“Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth? James Rushworth had used those words once—and now William Elliot! If any man dared to say that to her again, she would strike him!”—So Lively a Chase, taking a phrase from Elizabeth Bennet’s story into Elizabeth Elliot’s.
Darcy By Any Other Name, by Laura Hile
What if, at the Netherfield Ball, Darcy and Collins somehow traded bodies? Darcy would go back to Longbourn as the cousin, heir, and clergyman, and Collins would have to make his way as Bingley’s rich friend at Netherfield. Each finds out how the “other half” lives—Darcy learns what it is to be ignored and looked down on, while Collins enjoys the high life of the wealthy (though he sees the drawbacks as well).
The exchange takes place in a Folly, between carvings of Moses and John the Baptist, with Scripture references in between. Darcy looks up the reference to Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Both proud men, Darcy and Collins, literally fall down when they are struck by lightning. But only one begins to learn humility. (Though the other does learn that his lot in life is not as bad as he thought!)
Darcy finds that Lady Catherine is the one writing Mr. Collins’ sermons, moralizing about “all her favorite themes: contentment with one’s occupation (no matter how lowly), duty to one’s superiors, and working hard to earn salvation in the afterlife.” These were popular topics of the day. Darcy, though he “was no theologian,” “knew that salvation was by grace through faith.”
When Darcy feels unprepared to shepherd a congregation, Collins assures him that it is all written out in the liturgy and not at all difficult. Darcy calls him a “quintessential churchman” and a “hireling” rather than a shepherd for his flock. When Darcy refers to God, Collins says that saying “God” is “common” and “low.” It is more respectful, apparently, to say “Providence” or “the Almighty.” Darcy is not convinced!
Darcy, of course, falls in love with Elizabeth. Will he and Collins change back? Who will marry Elizabeth? Who will inherit Longbourn? Can all the confusion be straightened out?
Anne de Bourgh drops in for a visit, claiming to be engaged to Mr. Darcy. She becomes friends with Lydia and Kitty. Wickham of course must have a touch at the heiress, hoping for better success with her than he had with Georgiana Darcy.
I just read this story for the second time and loved it once again. Full of wit and wisdom, twists and turns. We get to see Darcy grow as a man of faith and integrity, and Collins bumble along as usual. References to the church and how it worked are generally sound. (Though Lady Catherine couldn’t actually dismiss Collins from his job, as Darcy fears.) Definitely one of my favorite Austen variations; highly recommended!
Mercy’s Embrace: Elizabeth Elliot’s Story, by Laura Hile
A Novel in Three Parts: So Rough a Course (1), So Lively a Chase (2), The Lady Must Decide (3).
At the end of Persuasion, the proud eldest sister, Elizabeth Elliot, is left waiting for a noble match. Mercy’s Embrace continues her story. This really is a “novel in three parts”—you won’t get closure until the end of book 3. But each book propels the story forward, and I had to immediately start reading the next one. As with Darcy By Any Other Name, it was hard for me to put this series down, even the second time through.
It’s difficult to make selfish Elizabeth Elliot into a character that we love and care about, but Hile succeeds. Elizabeth’s life becomes more and more challenging as her self-absorbed father goes his own way. She comes up with a dangerous scheme, and stops herself as she begins to pray. “After all, one could hardly pray to succeed in a lie!” But in the next book, she does go to pray in Bath Abbey. Images of people she has hurt come into her mind.
“Elizabeth’s head came up. She was not on trial here! She had done nothing wrong! She had merely come to say a prayer!
“Through sheer force of will, Elizabeth dredged up a prayer, one she had recited every day as a child. She was determined to say it, come what may. Somehow she had to drive the horrible faces from her mind. She set her teeth and once again bowed her head.
“‘Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,’ was what she meant to say; every fiber of her will was focused on it. But instead, Elizabeth found her lips whispering these words: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.’”
She pours out her worries and pain until “At last there were no more tears left. Elizabeth remained huddled in the pew, not wishing to move. The accusing faces were gone now, and in their place had come peace—and something else. Dare she name it … forgiveness?”
Earlier in the series, Elizabeth began attending the Argyle Chapel (an Independent meeting house), “a dreadful place,” in her opinion. She went in order to irritate the vulgar companion that Captain Wentworth arranged for her, who was definitely irritated; no important people were there for her to impress! The minister Rev. Jay had a reputation as an excellent evangelical preacher. There Elizabeth was confronted with Bible passages that challenged her, though subtly. Other Scriptures are occasionally quoted appropriately in the series. Themes of humility, forgiveness, and grace are threaded through the novels.
Several men court Elizabeth, including Mr. Rushworth of Mansfield Park. (He’s in the midst of getting his divorce from Maria). Caroline Bingley of Pride and Prejudice appears once again as a two-faced friend. Miss Augusta Hawkins, who married Mr. Elton in Emma, is even mentioned briefly.
Elizabeth’s youngest sister Mary Musgrove continues to focus on trivialities. She finally encounters a real problem when her husband gets tired of her constant complaining and grumbling and looks elsewhere. Anne and Captain Wentworth’s problems are mainly their house full of relatives!
Their father Sir Walter tries to deal with his problems through positive thinking, but the bailiff is looking to arrest him for debt. Can Lady Russell save him? Can Elizabeth? Will Wentworth help? Or will Sir Walter wake up to his own folly?
And which of Elizabeth’s suitors is the right man for her? The one she hates, or the one she loves? What if those are the same man?
In both Darcy By Any Other Name and Mercy’s Embrace, Christian themes add to the story but are not overdone. Both are well written and entertaining. Personally, I love these books! These, and the others I reviewed earlier (links below), could be great Christmas gifts for your Austen-loving friends.
Where do you see God’s work in people’s lives, in the original Austen novels? For which characters would you like to see them grow and change in a further novel? Can you relate to any of these characters, in what God is doing in your life?
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 3: Pamela Aidan
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)