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Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma by Diana Birchall

Five and twenty years after the close of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy watch their three children’s romantic adventures in this short novel. England hovers on the brink of the Victorian era, but the Darcys’ eldest son, Fitzwilliam, has distressingly profligate tastes. Henry, the younger son, about to take orders, is more satisfactory as a son, a brother and an Austenian gentleman, and Jane, the only daughter, is preparing for her first season in town. Mrs. Darcy, in a fit of dutiful amiability, invites her sister Wickham’s two daughters for a visit at Pemberley, hoping they will be companions for Jane: Bettina, the elder, takes after her mamma, but the younger, Cloe, is preternaturally wise and surprisingly mature–surprising for a daughter of Lydia Wickham, at least. Christmas approaches, and Pemberley counts as its inmates two young men and two young ladies; we shall let your imaginations take it from there. Ms. Birchall treads similar ground to that covered by Elizabeth Aston in her recent Pride and Prejudice sequel, but on a much smaller scale. She keeps the story close to home; it takes place almost entirely at Pemberley. It is difficult to scruple at this, as one of Jane Austen’s guiding principles, by her own admission, was to write of “two or three families in a country village;” nonetheless, one longs for just a little more scope in this novel. Whether it is our modern sensibilities at work, or perhaps a Catherine Morland-like appreciation of a touch of (more…)