Duty and Desire by Pamela Aidan; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Duty and Desire

Title: Duty and Desire

Author: Pamela Aidan

Published: 2006 by Simon & Schuster

Number of Pages: 320

Rating: 4/5

 

Quote:

There was little danger of encountering the Bennet sisters ever again.

Review:

Duty and Desire, the second novel in the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy picks up not too long after An Assembly Such as This (Review) leaves off.

And the quote listed above may as well complete my synopsis, as this book contains no appearances of the Bennet sisters whatsoever. Mr. Darcy, having just, with Miss Caroline Bingley’s assistance, segregated his colleague, Mr. Charles Bingley, from his feminine infatuation, Miss Bennet. Mr. Darcy felt the urgent necessity of separating the two inarguable. He was a first hand witness to the peculiar attentions of Mr. Bingley’s to this young lady of inferior connections, and realized with a shock that his friend wasn’t simply momentarily smitten by the beautiful countrywoman. Their parting could not be put off. Darcy considered his friend’s situation in society to be unset. He was rich, certainly, but he had yet to completely heave himself into the highest of high society—where Darcy resided grudgingly. A marriage to a woman so far beneath him would be his destruction, he was certain the advantages would be one-sided.

Well, of course, not to mention the fact he was in danger of falling in love himself—with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, coy, witty, and daring, yet in possession of charitable heart and certain gracefulness not often found in women having been raised in Hertfordshire society—or London’s, for that matter.

And of course, the match he yearns for would be even more degrading than Bingley’s. How could he bring Mrs. Fanny Bennet’s daughter to Pemberly, to aid him in the task of ruling his home—to bear a Darcy heir? The idea itself is preposterous.

So, Darcy escapes, runs from his fears, no less.

Duty and Desire gives us the opportunity to delve more deeply into Mr. Darcy’s character. We get to see him as he acts as master, as brother, as cousin, as nephew, as friend. We see him undertake certain challenges and uphold his reputation as a decent, honorable man, worthy of the Darcy name. It’s really thrilling and comforting to think that this man who we have adored for ages is indeed one heck of a nice guy. Aidan does have her Darcy laugh, which I found fault in at the beginning, but then I realized that the idea of a man not laughing but merely smirking and tittering all his life was absurd. Of course Fitzwilliam Darcy could laugh. That’s a privilege granted everyone! Why shouldn’t Mr. Darcy laugh? Simply because Collin Firth never cracked anything more than a timid smile? Obviously, I realized the fault in my view of him and quickly abolished all thoughts of his being a man jammed into a permanent strait-jacket. Aidan does a fine job showing Darcy as he is without Elizabeth Bennet’s judging eye upon him–although he does think of her often in times of distress and temptation.

In Duty and Desire, we meet Georgiana Darcy in the flesh, although it’s quite obvious Mr. Darcy thinks of her more as an angel than anything requiring flesh and bone. Georgiana has just recovered remarkably from the previous summer—during which she had nearly run off with a rambunctious man, deviously deceiving, by the name of Mr. Wickham. We learn more about the circumstances that brought about her recovery, along with her changes of opinion and her new outlook on her faith. It’s quite entertaining to read as Mr. Darcy, “dear Brother”, rediscovers his sister as well, wondering in awe-struck alarm how such a change could possibly have come to past when, not long ago, he and his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, failed irredeemably at the task of replenishing her happiness and rejuvenating her spirit. Truly, Miss Darcy, it’s a pleasure to meet you!

As the entire novel is apart from the basics of Pride and Prejudice, Pamela Aidan (author) takes complete and utter control of the reigns of this story and leads it through a tediously unpredictable and suspenseful course. She introduces more of Darcy’s close family, pals from Cambridge, and dives more deeply into his remembrances of his parents, the ache of their loss, and the position he’s in as head of the estate. It’s wonderful to view Pemberly from an insider’s point of view, as a home, as a refuge, as an escape from the woman who permeates his dreams, his languid and absent thoughts.

Now, I must impede the flow of this review and slide in a paragraph revolving around one thing—one man, to be exact—one valetto be more so: Fletcher (he was also in the first book, but his character is more prominent here, and he’s mentioned more often). He’s charming, loyal, and seemingly all-knowing. He’s extremely fond of his master, but it’s quite obvious he takes great pleasure in “getting one over him”. He’s frequently quoting Shakespeare, and it’s soon apparent that Darcy feels comfortable with the man who has been with him for years. He confides in Fletcher when he feels so enticed to share his worries with someone that the yearning can no longer be ignored and set aside. Fletcher also seems to have innumerable ulterior motives, constantly causing Darcy to feel apprehensive. By the close of the novel, we discover he’s quite handy when it comes to snooping, and, as I’m sure this fictitious character would hold a grudge against me for a century if I did not mention this: he’s a very skilled valet, and his Roquet is ingenious (don’t ask. Read).  Back to my review…

The main plotline of this novel, aside from the goings on with Darcy’s family (most of which are humorous, some of which are sweet, and some of which are worrisome), is Darcy’s trip to the country—now, don’t get your hopes up, it’s not Hertfordshire to which Darcy finally escapes. He instead joins a group of old college friends at Norwyke Castle—certainly a house party of esteemed and highly positioned men and women more suitable than “she-who-must-not-be-named” (and no, that is most definitely not her title in the book) will provide distraction enough to draw his attentions away from her, and, just possibly, he’ll find someone to drive her permanently from his wracked, and now mangled, mind.

Suddenly, Darcy finds himself amidst men and women burdened with mysterious and scandalous secrets. It’s as though we’ve dived out of Pride and Prejudice and into something more along the lines of Northanger Abbey, as there’s certainly a 19th century gothic/horror feel to the remainder of the book’s pages. A combination of freakish (for want of a better word) acts that appear to be related to witchcraft, a seductive yet mischievous young woman with an eye on Darcy, legends of old curses and signs of voodoo-like magic, and Darcy’s already fraught mind assure you of the fact that you “aren’t in Hertfordshire anymore”.

Darcy, with Fletcher’s help, turns sleuth, determined to make an end of the mess he’s suddenly become tangled in. This story line, while slightly unbelievable, is entertaining, suspenseful, and altogether riveting. You never would have thought in picking up this book that you’d actually find yourself frightened at points—and I certainly did!

All the while, Darcy’s struggling to forget Elizabeth, but Fletcher’s certainly not helping, and he finds himself constantly comparing his crazed companions to her, lovely and content in the peaceful country—with mud bordering her petticoat.

One pleasurable feature of Aidan’s books is the frankness. While the borders of propriety are never crossed, they’re danced upon, not by Darcy himself, but by his companions. Is it really that unreasonable to think that women with no other amiable qualities used their gorgeous features to tempt men? Is it really that outrageous to think that men and women had the same weaknesses two hundred years ago as they do today? Aidan’s books are explicitly clean, but I consider her views more realistic. I mean, goodness, Austen didn’t even elaborate when it came to Elizabeth and Darcy’s final declarations of their love for one another. She was extremely vague. They hardly said anything with any real emotion in that scene other than relief. Pamela’s books are pleasantly real in those areas. Again, nothing serious, just what you would expect of social climbers at any year in the history of the world.

So, while the unmistakably odd witchery storyline is slightly unbelievable, it’s no more so than the marriage between a man of ten thousand pounds a year and a young woman of nearly nothing—and we all know stuff as crazy as that happens in novels…  

Needless to say, you’re in for an enjoyable surprise when you pick up Duty and Desire. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Sleuth and Lovesick Man.   

Madeleine

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