The Last Man in the World (Anglais) Broché – 24 juin 2007
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I had never before read anything written by Abigail Reynolds. I chose this particular title because the dialogue in Pride and Prejudice from which it is taken has always been a huge favorite of mine. Lizzie and Darcy really let their hair down during this scene and I have always wanted it to go on longer. Now I had my chance. I really appreciate the way Ms Reynolds handled this interaction between my two favorite literary characters. I willingly accepted her Darcy. Elizabeth was a little harder for me to fall in step with. I wondered if the reason Elizabeth found herself engaged to Mr. Darcy was quite strong enough. Would MY Elizabeth not have straightened out the problem immediately with one of her tart, straightforward statements? Perhaps. But, as I continued to read I was more and more willing to accept THIS Elizabeth and her actions.
I have to say that I don't think I have ever read a book where the main characters (Elizabeth, Darcy and Georgiana) misunderstood each other so often as they do here. Austen's Elizabeth would have asked a lot more questions to clear up details. Alas, this Elizabeth (nor Darcy, nor Georgiana) asked enough questions. I finally had to let go of my pre-conceived notions and just accept these characters as written. From there on out I felt better.
I enjoyed Ms Reynolds depictions of Pemberley. I liked the book as a whole and fully intend to get the other books in the series. I think that says a lot for my enjoyment level. I am probably not what most people would consider an Austen purist so this book was a good, entertaining read for me. If you insist on any author staying completely faithful to every word written by Jane Austen, you are never going to be happy with this or any other variation on the canon. My advice, if you can allow yourself to imagine "what if..." then this book will give you pleasure.
Let's consider her basic premise: Elizabeth accepts Darcy's original offer of marriage. It's not unthinkable if one changes just a tiny detail or two from the original tale. For instance, if Wickham had exposed himself to be untrustworthy earlier, or if Elizabeth had not definitively discovered Darcy's part in keeping her sister and Bingley apart. But Reynolds does not take a simple route, she takes the preposterous premise that Darcy is so taken away in passion when proposing that he kisses Elizabeth against her wishes before she'd had a chance to reply anything to the offer. She uses his ego as the excuse. While Austen portrayed Darcy as sure of himself, there is no way he'd touch, let alone kiss, Elizabeth until his proposal was accepted. Propriety meant everything for this man. But this absurd breach of character is the least of it. The most insulting part of Reynold's premise is that being caught by Fitzwilliams engaging in said kiss Elizabeth suddenly feels like she must accept Darcy's marriage proposal. Ridiculous! Even in Austen's day a mere kiss did not force a woman into marriage. Women could break off an engagement. It makes no sense and therefore infects everything that follows with a further off-character meander.
As the tale progresses, Elizabeth is afraid of Darcy. She is spineless. She never speaks her mind. Darcy is a lovesick puppy or a cold hearted, insensible idiot. I'm not sure who these people are who share Austen's character's names. I do know they aren't the characters of Pride and Prejudice.
If the book were simply a historical romance, it would be a bit melodramatic but acceptable. But when the author uses some of literature's most beloved characters, then the author should at least try to keep traits, personality, values, temperament on par. Nobody is expecting writing like Jane Austen's. The story can be forgiven its lack of writing style, sharpness, humor or manners commentary. But is it really too much to ask to keep Darcy smart, proud and fair and Elizabeth smart, spirited and funny? The dolts she wrote about make Mrs. Bennet seem a wit.
The slight change that sends "Pride and Prejudice" on its ear in this variation is Mr. Darcy kissing Elizabeth before she can refuse his offer of marriage and that kiss being observed by Colonel Fitzwilliam and Rosing Park gamekeepers. Now Elizabeth finds herself in a difficult situation as Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam are under the impression that she has accepted Darcy's addresses and if she were to correct their assumption it would jeopardize not only her reputation, but also the reputations of her sisters. Even though Elizabeth never gets to proclaim to Darcy that he is "the last man in the world whom she could ever be prevailed on to marry," she strongly despises him for what he's done and her outlook for her a happy future is very bleak.
In "Pride and Prejudice" the flaws of "pride" and "prejudice" are played upon. In "Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy" these flaws are still represented but added to them are "selfishness" and "deception." Mr. Darcy selfishly believes that Elizabeth's answer to his proposal could only be yes, and Elizabeth decides it best to deceive her husband into believing her happily married instead of being truthful about her feelings for him. One of the reasons I love Elizabeth and Darcy is because they are flawed and they make mistakes. No one is perfect and in the literary world sometimes we tend to idolize our heroes and heroines. It is a nice change to see them feel insecure, embarrassed, or misunderstood. I believe even Elizabeth Bennet has times when she lacks confidence or jumps to the wrong conclusion.
Abigail Reynolds is a very talented and gifted author that clearly loves Jane Austen and "Pride and Prejudice" with a passion! I am delighted to own both this book and her self-published version of it "The Last Man in the World." After reading "Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy" and scanning through my copy of "The Last Man in the World," I did not find many changes in the plot, and I would venture to say that the only changes were grammatical. So if you already own "The Last Man in the World" you might not want to buy this book, however, if you are like me, you wouldn't mind having this lovely book grace your shelves twice! In addition, I would like to warn readers who don't enjoy intimate and romantic scenes between these characters that there are a few included in this book. However, the romantic scenes are very infrequent and are not overly explicit.
I highly recommend this novel for people who are interested in seeing "Pride and Prejudice" travel a different course!
In this variant on Pride and Prejudice, the overconfident Mr. Darcy follows his first proposal to Elizabeth Bennett with a kiss. Before she has a chance to express her disdain for him, this embrace is witnessed and she has the difficult choice between marrying a man she doesn't love or ruining her reputation and the marriage chances of her sisters as well as her own. It's a decision she must make in an instant, and she chooses Darcy but not without regret.
The author Abigail Reynolds uses this variation to explore the difficulties in a situation that many women of Elizabeth's time and class must have faced. Elizabeth has avoided the trap of marrying Mr. Collins, whom she cannot respect, or falling under the sensual spell of George Wickham who is clearly on the make. Darcy, of course, is an excellent match from society's point of view, but what happens in a marriage when the man chooses a wife from passion, and the woman, unable to reciprocate, tries to make the best of it? I really liked how the author shows Elizabeth and Darcy trying to make each other happy and failing until each acquires real knowledge of the other. Fortunately, neither Darcy nor Elizabeth are ordinary people and after much misunderstanding they achieve the happy ending the reader is waiting for. I think this may be my favorite of the Pemberley variations. I will be reading it again and again.
This is a highly original story, immensely satisfying to read not only because of the new direction for such interesting characters but because of the quality of the writing. Abigail Reynolds is a master storyteller. She delves into the depths of her main characters' individual despair, their individual growth and the eventual understanding of each other that leads to a heart-warming reunion with a quality of writing that makes you wonder why has not been published long before now.
For anyone who appreciates imaginative and high quality story-telling, I highly recommend this book.