’Bingley!’ snorted Sir Anthony. ‘He may be the most amiable man in the world to his friends, but if you set foot in one of his mills, you would change your mind about his value. They are some of the worst in Yorkshire. Do you have any idea how many children have died because Bingley will not invest in safe machinery?’”—Mr. Darcy’s Journey
Mr. Darcy’s Journey, by Abigail Reynolds
In this intriguing Pride and Prejudice variation, Elizabeth leaves Rosings to journey to the manufacturing area of northern England. She travels with Colonel Fitzwilliam’s headstrong family, and of course their cousin Mr. Darcy.
Colonel Fitzwilliam’s sister is engaged to a radical. He is on a rescue mission, trying to help starving laborers in the north. The travelers encounter riots, violence, hangings, and other crises on their journey.
While there isn’t much detail about factory conditions, we hear about dangerous conditions in cloth mills. We also learn about Luddites, who wrecked machinery in an attempt to restore jobs. Bingley’s mills, which he has ignored in his genteel lifestyle, use unsafe machinery and endanger lives. He hurries to correct the situation. Elizabeth’s uncle Mr. Gardiner has stopped dealing with most of the fabric mills in England because of unsafe conditions; the end of the story gives a delightful solution.
In fact, not to give spoilers, but at the end of the story the family comes up with excellent plans to gradually win over Parliament and the gentry to more humane factory conditions. They plan to use many of the techniques that Wilberforce and his friends had recently used to turn the country against the slave trade: building relationships, gradual introduction of minor changes, bringing certain goods and ideas into fashion, forming local societies, and building public support.
As always, Abigail Reynolds tells a great story with strong characters, a compelling plot, and lots of romance (no less than three romances, not counting Jane and Bingley!). In this book, she also shows us the other side of England, the conflicts in the North that don’t come into Austen’s stories of agricultural southern England. The Industrial Revolution was convulsing the nation, and Elizabeth and Darcy were caught up in it.
Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, by Abigail Reynolds
This compelling story is not about science, but it does have an interesting medical scene. A man with gangrene is treated with maggots, which eat the dead tissue. Reynolds, a physician, points out that this treatment is still used today for gangrene (google it!).
The story is, of course, a “what if”—What if Elizabeth had to leave Rosings before Mr. Darcy could propose, since her father was dying? What if her family was thrown into poverty by her father’s death, and Jane married a tradesman to help them survive? Would Mr. Darcy still marry Elizabeth when her family was even “lower”?
I applaud Abigail Reynolds for addressing an aspect of Regency society that is often glossed over or even condoned in novels. Flagrant immorality was accepted among the upper classes in the Regency. Right now I’m working on a section of my book that looks at how Christians were able to change that. So I really appreciated in Mr. Darcy’s Obsession that the immorality of Darcy’s relatives (not Darcy himself, of course!), and his society, is confronted. We see some of the harm it caused.
Bingley, in fact, rejects wealthy society entirely because of its flaws, which were truly as bad as he says in the novel. He says to Darcy,
“’Our lives. Whiled away at clubs with fortunes lost and won. All the drinking, gluttony, gambling, led by none other than Prinny and the finest of his set. Beau Brummell spending four hours tying his cravat. Then, to show off our privilege, slumming in the rookeries, watching cockfights, and worse, laughing at the ignorant peasants around us. Not to mention the brothels.’
Darcy sighed. ‘Bingley, there are upright men as well.’
‘Upright men? You mean a man who has only a wife and one mistress, does not risk his entire fortune when he gambles, and drinks his night away, indulges in laudanum until he cannot think, but still he goes to church on Sundays and pays his debts of honour. This is commendable! These are what we are proud to call gentlemen. This is what I have spent my life striving to become. It makes me ill.'”
Darcy stays within society, but stands up to his relatives, and one of the characters finds redemption. So Reynolds gives us hope and faith, along with the romance we expect.
As soon as I started reading this, I was hooked; a fascinating variation!
Since it’s almost Christmas, here’s one more recommendation, a short story with a bit of science:
A Very Austen Christmas, by Wendy Sotis and others
In A Very Austen Christmas, four delightful stories show Christmas customs. “No Better Gift” by Wendy Sotis puts Darcy and Elizabeth in the middle of a chicken pox epidemic (which could be fatal for adults), and shows some of the medical practices of the day.
In a later post we’ll look at North and South, a Victorian novel about the Industrial Revolution, which is much like Pride and Prejudice.
The wealthy of Austen’s society accepted many evils as acceptable and fashionable. In Austen’s novels, though, she condemned practices like adultery and gambling. Movies and the media today present many activities as acceptable, which Christians would consider wrong. What do you think are the most dangerous of these, and how do you think they can be confronted?
Earlier Posts on Jane Austen Variations
Austen Variations with Science 1: Collins Hemingway, Robin Helm, Georgette Heyer
Science Variations 3: Novels with Regency and Victorian Science (Linda Banche, Cindy Anstey, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Nicole Clarkston)
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
Christian Jane Austen Variations 4: Laura Hile