his mouth, closed it again, and said, “Just because it is unexpected does not mean that it is unwelcome.”
“No-o,” she replied pensively.
“I am not sure I understand your reasons for hesitating.”
She raised one eyebrow. “You would suggest I decide my entire future without reflection? You have certainly considered at length—have I no similar right?”