J is for Janeites: Some Fan Fiction by Kate!

What I read: Darcy's Passions by Regina Jeffers

(The review below has been edited to reference A Man of Few Words.)

Darcy's Passions is the story of Pride & Prejudice from Darcy's point of view (mostly). There are dozens of these books on the market (and I have now added another!). Part of the problem with writing an Austen tribute is the writing; part of the problem is the characterization of Darcy--which brings us back to the writing.

First, the writing: many tribute authors try to sound Austenian but end up sounding either ultra-modern or unsure. The 18th/19th century voice is terrifically difficult to pull off. The only contemporary writer who comes close is Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell), and she is magnificient.

The best solution is to just write in a normal voice. I'm not saying Austen wrote in a "normal" voice—I personally think Austen's authorial voice was cultivated. But it was normal for her. Jeffers' attempt at Austen is better than many, but the switch in viewpoint doesn't sound omniscient and humorous (as it does with Austen); it just sounds confused. (With A Man of Few Words, I stuck to limited third-person; I know when I'm out-mastered!)

Like in A Man of Few Words, Darcy's Passions is added dialog/exposition to already existent text. Jeffers' additions paint Darcy as the typical Alpha romantic male. He is overwhelmed by Elizabeth. He is more overwhelmed by Elizabeth. He is impressed by her wit and anxious to exchange witticisms with her. He despises Miss Bingley. He is confused when the text absolutely requires him to be confused. He is masterly and insightful all the rest of the time.

But Darcy as typical Alpha romantic male is completely inconsistent with Austen's text. (To her credit, Jeffers is one of the few tribute writers whose add-ons include Darcy's knowledge of land management.)

I personally go along with Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer's argument in So Odd a Mixture that Darcy is borderline autistic. Her delineation of Darcy's character is one of the most accurate and delightful on record. She recognizes what few interpretations do: namely, Darcy is accused of pride in Hertfordshire for reasons that have nothing to do with familial or class pride.

Most tributes to Pride & Prejudice concentrate on Darcy's supposedly prideful thoughts, making him the standard aristocratic jerk; they fail to acknowledge, as my mother did long before Bottomer, that all of Darcy's problems in Hertfordshire stem from his behavior, not from his beliefs about himself (which beliefs he never communicates to anyone but Elizabeth anyway). He is perceived as proud because he won't dance or talk, not because he boasts about his position or even because he gives anyone the "cut direct." He doesn't even cut poor Mr. Collins.

In other words, Darcy is accused of pride for the wrong reasons—and the accusations rest NOT on Darcy's sense of superior class (which he does, in fact, feel) but on Darcy's anti-social behavior. In other words, what Darcy thinks of as "pride" and what Hertfordshire and Elizabeth, to a degree, think of as "pride" is not the same thing. This results in the fascinating argument about their faults between Elizabeth and Darcy at Netherfield; they clash partly because they are talking about two different things. Elizabeth is quicker than Darcy at picking up on the communication gap, but, as Bottomer points out, Elizabeth continues to assume reasons for Darcy's behavior that are actually inaccurate; it doesn't occur to Elizabeth that Darcy is shy or uncomfortable. It did, however, occur to Austen, Colin Firth, my mom, and to Bottomer.

And me. Using this interpretation, I have attempted to create my own version of P&P from Darcy's point of view. In my version, I do NOT have Darcy perceive Elizabeth's positive attributes (or any of her attributes) right away. I think this is more realistic that having her fell him on the spot (though I kind of like that scene in the latest movie). In the first chapter, I also don't have him notice that Miss Bingley is being catty or that the ladies are probably whispering about him or even that Elizabeth might be able to overhear his remarks to Bingley.

The problem with so many "Darcy's point of view"s is that they present an Alpha romantic male who always knows what everyone is thinking, especially women, and who always picks up on innuendos and subtexts.

I argue instead that Darcy is clueless because, let's face it, so many people are.

To give Jeffers credit, her Darcy is kind of clueless; he thinks Elizabeth likes him because she is playful in her rejections: she flirts, ergo, she loves me! Still, Jeffers has Darcy deliberately provoking Elizabeth, so he can exchange witty repartee with her. I don't think this interpretation is in keeping with the original text. Darcy doesn't do repartee. His remarks are almost always literal and straightforward. Elizabeth's triumph is not that Darcy loves bantering with her, but that she so often provokes him into saying what he thinks; what he thinks isn't witty or covered with savoir faire. Actually, most of the time, what he thinks is kind of rude.

Here is the scene where I believe Darcy DOES truly notice Elizabeth for the first time; my choice is supported by the text. And yes, Darcy is critical of Elizabeth in the original text (this scene is now part of A Man of Few Words):
Elizabeth Bennett had lovely dark eyes. She was a trifle short, her smile was crooked, and she was far from elegant. She wasn't shrill though, being easy to listen to. At the Lucas's, Darcy placed himself in a group near her. He also listened to her sing. She wasn't as polished or as adept as his sister Georgiana, but the songs were well-rendered: pleasing. She was a pleasing, intelligent young woman.

The Lucas's entertainment went downhill after that, and some couples started to dance which didn't bode well for the rest of the evening: why did people want to hop around rather than converse on interesting subjects? Darcy glanced around for Mr. Long, hoping they could continue their conversation about tax laws.

He found he was next to Sir William who was prattling: "There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished society."

"Every savage can dance," Darcy pointed out, but Sir William was making pleasantries, not actual conversation, and Darcy subsided. Sir William began to ask Darcy pointless questions about his dance habits, and Darcy glowered—if he stopped answering, maybe Sir William would go away.

The questions finally ceased, and Darcy was ready to move off when he realized Sir William was presenting Miss Elizabeth Bennett to him as a potential dancing partner. Darcy held out a hand, but Miss Elizabeth refused. Correctly, Darcy allowed: this wasn't an appropriate venue for a dance. Still, he bowed and repeated Sir William's proposal. She was after all, preferable—much preferable—to another five minutes of questions about where and when Darcy liked to dance.

She raised her brows, and her eyes—dark brown with flecks of gold—met Darcy's momentarily. She was, he was disconcerted to see, amused—by Sir William, he guessed. It occurred to Darcy that amusement was probably a better tactic with someone like Sir William than monosyllabic responses, and he wondered if he should smile back, but Miss Elizabeth had moved away. He gazed after her, marking the straight line of her back and her dark curls. She turned to pass a remark to Miss Lucas, and he noted again the liveliness of her eyes when Miss Lucas made her laugh.

Miss Bingley had approached. She was talking in her rapid, caustic way. Darcy caught the last sentence: "What would I give to hear your strictures on them!"

On Miss Lucas and Miss Elizabeth, Darcy assumed. He had no strictures. He said so: "I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."

"Which lady has the credit of inspiring such reflections?"

"Miss Elizabeth Bennett."

She began to tease him about wanting to marry Miss Elizabeth—typical for a woman. Darcy shrugged and occupied himself with watching Miss Elizabeth until the evening finally ended.
NOTE: This post has been re-edited; some of the below comments refer to the first chapter (which was originally posted here).

8 comments:

  1. [Meandering, stream-of-conscious warning]

    Leaving supporting characters incomplete is arguably what gives a story drama. This is one of the big errors of undisciplined writing and movie making--the insistence on telling the back story. Prequels often fall into this same trap. One big problem with this is that the creator is forced to explain and/or reconcile the ambiguities and contradictions, which often has the effect of simply making the character look like an idiot in the main work.

    In other words, by changing perspective, you are now obligated to explain that which may have been best left unexplained.

    This is arguably one problem with many book adaptations. Since most movies force you to a rather strong third person view (without resorting to cheesy voice overs) the line may get blurred between main and supporting characters. Worse, filmmakers often get infatuated with supporting characters and unjustly elevate them. They are then required to fill in the blanks. The result is often stilted and the drama reduced. (Both Darth Vader and Obi-Wan come to mind.)

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  2. Very interesting; you make a strong case for Darcy's actions. He comes across as uncomfortable rather than critical which is, I think, accurate.

    I was partcularly interested in Darcy's thoughta about the reason Bingley bought his estate. This is probably corrrect, and also implies that Darcy is a good landlord (which is made clear in the book).

    I was surprised by your description of Elizabeth as being "short". I am short and have never been concerned about my height but I never thought of Elizabeth as being short.

    JNW

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  3. Your analysis of Darcy reminds me of the current NHK historical drama, Tenchijin, about a regional daimyo, Kagekatsu, who managed to survive the upheavals of the later Warring States period. He is depicted as a classic introvert, handsome and accomplished, but who loathed "socializing."

    There is apparently solid historical evidence for him being a man of very few words (the court historians kept detailed records), and the actor Kazuki Kitamura does a good job of depicting him just dying inside when trapped in situations he has to schmooze his way out of.

    Like the great warlord Uesugi Kenshin, whom he succeeded, when faced with a dilemma, Kagekatsu was wont to retreat to a literal cave to think things through by himself. If he'd been lord of Pemberley instead of Echigo, he would have spent all of his time in the study.

    For example, when dealing with the hyper-extroverted warlord Hideyoshi, he dragged along his equally extroverted adopted brother, Kanetsugu (Satoshi Tsumabuki), to do the talking, a la Aaron and Moses. Kanetsugu had to work hard to convince Hideyoshi that his brother was being quiet, not contemptuous.

    Kitamura's Kagekatsu really would make a good Darcy. Not surprisingly, the POV for the series is Kanetsugu, not Kagekatsu.

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  4. Regarding Joe's point about providing viewpoints and motivations for non-point-of-view characters, I agree that trying to "solve" the enigma of the secondary character can cause problems. A Pride & Prejudice from Darcy's point-of-view is a fun idea; the problem is, "other" authors too often want to give Darcy's AND Elizabeth's points-of-view. Hence, Darcy becomes the ultra-perceptive character who knows what everybody thinks. Which is boring! It is much more fun if Darcy is as confused by Elizabeth's behavior as Elizabeth is by Darcy's behavior.

    I'm working right now on the Netherfield scenes (some of my favorites), and I won't be having Darcy fully grasp Elizabeth's points during their arguments. To be fair, Jeffers doesn't either, but she does portray Darcy as far too quick in the uptake. She also portrays Darcy as impressed where I think he is just confused.

    I love Colin Firth's reactions in these scenes, by the way. He really has to mull over Elizabeth's statements. However, he does try to respond to her which is in itself a good indication of how much he values Elizabeth's judgment. He never tries to explain himself to Miss Bingley, which is why Miss Bingley gets so jealous of Elizabeth. (A lot of "other" writers give Darcy all these negative thoughts about Miss Bingley in order to emphasize how much he likes Elizabeth. This is tempting, I admit, but I honestly don't think Darcy gives Miss Bingley much thought at all. "He's just not that into you" describes Darcy's reaction to Miss Bingley very well. He doesn't even defend Elizabeth to her until after he knows he loves Elizabeth, and even then, I think Darcy is operating on the "Elizabeth is part of me; I defend her because I defend myself" principle. Women think the "other woman" has to be taken down; I'm not sure men do.)

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  5. To JNW: I believe the style of the time was tall willowyness although I could have got that idea from reading too many regency romances. Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, and Darcy himself criticize Elizabeth for not have "perfect symmetry in her form." So I made her short.

    I'm short too, which I think is great! Like owning a compact car: you can get in and out of any place :)

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  6. Another advantage of Kate's shortness is that if someone attempts to quickly steel her car, they'll break both their knees trying to squeeze in the front seat.

    (It's almost as amusing of getting in a car after a really tall person rode it and realize as you drive away that you can't press the brake peddle down more than a millimeter.)

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  7. I agree with your analysis of Mr Darcy. I've always assumed he was shy, but then one of my brothers is very shy and finds social interaction difficult. And contrary to the myth that shy people are introverts, people can also be extrovert and shy. I know!

    I quite enjoyed your version of Darcy at the local ball scene. It reads realistic and natural. I couldn't bear to read these endless fake Darcy stories. They generally make me cringe after reading the synopsis. Personally, I loathe the whole "Alpha Male" character which seems to afflict female writers (and assumably their readers) like an incurable disease. Why would any woman want an Alpha male? They're irritating! I don't think Alpha Males actually exist. All the reasons a man would be labelled Alpha are all based on his "perceived" strengths or abilities at one moment in time. If these women could disect their average Alpha male, they'd find a complicated creature who fluctuates depending on endless variables. I think the label has damaged men in general. I keep coming across articles where men will refer to themselves as Beta Males and you can almost feel their frustration under a veneer of self-abnegation. It's so not healthy!

    I found Joe's comments interesting as well. It's true minor characters need to stay minor and not overwhelm the main story or the story sinks, but I think if a writer likes to focus on main characters leaving the rest a blur there's going to be a fine line between a great story and a lost story.

    I'm always consious that every character has a never ending story and sometimes weaving pieces of different stories together (I feel) creates more depth, but then
    as a reader and a writer I love stepping into different characters' heads and seeing a given situation from various points of view. If I'd written Pride and Prejudice there wouldn't be any room to speculate what Darcy had been thinking because it would have been included, not that I could have written it...I'm not Jayne Austen. My favorite Austen is her last, Persuasion; that is a masterpiece of subtle charaterization!

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  8. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury6/30/2009

    Kate, I've been enjoying your "fan fiction" giving Darcy's point of view. I hope you keep it up.

    I agree that Darcy is shy, and I'm intrigued by the idea of his being borderline autistic. I've determined to find the Bottomer book to learn more.

    I'd like to say that I think David Rintoul's portrayal of Darcy (in the version before the one with Colin Firth) was the epitome of a painfully shy Darcy. If you haven't seen that one, I recommend it, because I think Elizabeth Garvie is a very good Elizabeth Bennet, as well.

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