Dear Mr. Darcy: A Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
I was contacted by Amanda Grange’s publicist with a review copy of Dear Mr Darcy early in late May. Leaping at the chance to have an early read of this book, and to provide readers of The Bennet Sisters with a Q&A from the writer herself, I downloaded my Kindle version and got to reading.
For those keen on getting their hands on a copy – it’s available from 7th August onwards ISBN: 978-0425247815.
An epistolary novel (with some prequel and sequel material), this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from perspectives we have never had the chance to delve deeply into previously. Letters, a truly “Regency” vehicle of communication, provide a compelling utensil for Ms Grange to weave Austen’s tale with even more complexity and intricacy. Having always been a fan of correspondence and reading letters (and emails…) this struck a chord with me.
Starting four years before Pride and Prejudice, with the death of Mr Darcy senior, the title may have you believing that all the letters are to Darcy, yet they are actually to and from a number of characters – some with whom we have much knowledge (the Bennet girls among others) and some whom are now fleshed out much further (Charles Bingley’s parents as an example).
While some of the new voices jarred with me – the Bingley parents, while in trade, seemed very vulgar in their form of writing and topics – the consistency with which the original characters are maintained outshines any of these complaints I had. Also, with the jumping between perspectives, material that may be seen as ‘done to death’ is now new and exciting.
I also found myself giggling at the exchanges between a number of different ‘friendships’ between the women – passive aggressive Regency letters at their finest! – which reminded me of Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe. Another really enjoyable exchange is that between Elizabeth and Aunt Gardiner, as well as the letters we see from Georgiana (often to Anne de Bourgh). Reconsidering these relationships made me look at these characters in quite a different light… but don’t worry, Wickham is still a scoundrel.
Ms Grange is no stranger to the writing world, with eighteen novels to her name. Of these, she has also been a prolific Austen-based writer, with Mr Darcy’s Diary (currently sitting on my bookshelf with a review pending – keep an eye out for it!), Mr Darcy, Vampyre (which I previously reviewed) and Wickham’s Diary being just several in her ‘already penned’ collection.
She sheds a bit of light onto how Jane Austen fits into her life, and her experiences with writing Dear Mr Darcy.
When did you become a fan of Jane Austen?
I first became a fan when I was about thirteen. I found Pride and Prejudice in my local library and took it home, not knowing what to expect. As soon as I opened the book I was carried into the world of the Bennets and the book drew me right in. I couldn’t bear to put it down until I had finished.
What is your favourite Austen novel?
Pride and Prejudice, without a doubt. I love the other novels, all in different ways, but Pride and Prejudice is my absolute favourite.
Which heroine do you think you are most like, and why?
That’s a difficult one! I would like to say Elizabeth Bennet, but in fact I’m probably more like Elinor Dashwood, only not quite so sensible and serious.
Why did you decide to write the novel in letter form?
When Jane Austen started writing the first version of Pride and Prejudice – called First Impressions – it was probably in letter form. She liked using that form at the time, for example an early version of Sense and Sensibility, called Elinor and Marianne, was probably written in letter form. Jane Austen altered Pride and Prejudice a great deal over the years until it was published, but I thought it would be fun to recreate a version of Pride and Prejudice which would reflect Jane’s own earliest plan for the novel. And of course by allowing the characters to write to each other, I could give readers greater insight into the characters.
Writing about Pride and Prejudice in this way definitely brings some new touches and views to the original – how did you go about keeping it in line with Austen’s classic while making it fresh?
I made sure that all the letters remained true to the personalities we know from Pride and Prejudice, but kept it fresh by allowing them to express deeper thoughts and feelings when writing to new characters, many of whom they had known for years.
How did you plan this book and how much research went into the final product?
Planning the book was a very time consuming process, because all the letters had to fit in with the dates from Pride and Prejudice. I had already drawn up a timetable for Pride and Prejudice when writing Mr Darcy’s Diary, but as Dear Mr Darcy starts several years before the opening of Mr Darcy’s Diary, I had to work out a calendar of events for the early part of the book. It was a very complicated process. Fitting all the letters together was rather like arranging a giant jigsaw puzzle. I also had to make sure that the letters could carry the entire story. All the pieces had to fit in exactly the right place, so there was a vast amount of research involved.
How long did it take you to write?
It’s actually taken me several years to write the book, if you include the planning.
Did you find it difficult writing from a range of perspectives? How did you tackle any problems around this?
It was difficult at times and if I felt I was losing my way with a particular character, I would print out their letters and their letters only. Then I would read all their letters at once, and that let me see where I was losing the tone or perspective. Then, when I’d perfected the letters for that character, I slotted them back into the main body of the novel.
What was the most exciting part of the book to write?
The disastrous first proposal. I loved writing that bit. I gave Mr. Darcy a new cousin, so that he could pour out his feelings to Philip. I gave Elizabeth a friend to write too, and we gain a new perspective on her thoughts and feelings at this crucial moment in her life.
What do you think Jane Austen would say about this book?
I hope she would like it. I think it would certainly amuse her and, I hope, please her to know that, two hundred years after its first publication, someone had recreated it in epistolary form.
Having just finished reading another Amanda Grange penned work, the short story ‘Mr Bennet Meets His Match’ in the collection Jane Austen Made Me Do It, I’ve discussed the Bennet parents with some friends… but the jury is still out about the Mr and Mrs Bennet coupling, I told her.
Is Mrs Bennet a good match for Mr Bennet? What sort of woman do you suppose would have been ‘most suitable’ for your Mr Bennet?
I think someone more intelligent would have suited Mr Bennet better, someone to whom he could have talked about his favourite books. But I see Mr Bennet as a philosopher and I think he made the best of things, taking pleasure from Mrs Bennet’s absurdities.
I’m quite excited to see what other Janeites think of this book, and I recommend getting your hands on a copy. What do you think of Ms Grange’s other books?