As a Regency fanatic and certified bibliophile, my bookcase literally groans with the weight of all the prequels, variations, continuations, and bastardizations of the great literary works of the era. Though just revisiting my favorite characters is often enough to keep me reading - rarely does one command my interest like this wonderful romp from Abigail Reynolds.
Billed as a ‘Pride and Prejudice Variation,’ this novel is but one in a series by the same author purporting to ‘explore the paths not taken’ by Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in their pursuit of mutual affection and understanding. This particular offering expounds on the tantalizing question, “What would have happened had Mr. Darcy, rather than decamp after Elizabeth’s scathing rejection of him, chosen to swallow his considerable pride and relentlessly pursue her heart instead?”
What follows is the delightful story of how a reluctant Elizabeth is courted by the passionately (even annoyingly) determined Darcy, eventually learning the truth of this character - and the depths of her own desires - along the way. As an added bonus, readers are also treated to glimpses of the fears and challenges that Jane suffers in her relationship with Bingley as well.
Though I always tend to approach works based on P&P with cynicism, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself drawn in by Reynolds delicate approach and (mostly) faithful character depictions. Skillfully employing period appropriate language, Reynolds manages to stay true to the spirit of Austen’s writing - using humorous dialogue and brisk pacing of action to keep the reader amused, intrigued, and eager for the next chapter. I will even confess to backtracking on
more than one occasion, just to savor a particularly delicious passage.
With this said, I must warn that those of a scholarly bent will find much to take exception to in this work. Some will argue that Darcy and Elizabeth’s moral fabric, strength of conviction and genteel upbringing would never allow them to indulge in some of the behaviors attributed to them here. Though I tend to agree with this view overall, I would also point out that human nature has led those with even the most stringent moral codes to be tempted in the face of strong chemistry...and let’s face it, Darcy and Elizabeth had chemistry in abundance! Whether engaged in furious conflict or simmering with obvious attraction, few would argue that this pair’s relationship is one of the most volatile - and passionate - ever put on paper.
Which brings me to the crux of this novel’s irresistible appeal - it manages to give the reader what has been longed for over the past two hundred years - a peek at that grand passion - without slipping over the edge into melodramatic ridiculousness or amateurish vulgarity. Though I would have heretofore declared such a thing an impossible task, I am happy to report that “Impulse & Initiative” skillfully delivers a pulse-pounding alternative story-line to Pride & Prejudice within an intelligent, plausible, thoroughly enjoyable framework.
Thanks to its recent purchase and reissue by the publishing house Sourcebooks Lanmark, copies of this book can be found at major bookstores such as Border’s and Barnes & Noble, or online merchants such as Amazon.com. I give “Impulse & Initiative” four Prinnys (out of five).