“I cannot deny that duty has been more often my motivation than anything approaching real devotion. . . . At least, that would be Reverend Whitefield’s assessment.” –Darcy, An Assembly Such as This, p. 24.
Book Review: “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” series by Pamela Aidan
An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain
An Assembly Such as This
This compelling series was hard to put down. At first I thought it would just be a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view—which it is—but it is much more. We see Darcy’s adventures during the long periods when he disappears from view in the original novel. How did he try to overcome his initial attraction to Elizabeth? No doubt he would have searched for an appropriate woman from his own social class. In these books, he goes through exciting adventures in looking, including standing stones (like Stonehenge), ritual sacrifice, and Irish plots! And how did he change after his first failed proposal? And how could he bring himself to search for and pay off Wickham?
Christian themes are subtle in these novels. Darcy and Elizabeth are both serious about their faith and worship appropriately in Anglican churches, as Austen herself did. (In the first book Aidan mentions their singing hymns, but in the later books corrects that to singing Psalms, which was far more likely at that time.) Darcy clearly lives a more godly life than most of his class, as the original novel implies. He also reads sermons by the famous evangelist George Whitefield. Caroline Bingley and other less-serious characters only put on a show of going to church.
Duty and Desire
The second book, Duty and Desire, has the most openly religious references. It begins with a church service which includes a powerful Scripture passage confronting many of the sins prevalent in Austen’s world. However, the passage is counteracted by a sermon that waters down man’s sinfulness–typical of sermons of that time.
Later in the book, Georgiana finds healing and forgiveness in a more Evangelical faith. She reads William Wilberforce’s book which confronted society’s lack of faith. Georgiana’s new companion, Mrs. Annesley, is the widow of a clergyman very involved in helping the poor. She reminds Darcy of God’s providence and work, which has changed Georgiana’s life. Georgiana even gets Darcy out to visit the poor of the parish, and supports a charity for “Returning Young Women to Their Friends in the Country”—young women seduced by a man’s promises, as Wickham seduced Lydia. Georgiana’s Evangelical faith is not elaborated as much as I would have liked, but it’s there. Later Darcy struggles to forgive Wickham, rather than seeking vengeance.
These Three Remain
The title of the third book, These Three Remain, refers to I Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Aidan, in the Q&A section at the end of book 3, says, “Throughout the trilogy, these three concepts—along with the related one of mercy—have challenged duty and desire as the keys to character and living a worthy life.”
Darcy, as we all know, is humbled by Elizabeth’s refusal and learns to truly love, as well as to hope. Early in this third novel, Mr. Collins preaches a sermon on “religious affection,” inspired by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He preaches strongly against “enthusiasm.” The word “enthusiasm” described any who believed religion was a matter of the heart as well as the head, including Methodists and Evangelicals. Collins, like most non-Evangelical clergy of the time, encourages trust in “Reason, the Divine’s handmaiden,” and “self-reformation,” which Darcy realizes that he needs.
The novels also refer to political and social issues, including the Luddite rebellions against industrialization, Lord Byron’s scandals, war with France, and Irish plots for independence. Quotations from Shakespeare and from Milton’s Paradise Lost are interwoven through the story. However the main emphasis is on Darcy’s internal struggles and growth. He learns to recognize the evils in his own heart, and moves toward gratitude and humility.
This series is beautifully written, with fun subplots and deep insights into Darcy and Georgiana’s characters, as well as several other well-developed original characters. A worthwhile and entertaining read.
Mrs. Annesley comforts Georgiana with the truths that all things work together for good for those who love God, and that adversity brings good results in our lives in the long run (Duty and Desire, p. 45). Do these truths comfort you in your struggles today?
More Reviews of Austen Variations
Christian Jane Austen Variations 1: Maria Grace, Robin Helm
Christian Jane Austen Variations 2: Jeanna Ellsworth, Kelsey Bryant, Janine Mendenhall
Christian Jane Austen Variations 4: Laura Hile
Christian Jane Austen Variations 5: Robin Helm and A Very Austen Valentine
Christian Jane Austen Variations 6: Barbara Cornthwaite and Lara S. Ormiston
Austen Variations with Science 1: Collins Hemingway, Robin Helm, Georgette Heyer
Austen Variations with Science 2: Abigail Reynolds
Science Variations 3: Novels with Regency and Victorian Science (Linda Banche, Cindy Anstey, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Nicole Clarkston)