An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan
Touchstone, 3rd printing, 2006
Genre: historical romance, parallel novel, Regency romance
Synopsis & Review: It’s Pride and Prejudice from Mr Darcy’s perspective. With a bunch more crap. In three volumes, of which this is the first.
I could hardly get through this, it was so dull; I forced myself through the last seventy or so pages at top speed. At best, it was fanfiction, and at worst, it was bad, boring fanfiction. Which pretty much sums it up.
But, if you want more specific complaints … The characters Aidan “fleshes out” are vapid and trite; Darcy and Elizabeth are turned into paragons of virtue, imbued with modern sensibilities and perfect in all that they do–and they do everything. Suddenly, Elizabeth has a beautiful singing voice, knows Italian, gardens, is an exemplary needlewoman, reads Milton, and dedicates herself to helping the unfortunate at every turn. Caroline Bingley isn’t just unpleasant and puffed up with vanity, she’s a scheming harridan, albeit in a trite and bumbling sort of way. The rest of the characters are flat, though Bingley himself fares curiously well, perhaps because Aidan doesn’t “improve” him. Then there’s Darcy’s Jeeves-like valet, added for comic relief perhaps, though he is anything but. Worst of all, there’s Darcy, who falls madly in love with Elizabeth at first sight, then spends the rest of the volume obsessing over her in the myriad ways that only a pre-teen girl would imagine romantic. The prose is dreadful: ungrammatical and overwrought, with Aidan trying too hard for period feel but landing instead in the realm of Regency romance; when she quotes directly from Austen, the difference is jarring. Worse, she wrote with a thesaurus handy, but apparently did not bother looking up the words or understanding their connotation. Many words are used incorrectly, sprinkled here and there regardless of meaning, even down to errors in proofreading, such as the substitution of “toils” for what must have been intended as “coils.” Adverbs are also liberally used, and with poor results. The prose also has a cinematic feel to it, as though the novel were based on the BBC production of P&P rather than on Austen’s novel.
Like any bad Regency romance, the novel concerns itself with the minutiae of Darcy’s life: the waistcoats, the various libations (tea, coffee, wine, sherry, etc), horseback riding, book reading, dog training, and so on until a reader’s eyes glaze over. When Darcy and Bingley hie off to London, we are punished with scenes of society life, including a soiree at Marlborough House, infamous Lady Lamb and all, an episode that seems decidedly out of character for Darcy. And of course, he must encounter–and best–Brummel himself in the matter of neckcloths, because it wouldn’t be a bad Regency romance without such an episode.
Ultimately, An Assembly Such as This is a monumental failure because it neither adds depth or understanding to Austen’s novel, nor does it manage to entertain. There are parallel novels with a purpose, are not simply fanfic, such as the very excellent Wide Sargasso Sea and its commentary on colonialism and racism. Unfortunately, there are two volumes after this one (though they could have easily been published in one, had an editor ever chanced to bother with the manuscript), but I will not be subjecting myself to either.
Cover: An assembly such as that. Nice cover, with a realistic painting, no abstract nonsense.
His opinion sought on a matter by a fellow guest to his other side, Darcy was a few moments before he could return his attention down the table. It happened that the conversation around Elizabeth Bennet had ebbed, affording her an opportunity to partake of some refreshment. She extended a slender, dimpled arm and grasped the stem of the wineglass between delicately formed fingers. Darcy watched, inexplicably fascinated, as with unconscious grace she slowly brought it to her lips. She sipped the wine, ever so slightly, and gently returned the glass to its place. As she released it and returned her hand to her lap, Darcy released the breath he had not realised that he had been holding. He quickly averted his eyes before she could notice his inappropriate behavior, directing them instead to his own glass of wine. His pulse somewhat elevated, his grip on his glass was not as sure as her had been, and the wine sloshed dangerously in the bowl as he raised it. What is the matter with you? he scolded himself, then swallowed the contents without tasting anything.
14 July – 15 July