"DEAR MR. DARCY: A Retelling of 'Pride and Prejudice'," by Amanda Grange, The Berkley Publishing Group, $15, 391 pages (f)
“Pride and Prejudice” has been adapted, retold and adapted again, but Amanda Grange brings a fresh angle to the classic by attempting to fill the holes of Jane Austen’s novel with correspondence from the characters.
“Dear Mr. Darcy” is a novel completely comprised of letters from the classic’s main characters and a few added characters. In regards to the time frame of the novel, the letters begin years before “Pride and Prejudice” takes place, allowing for the novel to establish context.
It first delves into the details of the death of Mr. Darcy’s father and the pressures he feels to continue to live up to his late father’s expectations, especially in regards to finding a wife. On his death bed, Mr. Darcy Sr. asks that his son’s future wife be a “model of feminine virtue,” a “modest lady” and she must possess “a refined taste and true decorum.” And with that, Mr. Darcy becomes aware of the woman he needs as his wife.
But contrary to what the novel’s title implies, “Dear Mr. Darcy” is full of correspondence that often has nothing to do with Mr. Darcy, but rather details practically every event of “Pride and Prejudice.” The letters from Mr. Darcy are the highlight of the novel no doubt, as they crack open a mysterious character and give him more depth that Austen would approve of.
The letters are written in the language and tone of the characters, showing Mr. Darcy’s prideful attitude, Elizabeth Bennet’s cheerful demeanor and Mrs. Bennet’s imprudence. Each character has a unique personality within their letters, some more interesting than others. But buried in each letter are important details that lead to the unexpected happily ever after for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
The accuracy of these details gives Grange’s novel credence, providing additional details that readers were left wanting after reading “Pride and Prejudice.” However, in including letters from many of the minor characters, Grange weighs the story down with often meaningless and boring details, weaved in with those that are more crucial to the story line.
Overall, Grange’s retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” seems to be more of a companion novel meant to enhance the original story rather than retell it. The message is the same: keeping standards set high is a recipe for success in love, and no matter how embarrassing family members may be, they are still family. But at the end, Grange is true to the characters that Austen created and brings them more to life.