There are Jane Austen fans, and there are Jane Austen spin-off fans. Sometimes they merge, but probably not while reading Berdoll’s bawdy second novel about the Darcys (Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, 2004).
In 1815, Elizabeth Darcy, née Bennet, gives birth to twins just as Mr. Darcy returns to Pemberley Hall from the battlefield of Waterloo, where he’d gone to rescue his sister Georgiana, who was nursing her beloved cousin Fitzwilliam. Now, deeply wounding Darcy’s sense of propriety, Georgiana confesses that a hasty marriage must be arranged; a weak and befuddled Fitzwilliam obliges only to discover that she has fibbed about her deflowerment, let alone her pregnancy. Elizabeth’s sisters Jane and Lydia have their share of problems as well. Jane’s husband Bingley has strayed, briefly but long enough to father a child. Meanwhile, England’s post-war political and economic woes have endangered his finances. As for Lydia, her wicked husband Wickham is assumed dead on the battlefield. So when she finds herself inconveniently with child, Lydia finds a new husband, the relatively decent Major Kneebone, only to have Wickham reappear. Then there is Darcy’s impossible Aunt Catherine, whose desire to unite the family fortune causes mischief minor and major, bordering on tragic. As for Elizabeth and Darcy, their big drama concerns the frequency and picturesque locales of their connubial relations. Derdoll spares no effort in describing period details, but the tone has little to do with Austen’s restrained understated social commentary. The continual couplings echo 18th-century sexual ribaldry (and 21st-century romance novels) while the plot reads like a Dickens or Thackeray knock off, particularly in the downward spiral of wicked Wickham, whose capacity to bear and desert bastards must set some kind of literary record.
Not without charm, but too bloated and overheated to be enjoyed as light-hearted fun.