Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman

The Darcys and the Bingleys: A Tale of Two Gentlemen's Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters by Marsha Altman
Copyright 2008
Source Books - Historical Fiction
417 pages

It's very quotable, let me just say that up front. Let's call this Quotable Qtuesday.

On the other side of the room, Bingley was just as entrenched, fending off the attentions of Sir William Lucas and Mr. Collins, both very respectable men who seemed to be eager to remind him that he was getting married tomorrow, as if he could forget.

"Sir," said his servant, and handed him a paper. He apologised to his guests, unfolded it, and read in Darcy's precise (if a little wobbly) script, "I will give you my half of Derbyshire to get me out of this room right now. D."

When he looked up, Sir William Lucas had gone for more refreshment and he was left with Mr. Collins, who had literally cornered him against the wall. "Mr. Bingley, if I could have your ear but for a moment--"

"Yes, of course," he said, holding the note behind his back.

"You will excuse me, Mr. Bingley, if I do not sound like a proper churchman for what I am about to say, but I believe that marriage should be held in the highest regard and therefore is worthy of some low speech to make this particular sacrament more palatable. And I might say, with all humility, that I have some experience in this area."

"Oh, yes, of course -- of course, Reverend Collins. You have my full attention -- as soon as I handle this missive," he said, and quickly motioned to the servant for a pen. Once procured, he put the note against the bookcase and scribbled on the back, "And I will give you Netherfield to get me out. CB."

"The matter remains . . . unsettled, "Bingley said.

"Don't be ridiculous, Bingley," Darcy said. "Fitzwilliam, we've already decided to settle the matter in the most gentlemanly way possible."

"So, you mean, some sort of contest," he surmised.

"Precisely," said Darcy. "By duelling. Rapiers, shall it be?"

Bingley gave his friend and brother a horrified look. "I agreed to no such thing! You know I would lose horribly. You are not making the slightest attempt to be fair." Straightening his waistcoat, he added, "It shall be shooting."

Colonel Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows. "Red eight in the side pocket. You know, Darcy is very good at shooting. It would be a close match."

"I have been practising," Darcy said confidently.

"Very well then -- Dancing!"

"Surely not!" Darcy replied. "Chess."

"Sewing."

"Riding."

"First proposal."

"First attempted proposal."

"Drinking contest," Bingley said keenly.

Darcy raised an eyebrow. "Height."

"I do believe Jane is taller than Elizabeth."

"Only if she stands on her toes!"

"Good God," Fitzwilliam said. "You're like children! Why don't you just flip a coin like decent men? Or better yet, let your wives decide?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Darcy replied. "We will decide as men and then return to our wives, who will promptly ignore us and announce their own decision, which was probably made months ago -- but still, propriety must be maintained."

What led you to pick up this book? I was contacted by Danielle of Sourcebooks, Inc. She was really enthusiastic about The Darcys and the Bingleys and, in fact, I've planned to eventually give one of those Austen off-shoots a go (I have one in the stacks . . . at the bottom, though), so when she asked if I'd like to review it I said, "Sure!" She also sent me a gorgeous, glossy catalog and another book (which I'm sure you'll hear about soon enough).

Summarize the plot without giving away the ending. There are several sections of this book, so it's a little complex but the gist . . . initially, you must bear with it, a bit . . . The Darcys and the Bingleys is worth sticking out. The first section of the book has a very weak premise. Darcy and Bingley are preparing for their dual wedding and Bingley expresses some concerns about the wedding night. Darcy responds by purchasing a copy of the Kama Sutra for Bingley. Despite that ridiculous premise, scenes like those quoted above were such fun that I honestly didn't care that there was a good bit of giggling, silliness and talk about the book (Elizabeth and Jane eventually discover that each of their husbands own a copy), rib-elbowing about marital relations, etc. It was not what I would call overly rude or obnoxious.

Onward . . . Bingley and Darcy marry the Bennet girls and there's a lot of everyday business, all entertainingly written -- again, with a great deal of levity. Eventually, a Lord from Scotland asks for Caroline Bingley's hand, but both Darcy and Bingley sense something is amiss. This is where the book starts to become really fun, if you ask me. To say much more would give too much away (the crowd groans; I hear ya), but there's plenty of witty interchange, love, lies, danger and even some exciting swordplay. I truly believe the last third of the book is the best.

What did you like most about the book? In spite of frequent implications (my father would have called many of the scenes "suggestive"), the book is good, clean fun. Lots of wit, humor and even a bit of adventure. It's a charming read.

What did you think of the characters? Well, of course I love the real Darcy and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Fair warning: If you're an Austen purist and totally unwilling to allow an author to mold and stretch the characters a bit, I suppose any offshoot would make you cringe a bit. I didn't particularly care for Darcy's past scenes because the young Darcy of this book was not as I'd like to imagine him. In fact, the explanation as to how Darcy and Bingley met makes little sense because we all know they're cousins who presumably knew each other from childhood, right?

However -- and it's a big "however" -- I enjoyed the bantering dialogue so much that it was easy enough to make a conscious decision to allow the author to take them where she desired and just enjoy the ride. Long story short . . . I still adored the characters. There were many, many scenes in which I could practically hear the voices of the actors from the Colin Firth version of P & P in my head. In many ways, I think the author remained faithful to Austen (not all ways, but she's named Marsha, not Jane, so let's give her a break).

Describe your favorite scene: See those quotes above? Those are just two of my favorite scenes. There are many, many more. In addition to quite a few zingy scenes between Darcy and Bingley, I loved the one truly intense action scene -- a scene involving locked doors and crossed swords, a man swinging from a rope . . . gosh, all sorts of excitement.

And, oh, poor Darcy. What happens to him when he goes to confront Caroline's intended . . . oh, oh! It's really good stuff, trust me.

Recommended? Enthusiastically. Honestly, the more I reflect upon this book, the more I love it. There is to be an entire series by Marsha Altman. I plan to read them all. There, that's all you need to know, right? Now, do remember that you have to be willing to accept the odd inclusion of modern language and some reshaping of the characters. Leave your preconceived notions at the door to enjoy this book.

In general: Such fun. I laughed. I gasped. I learned to love Caroline Bingley. I'm so glad Danielle suggest this title. Thank you, Danielle!

Cover thoughts: Probably a much-used painting, but it's very colorful and appears time-appropriate. I think it's lovely and suits the book well. In fact, I'm quite relieved that they didn't chop off any heads.

Almost finished with Mozart's Sister, so that'll be up next for review.

Tomorrow: The Return of the Wahoos. It may not be much, due to my recent illness and continuing recovery. But, shucks . . . there's always plenty to wahoo about if you look hard enough, right? Like, clean sheets. Oh, darn, should have saved that one.

Historical documents: I was perusing my father's old photo album and came across this photo

. . . which makes me realize that

a.) My grandfather and father were pretty dapper fellows and
b.) I really like the clean, tidy look better than the untucked, sloppy, unshaven look of today, which leads to the conclusion that
c.) I must be getting old.

I won't mention that in the wahoos, tomorrow. Speaking of clean sheets . . . must go make the bed and climb into it. I'm still recovering, you know.
Nighty-night!

23 comments:

  1. Well, I guess I'm going to have to read it, although I am one of those purists you warn. I do love my Jane Austen, but I admit that I'd love to take a peek into the Darcys' marriage.

    Thanks for the great book reviews!

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  2. Your grandfather and father were VERY dapper!

    I often wish I could bring back the pride in appearance people used to have; especially the late 30s/WWII hasn't started yet looks. Have you seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? I wanted all of Amy Adams' outfits!! Hats, and gloves, and little skirt suits oh my. :D

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one, although I shall avoid it (I could probably handle a Sense & Sensibility sequel, though). I decided to branch into Austen-based fiction by reading Jane and Cassandra, which Austenprose just wrote a glowing review of. I'm finding it to be a poor man's biography, but I'm hoping it'll get better!

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  3. Naw, not getting old, just getting smart.

    The photo reminds me of the ones I have of my dad and his brother - they were both snappy dressers in their day.

    cjh

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  4. Sounds like a fun read. I have a couple of "Austen off-shoots" from Danielle that I have to get to also.

    Love that old pic!

    Btw, I gave you an award.

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  5. Just leaving my scathingly brilliant remark to let you know I enjoyed this post very much!

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  6. Cupcake,

    I was thinking about you, when I mentioned Austen purists. There are so many off-shoots, these days, that I suppose you could read a handful of them and choose which ending you'd prefer to settle on . . . assuming you're able to override your expectations. That's the hard part, but I thought there were enough fun scenes in this particular book that it was worth deliberately pushing the "real" characters aside to just enjoy the reading.

    You're welcome and thanks. :)

    Eva,

    They were, indeed. I'm particularly fond of a three-piece suit, myself. I agree that pre-WWII was a great time for fashion.

    Nope, I haven't seen Miss Pettigrew. In fact, I just read a little bit about it, yesterday. I hadn't even heard of the movie! I'm so out of touch with real life. LOL I'm sure I'll love the outfits, when I see it!

    I'll look forward to seeing what you think when you finish Jane and Cassandra.

    CJ,

    Isn't it cool to look back on those old photos? I would love it if we could go back to that kind of style -- neat and tidy, all tucked in . . . with hats.

    Chris,

    Oh, good! I'll look forward to reading your reviews, then!

    Thanks! I'll come peek to see what you gave me. :)

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  7. Care,

    Why, thank you. That was definitely scathingly brilliant. :)

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  8. Love the pic!
    While I love to wear jeans, I also wish people took more, shall I say...pride? in what they wear?

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  9. I love these types of covers! I've never read an Austen novel... wait, um, I've never finished an Austen novel but this sounds good!

    Wow, your father has a Bing Crosby-ish look to him in the photo!

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  10. Kris,

    True. That's a good way to look at it. Actually, you would roll your eyes at the way I dress, these days. When I'm in overweight mode, I dress sloppy. It's when I'm thin and feel good about myself that I go back to wearing nice pants, pretty shoes, suits and crisp shirts. Silly, but true. You'd think I would dress nicer to lift my spirits when I'm feeling fat, but I switch to t-shirts and yoga pants. Yeesh. I've actually wondered if that's part of the reason fashion has become "looser", baggier, less structured -- there are too many of us who need to go untucked. LOL

    Ladytink,

    I like the "old-fashioned painting" covers, too. :)

    Maybe you're just not ready to sit still through an Austen. The Darcys and the Bingleys is really fun. You might even enjoy reading it more, simply because of the fact that you aren't as familiar with the characters. Give it a try! I'll stand over here and jump up and down, waiting to hear what you think. LOL

    Oh, Bing Crosby -- kind of never occurred to me, but he does in a way. He had a great singing voice, too. My dad was like me -- he never shut up. He banged around, sang, whistled and told jokes. He was such a fun guy. Fortunately, even as a small kid I *knew* how terrific he was, so the joy I grew up around didn't go unappreciated.

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  11. I was at a Barnes and Noble the other day and one the new fiction paperbacks table there were 6 or 7 Austen 'sequels' and this is not a big store. There are just so many of these! And while I have read a few of them over the years, my feeling is that if I want to read something Austen-ish, I might as well read the real thing. Makes me feel quite the fuddy-duddy.

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  12. Tara,

    I know what you mean -- there are *tons* of Austen prequels and sequels. It seems to be a trendy thing. In general, I avoid continuations and prequels of *anything* like the plague, but for some reason they got me. LOL I really enjoyed this one, but I'm now wondering if I can stand to read a different author's retelling of the events post-P & P.

    It's okay to be a fuddy-duddy. ;)

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  13. I've been sort of hit and miss in some of my Austen wannabe sequels. Some are completely atrocious, others are endearing and fun. This sounds delightful. It's definitely on my to-read list.

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  14. Holly,

    Since The Darcys and the Bingleys is my first Austen off-shoot, I have nothing to compare to. But, I'd definitely use the word "delightful". I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :)

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  15. I can recommend Mary Street's "The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy" as an Austen off-shoot. I usually find them so-so, but this one sounds like a good chance at an entertaining one. I've been trying to read Colleen McCullough's latest, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, and although I've always had a soft spot for Mary I most definitely do not recommend this one. Dull. Darcy is not nice. That is unacceptable.

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  16. Melanie,

    Thanks, I'll have to look up the former and avoid the latter. Darcy is definitely meant to be a nice man. I agree. Unacceptable.

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  17. Love the quotes you posted, it sounds like a fun read. I haven't read any of the Austen off-shoots but think I may have to give one a try sometime.

    And lovely photo, very dappper indeed! :)

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  18. I enjoy these spin-off books. Not all of them, but a lot of them are good light reading. Looking forward to reading this one.

    --Anna
    http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com

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  19. Nat,

    It is really a delightful book. There were so many passages like those I quoted that I had practically half the book marked with post-its. Since The Darcys and the Bingleys is my first Austen off-shoot, I can't say how it compares, but it's definitely a book I recommend.

    Aren't old photos cool? I'm a particular fan of the 3-piece suit and hat, myself. :)

    Anna,

    I'll have to peek at your blog to see what you've had to say about other spin-offs. "Good, light reading" . . . those are words that appeal to me.

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  20. I haven't reviewed them yet. Read them recently, but I'm a bit behind in my posting. Stay tuned though! :)

    --Anna
    http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com

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  21. Anna,

    I figured that out! In that case, I have to make sure I've added you to my Google Reader, so I don't miss out. :)

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  22. I'm reading Lydia Bennet's Story right now, so I'll be reviewing that soon. I read a few others earlier this year; I'm just behind. I definitely read faster than I write up the reviews. :D

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  23. Anna,

    I do that, too. When you get on a roll, it's hard to find the time to stop yourself long enough to review everything.

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