Friday, 30 December 2011


Read this lovely guestpost by Abigail Reynolds, leave your comment + e-mail address to get a chance to win a signed copy of "Mr Darcy's Letter". This giveaway is limited to US and Canada readers and ends on January 5th, 2012  when the winner is announced. 

    Pride, Prejudice and Propriety 

We all know that etiquette and proper behaviour were de riguer in the Regency period.  Unmarried women had to be chaperoned at all time, they could not correspond with unmarried gentlemen, they were expected to be pure in mind and body, etc.  But where there are human beings involved, rules and reality will always differ.  From today’s vantage point, some readers feel that Darcy and Elizabeth embody proper behavior.  It’s a pleasant thought; unfortunately, it isn’t in keeping with the characters Jane Austen wrote.  Both Darcy and Elizabeth constantly push the envelope on appropriate behavior to the point where it could have – and probably did – affect their reputations.

Let’s start with Elizabeth. We know that many of Austen’s contemporaries disliked the character of Elizabeth and felt that Jane Bennet should have been the heroine, and they had good reason. Elizabeth scampers all over the countryside on pleasure strolls by herself when she should always be accompanied by a maid or a sister. Modern readers may think that’s fine, but a Regency audience would agree with Miss Bingley that Elizabeth’s manners were “very bad indeed:”

"You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley, "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition."

"Certainly not."

"To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ancles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to shew an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country town indifference to decorum."

Perhaps the most important rule for young ladies was never to be alone with an unrelated gentleman under any circumstances.  Elizabeth flouts this one regularly. When Darcy comes to call at Hunsford and everyone else is away from home, Elizabeth should have refused to meet with him without a maid present, and Darcy should have politely declined to stay.  They take long walks alone together at Rosings, which is enough to harm her reputation seriously, but she doesn’t stop there; she also walks alone with Colonel Fitzwilliam, and one assumes she would have no hesitation doing so with Wickham or any other gentleman. 

Then there’s the famous letter Darcy writes her.  Remember the part about young ladies not corresponding with gentlemen?  Accepting Darcy’s letter is a complete breach of propriety, as the text itself tells us.  Darcy holds out “a letter, which she instinctively took” (my italics).  Jane Austen added that “instinctively” because she had to justify Elizabeth behaving in a completely unacceptable manner.  But even having taken it instinctively, Elizabeth should have returned it unopened or refused to read it, as she does in my latest variation, Mr. Darcy’s Letter. Of course, that action leads to trouble of a different sort, but it is proper!

Darcy is, if anything, worse.  He goes along with all the impropriety I’ve mentioned, behavior which I’m quite sure he wouldn’t have condoned in Georgiana, who has a hired companion to protect her from those very mistakes.  He’s inexcusably rude at the Meryton Assembly.  Modern readers tend to think of it as just his excessive pride, but look at the reaction of the people of Meryton.  Mrs. Bennet and the other matchmaking mamas, who would still have considered Bingley eligible if he had been a slovenly middle-aged man as drunk as Mr. Hurst so long as he still had his 5000 pounds per year, write off handsome Mr. Darcy’s 10,000 pounds based solely on his outrageous rudeness.  That’s not a reaction to pride, which could be expected in a man of his stature – it’s behavior that’s beyond the pale for them. 

Then there’s the scene when Miss Bingley invites Elizabeth to take a turn around the room at Netherfield.  Darcy refuses, and says to their faces, “… you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking … [and] I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.”  It is indeed, as Miss Bingley says, a shocking and altogether abominable thing to say.  Not only is he admitting publicly to looking at their figures for his pleasure, but he is making reference to the fact that their dresses were deliberately translucent as was the fashion, and sitting “by the fire” he would get an excellent view.  He’s telling the ladies, “No, I’ll stay right here so that I admire your legs through your dresses which you are deliberately exposing in hopes of inflaming my lust.” This apparently isn’t even unusual behavior for him; Jane Austen tells us that he was “continually giving offence” wherever he appeared.  That is most likely the reason Darcy, the nephew of an Earl, is spending his time with the children of tradesmen when it’s clear that he’s quite a snob.  He doesn’t behave properly, and society holds it against him.  

Both Darcy and Elizabeth are comfortable flouting almost any rule of etiquette that gets in their way.  Yes, it’s true that they both see some things as too improper even for them, like Lydia running off with Wickham.  However, that’s like saying that it doesn’t matter if your new in-laws are boorish, drunken slobs as long as they aren’t criminals. 

Don’t get me wrong – I like it that Darcy and Elizabeth are the free spirits of their age.  That’s a large part of what makes them so appealing to me.  It’s just that when people tell me that Darcy or Elizabeth would never have approved of this or that, I sometimes wonder if we’ve been reading the same book.  And now despise me if you dare!  J
Abigail Reynolds
The Book

A lady's reputation is a fragile thing. If anyone ever discovered that Miss Elizabeth Bennet had received a letter from a single gentleman, she could be ruined... or forced to marry a man she detests. In this Pride & Prejudice variation, Elizabeth takes the safer course and refuses to read Mr. Darcy's letter of explanation. Returning home unaware of Wickham's true nature, Elizabeth confesses everything to him, putting both Mr. Darcy and herself in grave danger from Wickham's schemes.

The Author

Abigail Reynolds  is a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast and a physician.  In addition to writing, she has a part-time private practice and  enjoys spending time with her family.  Originally from upstate New York, she studied Russian, theater, and marine biology before deciding to attend medical school.   She began writing From Lambton to Longbourn in 2001 to spend more time with her favorite characters from Pride & Prejudice.  Encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking ‘What if…?’, which led to five other Pemberley Variations and her modern novel, The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice. She is a lifetime member of JASNA and lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two teenaged children, and a menagerie of pets.


Linda said...

Really enjoyed this post. No doubt that bit of rebel in both Elizabeth and Darcy is part of their charm. Thanks for the giveaway.

Heather said...

I suppose I am one of those people who never would have thought that Elizabeth and Darcy would do anything improper, but now I am going to have to reread Pride and prejudice with a new set of eyes and really seeing just how many things I missed in it. Thank you for the post and for the information in it.

cyn209 said...

oh, i must add this to my WishList!!!!

thank you for the opportunity to win a signed copy!!!

Happy New Year to you & yours!!!

cyn209 at juno dot com

Erica said...

Interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post!
Looking forward to reading this one.

Rearadmiral00 at gmail dot com

Pamala Knight said...

Excellent post! I'm always baffled by those who don't see that BOTH Darcy and Elizabeth's behavior in P&P is outside what propriety demands. I suppose when you have outrageous Mr. Wickham and Lydia to judge against, it becomes less obvious though. Thank you for the interesting treatise from one of my favorite authors.

tennismania(at) gmail (dot) com

Heather M. said...

Great post! I think their mutual disregard for some proprieties is one of the reasons that Darcy and Elizabeth are so charmed by one another. They see something of themselves in one another.

Happy New Year!


Tammy said...

Awesome concept for a variation, this is a story that begs to be told!

Abigail Reynolds said...

Hmm, I've been waiting for bombs to be lobbed in my direction, but everyone is being remarkably, well, proper in their responses! But if my post makes readers go back to look at P&P in a fresh way, then it has succeeded whether or not they end up agreeing with me. I agree that their independence part of what draws Darcy and Elizabeth to each other.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Danielle said...

This sounds like a good twist to the P&P story. I would love to read this book and see what happens.

Sophia Rose said...

Some of your observations have never struck me like that before, but you are so right. Thanks for the fascinating post!

marilyn said...

The Regency manners and morals seem so quaint to us today but were meaningful standards at time. They should have been respected but that would have been so dull! Thanks for the insight into this time period. Lovely giveaway.


Margaret said...

Ooh I love this scene in the book where he writes the letter. It's one of the few times he seems really gentile to me. Wonderful idea! I'd love to read it! Thank you for the giveaway!


Melanie said...

Intriguing post! The more I think about it, I don't think I would like Darcy much if he suddenly appeared in my life. However, he makes such an amazing romantic lead, making up for all of his other less than amazing qualities.

melanie at

GailW said...

Very interesting, Abby. I had always believed those liberties were due to the Regency period being more liberal than the Victorian Era that followed, but you make some good points. I had also found it surprising that Darcy would admire in Elizabeth what he would not allow in his own sister - but then again, he is 15 years Georgiana's senior. You do give some food for thought. Thanks!

Margay said...

I don't know how you continue to do it, Abigail, but you've come up with yet another interesting twist on the Darcy-Elizabeth drama that I can't wait to sink my teeth into!


BeckyC said...

How different it would be in Darcy and Elizabeth were proper. Just don't think their would have been the same attention for so many years!

Abigail, I love everything you write! Love, love the what if's and your modern series is awesome. I am always anxiously awaiting your next release! Looking forward to Darcy's Letters.

GoddessMER said...

Hmmm... You've actually given me something to think about. I agree that Elizabeth flaunts some propriety during P&P, but I never really thought of Darcy being the one who did it, either. And I certainly never would have thought of thought of him being potentially shunned by society because of his behavior.


Anonymous said...

What a fascinating interview and twist to pride and prejudice Abigail! I am an avid reader of Jane Austen yet quite new to Jane Austen sequels. Your book has sparked my curiousity immensley! I hope I am able to win a chance at reading it! Thank you for the write up and the giveaway. Susan :D



Well, having majored an English Lit. and having received and A on a paper on Pride and Prejudice pointing out when Darcy's feelings changed towards Elizabeth, I feel the complete ignoramous! I never once saw all of these flouting or the rules and reasons for them to definitely be together. You really know this book and probably all of Austen. I'll be looking with fresh eyes at her other books! I can't wait to read your novel!!


Maybe I should return my degree!

mbreakfield said...

Loved the post. I always wondered how Elizabeth got away with roaming around unescorted.

Theresa M said...

Interesting twist! Now was it improper for Anne to have read Wentworth's letter too?

Bry said...

Fantastic post!! This book sounds awesome!

Nina Benneton said...

Oooh! I read this blog while on a train last and could not comment, and so glad I haven't missed the deadline.

I can't wait to read this book. I blame Abigail Reynolds for leading me astray into the Jane Austen genre for her fresh and original take on P & P characters and make them relatable for me as a reader and a writer.

I agree. I think D & E both flaunt propriety enough to make themselves human and interesting, yet they managed to stay within the right shade of bounds of decorum. Saintly people in fiction isn't that interesting to read.


free image editor said...

yeah, Elizabeth's reputation could have been in danger, but everything worked out fine. Thank you, Austin for the happy ending! :)