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Mr Darcy, dreaming – fiction

Mr Darcy

Mr Darcy, dreaming.   By Rani Jhala

Rani Jhala

Last year I turned thirty. I was unmarried and worse had no prospect of marriage looming in the near future. I was not picky nor did I ever think that I was better than any of the men I had met. I just wanted a special man, my own Mr. Right.
From the moment I had read, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I knew what that Mr. Right would be like. Also with that moment, I had set myself up for a decade of disappointments. The boys I met at school, did not have ‘that quiet elegance’, the teenagers I met at University, treated me as an ‘equal and not as an object to worship. And the men that I came across in my working career, simply never turned up say “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
And so I led the life of a single woman, happy with my romance books, busy with my job and enjoying my time with my family and friends. That was until, one by one, they each got married and made it their prime occupation to find me a husband.
They each, knew of a man who was just right for me. And everyone made the same comparison, “He is just like your Mr Darcy” They were never anything like ‘my’ Mr Darcy.
For over five years I gave in to their pleas and met the men they introduced me to, but ultimately, I had enough. Enough of the eagerness in their voices, of the anticipation in their looks and of the sheer disappointment in their words, as they said “Oh well, back to the drawing board.”
The only person, who never got flustered, was my brother. And it was he that came up with the brilliant plan to dupe the matchmakers in my life. He booked me onto a tour aptly called ‘Twenty days in Jane Austen’s footsteps’. And on my return I was to create this fictitious long-distance relationship that was to stretch over the next five years and give me the much needed breathing space.
My trip to England was amazing. I got to see the little table Jane Austen sat at as she created her wonderful stories. I touched the doorway she had once walked through and I looked at the sky from exactly the place she would have stood at. I read the letters she had written and I looked at the volumes of her books that now graced the bookshelf.
And for the first time I saw the reality behind each of those wonderfully woven stories. The power of a woman to be able to create a perfect man in her imagination, and of her inability to find such a man in her own life! Yes she knew love, but marriage and motherhood remained at bay.
During the last days of the trip, I pondered on my own life. Would I have been happy with any of the men I had been introduced to in the past? Was I foolish to believe that somewhere, there was someone just for me or was I stupidly embracing a life of loneliness and pain?
I got my answer when we attended a series of plays in London. As I sat and watched an actor perform the role of Mr Darcy, another of Captain Wentworth and a third of Mr Knightley, the truth finally hit me. Jane Austen’s men were embodiments of decency and chivalry. They were honest, caring and just. They were protective and strong, yet each came with the usual human failings of jealousy, anger, pride and arrogance. But what set them truly apart was that they loved their heroines beyond anything and everything.
I realised then that I did not want Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth. I wanted someone to come into my life and make me the reason for his existence. And I was determined not to settle for less. And until that man waltzed into my life, my brother’s little game sounded ideal.
At the end of the tour, I stayed with his girlfriend’s family in London. Her younger sister was to be my partner in crime. We became good friends almost form the time we were introduced but it was the quite man in the background that gave me a sense of the Deja vu.
The original plan did not involve the existence of a real love interest. I was to write the letters and she was to email them back to me but somewhere along the translation of this plan, things changed. She suggested that we use her cousin as the model for the photographs and to make things realistic, he would send the letter. It was also agreed that he would call me once a week, because that was what fiancés do.
And so we spent the next week making our fantasy real. We toured the city and took photographs. We researched the best love letters and copied lines from there and we spoke honestly about our personal dilemmas. I learnt from him that men too face the same social pressures.
Did we fall madly in love? Absolutely not but he and I did became very good friends. As I bid him goodbye I even felt that maybe I was leaving behind someone who given the chance could have meant more.
Back at home, I established my fictitious romance. I told everyone of this wonderful man that I had met and showed everyone the photographs. To make it even more authentic, I wore a diamond ring on my engagement finger. All asked the one question, “When is the wedding?” I gave them the same reply “We will decide the date after his visit at the end of this year.”
I had bought myself a year of peace or so I had thought. In the months that followed, a new game began. He would ring and I would take the call outside pretending to need privacy. I would carelessly leave his email open ensuring that everyone was aware of it. I constantly dropped photos from my handbag. I even brought bridal magazines and went through this whole charade of trying to pick the perfect wedding outfit. It actually was quite a lot of fun and I looked forward to his emails noting that as time went our carefully drafted letters were being replaced with his personally written ones. I could not complain, because his letters were far better than the ones we had drafted together.
Mr DarcyEverything was running to perfection, until one day, I stopped receiving his phone calls. His emails ceased as well and mine did not get a reply.
It took me a month of silence before I realised that I was missing more than a friend. I asked my brother if he had any idea of what had happened. His only reply was “Don’t worry sis, we will find someone else to write the letters.”
“Well you better, Valentine’s Day is next week. I need my ‘fiancé’ to send me roses otherwise no one will believe he exists anymore” I replied in anger but in my heart I knew what was really wrong.
The day before Valentine’s Day, and with no replacement found, I went and ordered a dozen long stem red roses and a huge box of chocolates and addressed it to myself.
When the doorbell rang on the morning of the 14th of February, I knew my order had arrived. Calmly I opened the door but instead of my twelve long stems, the man held a massive bouquet of a hundred beautiful blooms and instead of the local florist, there stood my fiancé.
And how could I say no to what he asked next, when he began with the words “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire …………”

First published in Indian Link. See the original HERE

 

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Bustle: Inspiring The Internet Generation To Try Austen?

Jane Austen News

Bustle: Inspiring The Internet Generation To Try Austen?

bbcc89b0-e9f1-0133-e6f7-0a315da82319Bustle is a website well known for its popular culture and fashion articles (how to do your hair like Beyonce; what to wear to the office party; five reasons we love Jennifer Lawrence etc). More recently however we at the Jane Austen News have been pleased to see a series of articles popping up on the site which are dedicated to championing Jane Austen. These have included:

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Matches and Matrimony – Jane Austen In Video Game Format

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Curtis Sittenfeld on Austen and Feminism

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Curtis Sittenfeld on Austen and Feminism

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Jane Austen News

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Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal – A Review

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Book Review: Should You Read Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal?…(Yes, Probably)

by Katharine Coldiron

Unmarriageable by Soniah KamalIt is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice will be rewritten, recontextualised, imitated, and adapted to the needs of the zeitgeist until the practice of reading books passes out of existence altogether. Assessing Austen adaptations is a lopsided, subjective undertaking. That is, whether Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stacks up to the original in literary quality isn’t really the point, and a book like Mr. Darcy’s Daughters likely gave one Austen fan exactly what she wanted, while dissatisfying another such that she vowed never again to read a third-party Austen sequel. Ahem.

 

Thus, Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal, is assessable from multiple perspectives. The book is an adaptation of P&P set in Pakistan in the present moment, and as a spin-off, it’s enormous fun. It’s also an excellent gateway book for people who’ve never read Austen and feel intimidated about trying her—even more so than Heyer—and a welcome injection of diversity into the world of Austen fandom. But it hews so closely to the source material that the result is a bit daffy, and it works so hard to be itself that Kamal’s shining wit and tenderness only sometimes bubble to the surface of her heavy intentions.

The negatives:

  • Too-close names. Jane and Lizzie Bennet are Jena and Alys Binat. Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are Mari, Qitty, and Lady. Darcy is Darsee, Bingley is Bungles, Charlotte is Sherry, Wickham is Wickaam…you get the idea. This starts to feel parodic instead of useful or delightful.

 

  • Too-close plot. The plot is exactlythe same as the plot of P&P, moved into the modern era and the setting of Pakistan (more on that later), like a song transposed into another key without a single note of difference in the melody. The precision of this transposition gives the book a feeling of going through the motions, rather than a joyful exploration of a plot’s twists and turns.

 

  • Confusion about the existence of Austen. The characters in Unmarriageableare clearly aware of P&P, because they talk about the book several times, but all the coincidences between P&Pand the characters’ actual lives—the way every character and event in P&Phas a corresponding character and event in Alys Binat’s life—is somehow never seized upon. That’s a difficult balance to strike in a book that adapts another, but acknowledging the existence of the inspiration without acknowledging similarities makes the characters seem oblivious.

 

And now for the positives:

  • Shifts in the characters. Kamal has remolded many of the characters in P&P usefully or interestingly. For example, Mary is a little better in this adaptation. Her religious fervor points toward Islam instead of Christianity, and Mari’s selective application of the religion’s strict (often contradictory) rules makes for a lot of humor. She’s a total pill, and it’s great. Lydia, meanwhile, is a little worse, as Lady is childish, bullying, scheming, and self-centered. Lydia Bennet is all those things, too, but Lady is a viper, not a blunderer. The best shifts are in the smallest characters: Annie dey Bagh (Anne de Bourgh) has an autoimmune disorder, actual dialogue, and a Nigerian boyfriend, while Jujeena Darsee has much more direction and voice than Georgiana. Raghav Kumar (Colonel Fitzwilliam) is gay, which of course he is, that’s been obvious for decades. The older generation, Mr. and Mrs. Binat and their siblings and friends, have richer backstories and better definition.

 

  • It’s a shorter book. In a mortal lifespan, this is an underrated quality in books.

 

  • Added scenes. Multiple scenes that exist only in letters or later conversations in P&P are laid out in full glory in Unmarriageable, which is great fun. Mr. Kaleen’s proposal to Sherry is both hilarious and moving, while Bungles’s proposal to Jena is as sweet and romantic as anyone could want.

 

  • The present day in Pakistan is a perfect context for the two-century-old story of P&P, and I would not have known this if Kamal hadn’t written the book. Moreover, Regency-era white Europeans’ marriage and money problems being transposed into modern Pakistan is not just a gimmick. It’s a necessary recontextualization, in a time when publishing cannot ignore the extraordinary diversity of the English-speaking (and -reading) population. Readers of color can feel more representationally present in Austen, with Kamal as an interpreter, and white readers can reexperience Austen in fascinating, unfamiliar surroundings. Everyone wins.

 

  • Plenty of quick minds have reworked Austen in modern idiom (Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s “Texts” from Sense and Sensibility and Emma, and Twitter’s own Drunk Austen, for instance), but this book is an entire compendium of it. From the big proposal scene:

“Will you marry me?”

Alys stared at him.

“I love you.”

This was so preposterous, Alys let out a hearty laugh.

“My admission is a joke to you?”

“Is this a prank?” Alys looked around. “Is there a hidden camera somewhere?”

 

  • General delight. When the book is able to get out of its own way, to stop holding itself in such a meticulous posture against Austen’s most famous work, it’s a wonderful experience. The details are the best part; Bungles’s sisters (whose names rhyme) call everyone “babes,” Kaleen is a physiatrist who is constantly mistaken for a psychiatrist, and Darsee and Alys bond over a book he recommends to her.

 

The book’s main asset is not its inspiration, but the mind of its author. Kamal is funny and intelligent and she gets it, the spark that brings us back to these narrow Regency problems again and again, sometimes in lieu of facing our own. Darsee’s first name in this adaptation is Valentine. Valentine! For that alone, pick up Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal and dive in. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Austenian problems are more enjoyable than the real world’s, whatever the year.

*****

Interested in reading the book? You can find our limited signed editions of Unmarriageable here.

Katharine Coldiron’s work has appeared in Ms., the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, LARB, Horoscope.com, and many other places. She lives in California and at kcoldiron.com. You can find her on twitter @ferrifrigida.

 

This review of Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal originally appeared on Jane to Georgette. It is reprinted here with permission.