Who doesn’t like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? A book that’s well ahead of its time, the classic published in 1813 is a fierce, funny, intelligent protagonist who spurns the thought of marriage. Though it was published nearly two centuries ago (wow) it is still at the top of many “Must Read” lists and continues to sell–to date, over 20 millions copies have been sold worldwide. In 2003, it came second in a poll by the BBC for UK’s Best-Loved Book, behind The Lord of the Rings.
What continues the interest? There have been several amazing adaptations of the novel–a 1995 4-hour BBC production starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy; a 2005 movie starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet; Bridgett Jones’s Diary, which twists the story to fit into modern-day London; and, lastly, a creative, sharp YouTube series called the Lizzie Bennet diaries, another modern retelling of the story.
But I’ll argue that it’s not the other media forms the story has adopted that has continued the interest in the story of Elizabeth and Darcy for two hundred years. After all, who doesn’t like the story of a man you thought was an old Grinch actually having a heart of gold? And who doesn’t like finding out that the girl who shook her head at the idea that love was for her actually falling for her perfect match?
The original name for Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions, an apt title for a plot that all boils down to a couple of characters jumping to conclusions, and nearly ruining the lives of a sister and best friend. Somehow, though, this turns out to be a funny, deeply moving read, and is translated perfectly Maya Slater’s 2009 novel The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy.
Confession time: I’ve read Pride and Prejudice cover to cover three times in my life. I’ve read Private Diary four times in the two years I’ve owned a copy. I don’t know what makes this such a compelling read — the fact that Darcy’s story hasn’t been told over and over again through the ages (see above, the very short list of adaptations) or the fact that the writing is spot-on early 19th century.
Darcy’s story is both obvious and revealing. He tells us what really happened between his sister and Mr. Whickham. He details Bingley’s depression during the stay in London. He reveals his exasperation with Bingley’s sister Caroline and her attempts to seduce him.
If the book has a failing it is in the fact that it does not have the ironic humor of Pride and Prejudice. But since it is, as a diary, necessarily stuck in first person, it is understandable that the always aloof, somewhat standoffish Mr. Darcy does not have many quips during this very serious time in his life.
As an unexpected bonus, in Private Diary, Darcy and Bingley are old friends with Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, and visit his estate during the course of the novel. It is a fascinating character study of the manic-depressive poet, and reveals much in his short interactions with our main characters.
Prejudiced Towards Darcy
Another confession: I love Darcy. Who doesn’t? I’d want to be Elizabeth–have my favorite sister marry Bingley so I could visit his amicable house and cheer Darcy up, but I would keep Darcy for myself. And Private Diary just fuels my crush on this fictional character. Like Elizabeth in the original version, who makes judgements about Darcy based on other’s testimony, Darcy doesn’t pretend to be perfect. In fact, he often writes about how conflicted he is over his decisions. But he always tries to do the right thing for his friend and for the Bennets, and that comes across in a deeply personal voice.
The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy is just that — a diary. Reading it gives you the same thrill you’d get from reading anyone’s personal notes. It’s like eavesdropping on gossip about your favorite literary characters — gossip you never thought you’d be privvy to, since the author who created them is long gone.
But Slater understands the original Pride and Prejudice characters, follows the time line perfectly, and fills in the gaps. After all, the main love interest of Darcy only appears a handful of times in Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the elusive Fitzwilliam, there is no better re-write available today.
(Note: there is no link to Pride and Prejudice because it is available for free on iBooks, Nook, and Kindle, as well as many places online.)