Dear readers you are in for a treat! I have been so excited about having Stan Hurd as my guest and looking forward to this post greatly. When I first heard about his books and then read his posts on the lovely Meredith Esparza's site, Austenesque Reviews, I have wished to have him visit. Well, today he is and we are fortunate indeed. Please join me in welcoming Stan Hurd to More Agreeably Engaged.
When I began writing Darcy’s Tale, I was comparatively new to Austen, and had no idea that JAFF was even a genre. I was first introduced to Austen by Keira Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice, which, at the time, I found quite engaging. But after I read the novel, and her other novels, and I was pretty seriously hooked. Then a friend gave me the Colin Firth series, and introduced me to the Pamela Aidan books. The first time I read Aidan, I was delighted just to be back in Austen’s world. But a second reading started to expose what were, to my mind, flaws in her interpretation, and I couldn’t finish a third reading. It felt like a friend of mine had been maligned in print, and I wanted to set the record straight. I personally don’t think people make fundamental changes in who they are, so I believed that he had to have been a good guy from the beginning. How, then, to reconcile his actions with that belief: that was my starting point.
What I required of my attempt was that I adhere strictly to the original, explain how he could have misrepresented himself and misinterpreted Elizabeth, and examine the changes he really underwent. I also hoped to emulate the writing of the period, although I had no thought of real success. I immersed myself in Austen, reading almost nothing else for months on end; the result was as close as I could make it to P&P and Regency English; as I read and re-read it, at least nothing really jarred. Of course, I had the help of some seriously knowledgeable Janeites. I will say that I made three flubs that I know of. One was that I had Elizabeth sit in the wrong spot at the Netherfield dinner at which Mr. Hurst enquired into her enjoyment of the ragout. Perhaps some of you true Austen fans can spot others? :-)
But the capacity of a man to change himself for the love of a woman is, of course, a matter of debate. I have chosen two parts of my book to share: one where Darcy is usually thought to be uncommonly arrogant, and another where her misreads Elizabeth pretty thoroughly; I’d like to offer them as stepping off points for discussion. Was Darcy really the jerk he seemed at the Meryton assembly? And then, at Rosings, Elizabeth was puzzled, and a little offended, I think, by his silence when he walked with her in the park; so how could moments like that lead him to believe she was “wishing, expecting his addresses”? So I will give you my interpretation, in hopes that it will lead us into a lively discussion of what is right and what is wrong with men…no! I mean what is right or wrong with the idea of men changing deeply through the love of the right woman.
First, let’s look at possibly the most famous incident showing his arrogance: the Meryton assembly. Now, in my mind, he must have had a bad day, and he clearly didn’t like to dance, and I had Miss Bingley managed to annoy him as they set off. The key phrase for me was when he said, “…I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who have been slighted…”: he was in a bad mood. And I have never been able to believe he said what he said knowing that Elizabeth could hear him, as that would make it nearly impossible for him to believe she would be well-disposed towards him; and Bingley clearly didn’t think she could overhear them. So this is how I see it:
The appearance of the newcomers naturally caused a stir and a wave of whispers to spread through the room. And certainly Darcy, given his stature, his fashionable attire, and well-featured face, received his full share of the attention. Unfortunately, that very attention, which for most persons would have been a welcome sign of consequence and notice, served to fix in him the dark mood he had carried in with him; he felt like a caged bear being paraded at a country fair for the peasantry to gawk at. And, even more regrettably, the scrutiny he received created among the revellers a general awareness of his marked lack of enthusiasm for his surroundings; this was soon interpreted as scorn for the company in which he found himself. Such was his mood that when the early smiles and flutterings turned to blank stares and cold shoulders, it brought him, not a sense of his wrong-doing, but a perverse sense of vindication. That they should dislike him was proof of his acuity and insight. Society was the same every where, thought he with some bitterness; well enough, let the cats say what they would—it mattered little. Here, at least, he was not compelled to cater to it. He would never see any of them again in his life, so what did it signify? He was vaguely aware that he was behaving churlishly, and the better part of him felt it, but not so strongly that he was minded to break from the manner of his beginning.
While his friend was dancing, Darcy spent most of his time drifting about the room, having been introduced only to the family of one Sir William Lucas, whose conversation he found less than captivating. Under the circumstances, his strict sense of propriety would not allow him to enter into conversation with the others attending—even if he had had a desire to. But he was aware that his neighbours at the assembly looked at him with little approbation, and he allowed his sentiments to mirror theirs, leaving him with little reason to seek acquaintance with any of them. He watched with scant enthusiasm as his friend led his third, or possibly his fourth, partner down the dance, while he was left to amuse himself. Looking about the room he saw a number of young ladies without partners, and more than one whose countenance would satisfy all but the most exacting critics of female beauty; but in Darcy’s present state of mind, their presence served only to remind him of how ill-suited he was to his surroundings: while he might in certain circumstances find himself able to enjoy their company, these were decidedly not such circumstances. The truth of the matter, not often admitted even to himself, was that Mr. Darcy was slow to feel comfortable with new people, and the force of will it would take on this occasion, to seek introduction and enter into conversation with a strange young woman, was simply not within his compass this evening. Nor did he wish to converse with either of Bingley’s sisters, given how things stood, and so he was left with no alternative but to simply wander about the place, trying to stay out of people’s way, and, quite irrationally, becoming more and more provoked by the situation. At length Bingley left the dance to fetch his partner of the moment a refreshment, and found Darcy standing near the table of drinks. He took the opportunity to persuade his friend to enter into the spirit of the evening: “Come, Darcy, I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not,” replied Darcy irritably. Here Bingley had left him to his own devices for well over an hour, and now spoke to him only in passing—and to persuade him to dance, of all things. His glance travelled around the room, seeing again the same collection of strangers’ faces; not a few of them turned coldly away from his gaze. “You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
“I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom!” cried his friend. “Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.” said Darcy, though this was certainly untrue; Bingley was merely dancing with the most handsome girl in the room. But his present mood was such that Darcy was ready to disagree on any and every point.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!” exclaimed Bingley. “But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” He turned around and saw a young woman seated nearby, happily engaged in watching the dance. He had noticed her earlier, and had resisted the inclination to let his eye linger in her direction more than once during his wanderings, but he would by no means admit as much to Bingley. Her dark eyes, alive with mirth and yet at the same time showing an astute appreciation of all that was passing, had caught his attention particularly. Now, sensing his observation of her, she turned to meet his gaze. Not wishing to see her eyes harden as she recognised who it was that beheld her, or perhaps because his more gentlemanly side felt his general incivility during the evening, he quickly withdrew his own glance. To Bingley he said, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.” Bingley left him with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. Darcy then glanced cautiously back over his shoulder for fear he might have been overheard; but the young woman had turned away and did not appear to have paid them any attention. He was relieved: ill-humour he would allow himself—open discourtesy he would not. However, had he been able to observe her while he was speaking, he would have seen the young lady’s eyes widen at his ill-mannered and disobliging description of herself.
OK, that was the dance. Now his confidence as to her willingness to accept him. Was it his overweening arrogance, or was it cluelessness? Could it really be arrogance, when he thought she was wishing and expecting his proposal? We’re at Rosings; he saw Elizabeth going into the park, and set out to follow. (I admit the humour is too heavy-handed for Austen, for which I apologize.)
“Miss Bennet, good morning!” he called.
She looked round in surprise. “Mr. Darcy!” she cried. “How you startled me!”
“I beg your pardon,” was all he could think to say; she was very lovely this morning, framed by the fresh green of the new leaves on the trees behind her, and the sun washing her, too, with the fresh glow of youth. He approached, and they stood together, but neither spoke for a moment. Hesitantly, he asked: “Do you return to the Parsonage, or do you stay?”
“I should have gone back shortly,” she said briefly.
“Shall I accompany you?” he asked: always correct, he wished to ensure that she would not be uncomfortable in his company; they were, after all, alone and unchaperoned.
“If you wish,” she replied. There was a slight emphasis to her tone as she said this, and in this particular response Darcy saw more than acceptance: her answer was actually a tentative invitation that, depending on his answer, would tell her whether he truly wished to be with her, or would as soon go on his way alone.
“I should be very happy to,” said he, answering both the spoken and unspoken question. He smiled at her and turned back the way he had come. She gave him a momentary smile in return, then cast her eyes down at the path.
They walked together some minutes in silence, enjoying the morning and the fresh spring air. Darcy, conscious of her every movement, was careful to observe her silence; she clearly had come out to enjoy a quiet walk, and he did not wish to draw down her disapproval by disturbing her morning with chatter.
“Do you come this way often, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked after a time.
“Not now, but Colonel Fitzwilliam and I used to play here as children,” Darcy smiled at the memory. “We were hunters, castaways, pirates—mostly the latter. All the things boys will get up to when their elders are not there to scold them. I cannot tell you how many sets of clothing I must have ruined.” He made an embarrassed laugh: “In fact, this very grove is where I got my nickname. I was ‘the Dread Pirate, Dirks-and-Daggers Darcy’. My cousin still calls me ‘Dirks’ from time to time.”
“You, Sir, are Dirks Darcy?’ the lady asked in wonder; her face marked her incredulity.
“At your service, Ma’am,” Darcy replied, bowing with a flourish.
Elizabeth stared at him for a moment without speaking, then quickly cast her eyes down; a sound like a stifled sneeze issued from her, and Darcy offered a “God bless you!”; she repeated the noise twice again in rapid succession, to which Darcy added: “Goodness! —and bless you again.” After walking a bit further without hearing the lady speak, in an attempt at banter he asked, “What seek you here amongst the trees? Surely you do not come here to play out your girlhood fancies?”
“No, indeed not,” she replied shortly. There was a slight hesitation before she supplied with pointed significance: “This grove is a favourite with me; the tranquillity, the picturesque of the woods, the pleasures of nature without alloy of company—I have enjoyed a great many hours here by myself. As it is inside the paling, I feel secure from unwanted visitors.”
In this earnest return Darcy could feel that she was sharing something of herself, in answer to his admission of his childhood absurdity; but just what she meant was equivocal; as he thought about it, though, it came to him that she might very well be telling him how they might be together, without interference from ‘unwanted visitors’. He glanced quickly down at her; something in her manner, or perhaps how near to him she walked on the narrow path, convinced him: she was inviting his company, here in the grove. He tried to see her face, but her eyes were modestly cast down, no doubt from the consciousness of her daring, in offering such a bold suggestion.
Ok, now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts?
You may find the three volumes of Darcy's Tales at Amazon
Darcy's Tale: Deluxe Edition (includes all three volumes, shown above)
Thanks so much Stan for sharing your thoughts and these fascinating excerpts. I'm hooked and can't wait to read more. Thank you most of all for being my guest.
Readers, what do you think? Will you take a few minutes to tell Stan Hurd your thoughts? He would love to hear them and as you know, I am always interested in hearing your share in the conversation. There is also a giveaway and it is worldwide! I know that makes you all very happy! Mr. Hurd is giving away two eBooks of Volume I, Darcy's Tale. Leave your email address in your comment to be entered in the giveaway. It ends on midnight, November 26, 2014. Good luck to all of you and happy reading!