Hi Maria Grazia, thanks so much for having me back at My Jane Austen Book Club to help me celebrate the release of A Favorable Impression!
This is the second book in my series of Regency-era standalones, each featuring a different path to Happily Ever After for Darcy and Elizabeth. I guess you could say that each book takes place in a different “universe”, with all the same characters appearing, but with varying circumstances, which makes for a unique story in each, even though they are all patterned after Pride and Prejudice, and they all arrive at the same destination in the end. I suppose that is why we love Pride and Prejudice variations so much though, right?
In this story, I explore what it would look like if Darcy and Elizabeth met for the first time when Elizabeth tours Pemberley with her aunt and uncle. Bingley and Jane are already acquainted from his stay at Netherfield the previous autumn, and when they learn that he is going to be at Pemberley also, it gives the two of them a second chance to reignite the sparks after Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst’s meddling interfered with their budding romance.
Since Darcy did not go to Hertfordshire with Bingley that autumn, Elizabeth’s impression of meeting him is very different from what she experienced in the original novel at the Meryton Assembly and more in line with how she views him when she sees him in his natural habitat as the master of Pemberley. Darcy’s impression is also favorable, since he is meeting Elizabeth apart from the rest of her family and sees her in company with the Gardiners and Jane, who are all very well-bred.
He gets a shock when he goes to Hertfordshire and finally meets the rest of the Bennet family. Mr. Bennet is a passive father who lets his wife and younger daughters run wild. Mrs. Bennet makes no secret of her mercenary objective to get rich husbands for all her daughters. Mary insists on performing for others at every turn, completely oblivious to her lack of talent, while Kitty flirts with the single men every chance she gets. Then they learn that Lydia has run away from Brighton with Mr. Wickham!
All of this makes for a pretty compelling reason for Mr. Darcy to run for the hills, and he tries to do just that. But of course, circumstances throw him back in Elizabeth’s company again until he can no longer ignore his feelings, leading up to his famously bad proposal…
Lots of fun to follow as Darcy and Elizabeth must overcome their pride and find their way back to each other after that disaster. Meanwhile, Caroline Bingley still hasn’t given up on her plan to marry Darcy, and Darcy’s cousin the viscount (Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother) has his eyes on Lizzy. All of this makes an exciting ride that I hope you’ll join me on!
READ AND EXCERPT
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a favorable impression goes a long way in securing the good opinion of another. Elizabeth Bennet’s opinion of Mr. Darcy was first formed during her tour of the beautiful house and grounds of Pemberley with her sister, aunt, and uncle.
In the past few weeks, they visited all the principal sights that the region had to offer. They saw the beauties of Dovedale and Matlock and the ruins at Kenilworth, climbed the Peaks, and toured Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace.
They reached the town of Bakewell and, over breakfast at the inn, discussed if there was anything worth seeing on their way to Mrs. Gardiner’s childhood home of Lambton.
“I believe we are quite near Pemberley,” Mr. Gardiner remarked, sipping his coffee.
“Indeed, we are!” his wife remarked. “I would very much like to see it again if it is not too much trouble.”
Mr. Gardiner consulted his map and determined that it would not take them more than a mile out of their way to see it.
“What do you recall of the place?” Elizabeth asked her aunt.
“I have not been there since I left to go away to school, but it was very grand. As beautiful as Chatsworth, if not more so. And the woods are some of the finest in the county. A river runs through the property and feeds its lake, which I am told boasts excellent fishing.”
“Well, in that case, we had certainly better go!” Mr. Gardiner chuckled. He was an avid fisherman, though he seldom had the opportunity to enjoy it.
Jane agreed. “It all sounds marvelous.”
With nothing to impede their plans, they set off immediately after breakfast.
“You know, Lizzy, I believe your friend Mr. Wickham spent his whole childhood at Pemberley. His father was the steward,” Mrs. Gardiner remarked while they were in the carriage.
Elizabeth felt her cheeks warm. Mr. Wickham’s good looks and charming manners made a fine impression on all the ladies of Meryton when he joined the regiment that was quartered there the past autumn. Elizabeth could not help but like him, also. He was friendly and affable, and though they had little in common, they always seemed to find plenty to discuss. But, though she found his company pleasing and thoughts of him made her heart flutter from time to time, she knew that her lack of dowry made it impossible for their relationship to evolve beyond friendship. Besides that, her youngest sister, Lydia, was hopelessly infatuated with him. They argued more than once when Mr. Wickham had given Elizabeth preference over Lydia at a gathering. Elizabeth hoped Lydia would realize, as she had, that there was little chance of either of them ever receiving an offer of marriage from someone as poor as Mr. Wickham.
Despite all this, Elizabeth was curious to see the home where Mr. Wickham grew up. The carriage passed over a bridge fording the River Derwent, and then the great house came into view, situated prominently on rising ground. The river wound through the property, feeding into a shimmering lake that enhanced the beauty of the mansion overlooking it. Pemberley House was a magnificent stone structure built in the Palladian style with a triangular pediment and columns gracing the front.
“I believe you are right, Aunt Gardiner,” Elizabeth said, “Chatsworth House has its equal in Pemberley.”
Jane suggested, “Perhaps the builders took Chatsworth as their inspiration for Pemberley.”
“Or perhaps Pemberley was the inspiration for Chatsworth,” Elizabeth countered. “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” She grinned.
Aunt Gardiner gave a little laugh. “I do not know which was built first, so I cannot say. But in my opinion, Pemberley is just a little more superior.”
“Who is the master here?” Elizabeth asked.
“Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy,” Mrs. Gardiner replied. “His father and mother knew my parents.”
“Have you ever met the son?”
“Just once, when he was a lad.”
The carriage pulled onto a broad, paved sweep. After requesting to see the house, they were admitted entrance. As they waited for the housekeeper, Elizabeth marveled at the hall. The ceiling, covered in a fresco depicting life-size angels and biblical figures in various scenes, rose two full stories. The walls, too, held several massive Renaissance-era paintings in the same style. The housekeeper entered, her heels clicking along the marble floors. Her graying hair peeped out from beneath her white mob-cap, and she bore a friendly expression. She introduced herself as Mrs. Reynolds.
They asked whether they might be given a tour.
“Oh yes, the master does not return until tomorrow, so I would be happy to show you the house.”
They followed her up a staircase lined with plush red velvet. The main floor of the house bustled with servants carrying on various tasks.
“You must excuse the state of things,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “The house has been vacant since last August. The master spends most of his time in London and other parts of the country. We only received word yesterday that he is arriving with a large party, so we are preparing everything.”
“We seem to have come at a bad time, then,” Jane said.
“Oh no, Miss, we have it all well at hand!” Mrs. Reynolds answered cheerily. “But it is well that you have come today, for much of the furniture was covered yesterday. The house is in a much better state today.”
She showed them the formal drawing room filled with Italian furnishings, a dining room decked in luxurious red carpets and curtains, an impressive library that made Elizabeth more than a little envious, and a music room with gilded walls that matched the gilded harp that stood as the focal point of the room.
“Who plays the harp?” Elizabeth asked.
“The master’s sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy. She is a most accomplished musician. She plays the pianoforte and sings as well.”
“It is a pity that your master is not at home more often to enjoy such splendid surroundings,” Mrs. Gardiner said.
Mrs. Reynolds nodded as she led them up another staircase. “Indeed. If he were to marry, we might see more of him. But I do not know when that will ever be. Here is his picture now. This was painted only last year.” They reached a long gallery filled with paintings of members of the Darcy family. Elizabeth looked at the portrait of Mr. Darcy that stood before them. She judged him to be a young man, perhaps in his late twenties. He had dark, curly hair, a strong jaw, and a noble mien. His expression was somber, but the kindness in his eyes stirred her.
“What sort of man is Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, the very best!” Mrs. Reynolds exclaimed. “I never heard a cross word from him, and I have known him since he was four years old. He takes prodigious good care of all the servants and tenants under his domain, and you never saw a more attentive brother– or a better friend.”
Mr. Gardiner’s head bobbed. “He seems quite a good fellow!”
“Indeed!” Mrs. Reynolds agreed. “I hope you have the good fortune to meet him one day.”
They passed a set of miniatures on display, and Mrs. Gardiner leaned closer to examine them.
“Here is one you might recognize, Lizzy and Jane.” She pointed to a small oval frame containing a portrait of a handsome young man. The artist had expertly captured his boyish smile.
“Why, it is Mr. Wickham!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
Mrs. Reynolds tilted her head in curiosity. “Do the young ladies know Mr. Wickham?”
They explained their acquaintance with him through his being quartered in their hometown.
“He was the son of our late steward,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “But I am afraid he has turned out very wild. Very wild indeed.” She shook her head with a frown.
Elizabeth wondered what she meant by that, but she did not think it proper to ask.
After they saw all the principal public rooms of the house, Mrs. Reynolds turned them over to the care of the gardener to show them the gardens and the grounds.
The beauty of the gardens was beyond anything Elizabeth had ever witnessed. Even the other great houses they had visited were no match. A rose garden with every color of rose you could imagine. Fountain gardens, a hedge maze, a cottage garden, kitchen gardens, and numerous flower gardens. Near the eastern side of the house was a long pool with a fountain springing from the center, in which you could see the reflection of the mansion behind it. All this in addition to the lake and the river and miles upon miles of wooded trails.
As they followed the gardener along the path that encircled the lake, Mr. Gardiner enjoyed the gleam of the trout, bass, and other fish leaping from the water.
Mrs. Gardiner teased. “You wish you could be lazing by the bank catching a few of these, eh?”
“Aye!” he chortled.
Hoofbeats echoed off the bridleway, precipitating the appearance of a rider through the break in the trees. He crossed over the same bridge that their carriage had passed earlier. As he neared the stables, he saw them and tipped his hat.
“That be my master, Mr. Darcy,” the gardener told them.
Elizabeth’s brow wrinkled. “I thought he was not due until tomorrow.”
“Perhaps he decided to come ahead of his guests,” Jane said. “We ought to offer our greetings and apologize for intruding on his land.”
The others agreed, and they walked toward the stables.
Mr. Darcy emerged a few minutes later on foot. He was even more handsome in the flesh than his painting made him out to be. His hair, damp with moisture from his ride, had curled into tight ringlets beneath his fashionable D’orsay top hat. He wore a well-fitting jacket that hugged his athletic form. Elizabeth forced herself not to let her eyes linger on the buckskin leather breeches that clung to his shapely thighs like a second skin but to keep her gaze fixed on his face. His perfectly bow-shaped mouth turned upwards at the creases when he looked at her, causing Elizabeth’s breath to quicken and her own mouth to break into a smile.
He greeted them, walking toward their group. His hailing them signaled that he was open to an introduction. Mr. Gardiner led the way, presenting himself, his wife, and their two nieces.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Mr. Darcy bowed. “What brings you to this area?”
Mr. Gardiner explained that they had been touring Derbyshire the past few weeks and had wished to see the house.
“Of course, you are very welcome. The house and grounds are open to you. Where are you all visiting from?”
“My nieces reside in Hertfordshire,” Mr. Gardiner answered. “My wife and I live in London, but my wife grew up in this area, in Lambton.”
“In fact, I believe I met you once, sir,” Mrs. Gardiner said, “when you were just a boy. Though I doubt very much that you would remember me. I was Miss Andrews then.”
He asked her who her parents were and said, “Ah yes, I do seem to recall them, and I believe I remember you, ma’am. You came with the Davies and the Harris families for a picnic gathering. Charlie Davies and Rose Harris were there, and we all played hide and seek together in the hedge maze.
“You do remember!” Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed in delight.
“Yes, in fact, Charlie and Rose will both be of the party I am hosting this week. They are married now, if you can believe it.”
Mrs. Gardiner was overjoyed. “I have not seen either of them since before my days at school. I am sad to say that we did not keep in touch. I would love to see them again and revisit the old days.”
“In that case, I must insist that you all come to dinner tomorrow evening if you have the time. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than facilitating your reunion with your friends.”
His invitation was most agreeable to all. As he walked them to their carriage, Elizabeth said, “Our meeting you seems quite serendipitous, Mr. Darcy. I hope you know the joy you bring to my aunt by including us in your gathering. I wonder whether we have any other mutual friends in common who will be at your party.”
He smiled. “My sister will be there with her companion, along with several of my friends. Where did you say you were from again, Miss Elizabeth?”
“My sister and I live at Longbourn, near Meryton, in Hertfordshire.”
“Hertfordshire, yes. My good friend Charles Bingley leased a place in Hertfordshire last autumn. I believe it was very near to Meryton.”
Jane’s eyes shot over to them at the mention of that name. Elizabeth’s mouth parted slightly as she looked at her sister in response.
Elizabeth turned her face back toward Mr. Darcy. “We had the good fortune to become acquainted with Mr. Bingley during that time.” She forced herself to smile.
“Did you! As it happens, Bingley wrote yesterday that he and his whole family are to join our party. I rode out a day early to ensure the house was prepared for the additional guests. I am sure that he will be pleased to see you again.”
“I do hope so, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth answered. Jane could only nod in response. Elizabeth took Jane’s hand and squeezed it before entering the carriage.
Mr. Darcy bid them all farewell. “Until tomorrow, then.” He tipped his hat.
“Until tomorrow, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said through the open window as the driver shut their door and climbed up to his seat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Kai’s love of period dramas and classic literature inspires her historical romances and other romances. She is the author of several stories inspired by Jane Austen, including Not In Want of a Wife, Elizabeth’s Secret Admirer, and Marriage and Ministry. Prior to becoming an author, Amanda enjoyed a successful career as a professional harpist, and danced ballet for twenty years. When she’s not diving into the realm of her imagination, Amanda lives out her own happily ever after in Texas with her husband and three children.