Monday, October 18, 2010

Guest Abigail Reynolds on Elizabeth Bennet, A Woman Ahead of Her Time

Today I welcome Abigail Reynolds and her latest Pride and Prejudice Variation, Mr. Darcy's Obsession. Two hundred years after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet still resonates with modern women. Why? Read on to find out.

Leave a comment with your email for a chance to win one of the two copies of Mr. Darcy's Obsession which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Abigail will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

The winners are Julia Barrett and Delle. Delle, I've sent you an email. Julia, please contact me at to claim your prize. If I do not hear from you by November 2, 2010, I will award the books to alternates.

Welcome Abigail!

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet refuses proposals from two eminently eligible suitors, at least if you consider it purely in the prudential light. But what did those refusals actually mean for her? I explore that question in my latest variation on Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s Obsession.

Mr. Darcy’s Obsession begins two years after the action in Pride and Prejudice, but not the same two years Jane Austen intended. In my tale, Elizabeth is called home from Hunsford before Darcy can propose to her, and he takes this as a sign that he should not pursue her. Instead, Elizabeth returns to Longbourn to discover her father on his deathbed.

Longbourn was an entailed estate, meaning none of the Bennet girls could inherit it. Instead it went to their cousin, Mr. Collins, who was also one of Elizabeth’s refused suitors. Mrs. Bennet’s greatest fear is realized; the family is forced into, if not the hedgerows, a style of life substantially below that to which they are accustomed. To secure some kind of future for the family, Jane agrees to marry a much older shopkeeper. Elizabeth is sent to live in London with the Gardiners, where she serves as an unpaid governess to their children to earn her keep.

To a degree, I’ve sugarcoated Elizabeth’s life in Mr. Darcy’s Obsession because I can’t stand to think of what she really would have faced at that time. In my book, she may have no money and have lost her social status, but she still has a home with relations who treat her kindly, she doesn’t fear being put out on the streets, and her uncle even tries to arrange a marriage for her to one of his clerks. This is better than she would actually be likely to find. An unmarried gentlewoman lacking independent means had very limited options. She could depend on handouts from her family, as Jane Austen depended on her brothers’ charity. If she were very lucky indeed, she might find a position as a companion to an older lady, but there were far more impoverished girls than wealthy old ladies. The common fallback, becoming a governess, was a bleak prospect. Governesses as a rule worked very hard, often in poor conditions, and their future was completely dependent on the reference their male employer would give them. As a result, governesses were easy prey for the gentleman of the house if they wished to keep their position. Then there were the less respectable options: becoming a gentleman’s mistress, joining a higher-class brothel, or the ultimate last resort – street prostitution.

Jane Austen stacks the deck against Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. She has no relations on her father’s side apart from Mr. Collins, who bears her a grudge; her mother’s side of the family is not as well-to-do; and with five sisters, the family is too large to be taken in by one relative. Unlike Austen herself, Elizabeth has no brothers to earn money. None of her sisters are likely to marry well; even the beautiful Jane has only had two admirers in five years on the marriage market. Mrs. Bennet is not thrifty, and would likely run through her small settlement quickly.

I think this stacked deck is deliberate on Austen’s part, designed to show Elizabeth’s strength of character in refusing Mr. Darcy. Yes, she disliked him and believed him proud and ill-tempered, but given the options that she knew awaited her and her family after her father’s death, it would have been very easy for her just to accept him. Her refusal is extraordinarily brave, and many would have called it foolhardy. In her choices, Elizabeth Bennet is a woman before her time, which is why so many modern women can identify with her.

The more he tries to stay away from her, the more his obsession grows...

“[Reynolds] has creatively blended a classic love story with a saucy romance novel.” —Austenprose

“Developed so well that it made the age-old storyline new and fresh…Her writing gripped my attention and did not let go.”—The Romance Studio

“The style and wit of Ms. Austen are compellingly replicated…spellbinding. Kudos to Ms. Reynolds!” —A Reader’s Respite

In this Pride and Prejudice variation, Elizabeth is called away before Darcy proposes for the first time and Darcy decides to find a more suitable wife. But when Darcy encounters Elizabeth living in London after the death of her father, he can’t fight his desire to see and speak with her again…and again and again. But now that her circumstances have made her even more unsuitable, will Darcy be able to let go of all his long held pride to marry a woman who, though she is beneath his station, is the only woman capable of winning his heart?

About the Author
Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing the Pride and Prejudice Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking “What if…?” She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information, please visit or


Linda Banche said...

I love reading about women who fight the odds and win. Elizabeth is my kind of heroine.

Julia Barrett said...

Having just met another author who writes about Jane Austen's characters, I find the topic fascinating. I have never been a big fan of Jane Austen, but she has been rediscovered by a new generation in a brand new way. I may have to reread all her books and look at her through different eyes.

susan said...

Elizabeth stood up to what she wanted and in her times women were not to do that sort of thing. I think these books have great topics and quite amazing. susan L

Keena Kincaid said...

Did you see Lost in Austen? I had issues with the story, but the fact that Elizabeth Bennett just stepped into the modern world as if she'd been raised in it was a wonderful touch and showed that at least one of the script writers understood Elizabeth.

catslady said...

I have to say I just discovered that authors have been writing variations on P&P and I find it absolutely fascinating. So many "what if's" taken from the original classic. I've decided to reread the original so it is fresh in my mind and can't wait to try your variation. And I have to ask, what is your cats's name :)

Delle Jacobs said...

A great story, Abigail! I've often imagined the women who read P&P and saw in Elizabeth the person they wished they could dare to be. Most of them knew if they had done the same, the result would have been disastrous for them.

SiNn said...

i have to agree the new genera of austin classics rockmakes u wanan readthem again then focus on the new stories as well great post congrats on the book release

DeanY said...

I love stories about this period of time and am thankful that we progressed in so many ways. But we do have a long way to go.

Historical Writer/Editor said...

This was an interesting era, and it would be great to see another take on this story. It sounds like something quite entertaining. -Laura
L_Hogg at comcast dot net

desitheblonde said...

i like the storys and wish for more
best of luck with the book and hope you have great halloween and the kity is great

Abigail Reynolds said...

Thanks for the great comments! My cat is puffed up with pride at being mentioned. His name is Bitsy (which he isn't anymore) and he has all the swagger of a Regency rake - give him a top hat & tail coat and I could write a book about him. Well, apart from the fur, that is.

I chose the winners by because I couldn't make up my mind. So congrats to Julia and Delle, and I hope you enjoy the book!

Thanks to all of you for your interest.