Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Consequences by C P Odom

This is a variation on Pride and Prejudice in two books – the first explores a less happy outcome, which Elizabeth dreams prior to Darcy’s proposal at Hunsford, and the second book looks at what could have happened if she’d prudently accepted his proposal and so doesn’t give him the vehement response that changed his behaviour.

To make sense of this book I think it’s important to appreciate something of the state of affairs in the Bennet finances – Mr Bennet’s estate was entailed on Mr Collins. In the event of his death pretty much everything Mr Bennet owned would revert to Collins, and he could evict the Bennet ladies.  Mrs Bennet would have a minuscule income and would probably have to rely on family such as the Gardiners and the Phillips family to support her and her daughters. The girls could potentially find genteel work but their options were very limited. Jane, Elizabeth and possibly Mary could perhaps have found jobs as governesses, but the younger girls had a poorer education. Ladies could become a paid companion (such as Mrs Jenkins, Anne de Bourgh’s companion) but I think these tended to be widows rather than maidens.

The only way to secure the future of the family after Mr Bennet’s death is for his daughters to marry, preferably all of them, but if just one of them married a man who was rich it would secure the future of all the sisters.  Yet, in Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth spurns not one, but two advantageous proposals. A modern reader can understand and sympathise as to why she does this – she has no respect for Collins and actively dislikes Darcy, but I wonder what somebody reading Pride and Prejudice when it was first published would have thought.  Would they have thought Elizabeth was selfish to have put her own happiness ahead of her family’s security? When Elizabeth tells Jane that she has rejected Darcy’s proposal she asks Jane “You do not blame me, however, for refusing him?” so Elizabeth is certainly aware of the difference it could have made.  She doesn’t seem to feel the same about Collins’ proposal, but that was nowhere near as good a match.

In Book One, C P Odom explores what could have been the consequences of Elizabeth turning down Darcy’s proposal if she’d never met him at Pemberley. Here, Elizabeth gives the scathing refusal that she gives in canon, and events follow the path of Pride and Prejudice until Elizabeth and the Gardiners go to visit Pemberley. Darcy’s horse gets a stone stuck in his hoof, meaning that Darcy arrives later to Pemberley than in Pride and Prejudice, so he doesn’t see Elizabeth. This in turn means that there is no follow up visit to Pemberley, and obviously when Elizabeth gets the letter telling her that Lydia has eloped Darcy is not there to tell, meaning that Lydia is not found in time to prevent lasting damage being done to her sisters’ reputation, leading to them being shunned by Hertfordshire society. This is how bad things get, look at this quote from poor Jane:
“I cannot deceive myself any longer that everyone is good – I have become aware there is indeed evil in the world.”

The story follows on for the next forty or so years, showing what Elizabeth’s life could have become. Obviously, this is not the happiest of stories, but I thought it was an interesting exercise in exploring what could have been. Much of the book deals with happenings that are in Pride and Prejudice anyway, so it doesn’t really start feeling sad until they miss each other at Pemberley. I felt it wasn’t too far-fetched or unkind, although the fate of the Bennets could have been happier. I thought Elizabeth faced adversity courageously and with good humour.

Book Two sees Elizabeth waking from her dream. She doesn’t remember the details, only a vague recollection of some things, but she knows it was a bad dream. Charlotte Collins suspects that Mr Darcy is interested in Elizabeth, and, being a prudent person, she sees all the advantages of it. She works on Lizzy to extract a promise that if he were to propose that Lizzy won’t dismiss it out of hand. She has some interesting arguments in regard to Darcy’s behaviour in Hertfordshire, and his likely reasoning for interfering with Jane and Bingley. Charlotte is so persuasive that when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, although he makes offensive comments regarding her family, she manages to bite back the words of her retort and asks for time to consider.

When she does, she can’t help but think of all the financial advantages her family would receive from the marriage – lifetime security for her mother and her four sisters, and the probability that Jane and Bingley will cross paths again, thus securing the happiness of Elizabeth’s most beloved sister.  Lizzy wryly tells Charlotte “It is truly distressing to have such sensible arguments occur to me when I want to ignore them”.

The thing that swings the balance towards accepting Darcy is her vague recollection of the dream, that it could be a terrible mistake to reject him. Elizabeth has also begun to wonder whether she’s judged his character correctly; she’s obviously massively misjudged his feelings towards her at the very least. After considering, Elizabeth decides to act prudently and accept the proposal, politely making it clear that since she is only just aware of his interest she cannot pretend to have the same level of feelings for him that he’s expressed to her.

At first, I wasn’t very keen on this calculating portrayal of Lizzy who sees Darcy as a bit of an improvement project:
“Perhaps she, in time, could soften the harshness of his pride and arrogance.  It would need slow, careful work; his character had been formed over the years, and modifications could not be accomplished overnight. In the meantime, it was essential she not damage his regard for her, for his affection would be the motivation to induce him to change his manner, if such were actually possible.”

In this view I am joined by Jane, who calls Lizzy out on her obstinate view of Mr Darcy as an unpleasant man:
“I would only ask you respond to him in a more kindly and less calculating fashion than was indicated in your letter.”

Go Jane! From Jane Bennet, this is the equivalent of what would be strong disapprobation from anybody else. Luckily, Lizzy makes a conscious effort to improve her attitude, and finds many good sides to Darcy that she never suspected. The Gardiners love him, she finds that he has a sense of humour, and she cannot fail to appreciate his loving behaviour toward his sister. 

I felt a bit sorry for Darcy in this book (as opposed to the first book where I felt very sorry for them both!) because he realises that Lizzy has accepted him solely for prudent motives, and that she finds him lacking.  He has a number of moments when he realises times when he has not done himself justice in her eyes, such as in his behaviour in Hertfordshire, and when he finally hears the lies that Wickham has told about him he then finds out that Lizzy believed him capable of such behaviour. I am pleased to report that there is a lovely happy ending to this book, but it was a little sudden.  I felt the book could have done with a few chapters after they finally had equal feelings so I could revel in it a bit. I think the reader deserved to wallow a bit in happiness at the end of this book to balance out the book overall.

One thing I particularly appreciated about this book was the care taken with the language, as often these books have language that doesn’t fit the setting. There were very few instances throughout the book that jumped out at me, which was refreshing, although Mr Bennet says at one point that Lydia won’t get a cent from him, this was a rare lapse!  Since I knew it had quite a sad first book I started it when I had time to read right through the first half and that approach worked well for me! On the whole, I really enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it.  I will only add, for the benefit of those who prefer to avoid them, that there are no sex scenes.



2 comments:

  1. Excellent review, Ceri! Yes, I agree, I would have liked to see a little more of Elizabeth and Darcy together in that second book.

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    1. Thanks Candy! I agree with you, a bit more page time with them together would have been good.

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