Friday, February 21, 2014

Pamela Aidan Duty and Desire (2004)

      Pamela Aidan Duty and Desire (2004) Part 2 of the trilogy tells the story of Darcy during the gap between his leaving Meryton and his meeting Elizabeth Bennett at Lady de Burgh’s house. It’s essentially in two parts: his coming to terms with his sister Georgiana’s new maturity (which includes rather too much of a religious streak for his liking), and his near-entrapment by Lady Sylvanie, the half-sister of a gambling addict who wants the marriage to take place so he can get that part of her inheritance that will become his when she marries.
     The rebuilding of Darcy and Georgiana’s relationship is nicely done, if some-what too good to be true: the inevitable tiffs and misunderstandings don’t ring quite true, with both siblings being too much paragons of patience and other virtues. Also, Darcy’s objections to Georgiana’s decision to fulfill her religious duty by visiting the poorer tenants in person isn’t well explained: it’s ascribed to his pride of family, but I think it’s really a side effect of his realisation that being true to his faith requires that he forgive Wickham, a thought that grates on him, so he avoids it.
Darcy’s sense of duty is strong, after all; his mistaking of where his duty lies is merely evidence that he’s prone to human error like the rest of us. We also see him carrying out his duties to his estate, including his tenants and servants. His behaviour and demeanour give good grounds for Mrs Reynolds’ opinion that he is the best master that anyone would want.
     The sojourn in Oxfordshire at Lord Sayre’s (an old school mate) nearly does for Darcy. We see that like any man he’s susceptible to the pheromones of a woman who desires him. The plot is gothic, with hints of the supernatural, ancient charms and spells, and revenge driving the story, in which Darcy was cast as a pawn, but becomes the spoiler. This part of the book could stand alone, with a little fleshing out of the back story, which may be a reason that several readers think Duty and Desire the weakest of the three books. I think it’s well enough done, especially as in both parts of the book we see Darcy struggling to reconcile himself to his duty, in the latter case, his duty to family, which requires that he get a wife and produce heirs. Darcy’s man Fletcher plays a major role, rather like that of Bunter to Lord Peter Wimsey. Aidan has some trouble getting the relationship right, I think; it’s difficult for us to conceive of a master-servant relationship in which familiarity coexists with a huge (and sometimes harshly enforced) difference of status.
     By the end of the book, it’s not yet clear whether Darcy has understood that a duty that destroys his sense self is no duty at all. Nor is it clear that he has come to see that Elizabeth’s character matters more than her unfortunate relatives. We know only that she is always on his mind, and when he fingers the little bundle of embroidery thread that he kept instead of returning to her, we see that he cannot help himself. Desire keeps insinuating itself into what he conceives as his duty. **½ (2010)

No comments: