[Warning: contains minor spoilers. Nothing major, though — promise!]
What’s this rolling toward me? It’s a bandwagon! I do believe I’ll hop on for a little while.
As much as my inner book snob hates to admit it, I just read (and liked!) a total pop culture riff on a classic. I didn’t mean to, at first. I was in the check-out line at Bookmans, and the hugely popular “Austen + Monsters” genre table caught my eye. I picked up Amanda Grange’s Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, ready to rant about the desecration of Pride and Prejudice, but damned if the blurb on the back didn’t kind of sound awesome. It began, “A married man in possession of a dark fortune must be in want of an eternal wife…” I have to admit, I was amused by the play on the famous first lines of the original novel. I also liked that it wasn’t a rewrite of Pride and Prejudice itself, but rather a continuation of Austen’s work, with the additional “What if…?” of Darcy being a vampire. (Or, as the Regency-era spelling throughout the books insists, “vampyre.”)
The book begins in October of 1802, on Jane and Elizabeth Bennet’s joint wedding day. Jane, of course, marries Mr. Bingley, while Elizabeth is wed to Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth is overjoyed to be married, but senses that Darcy has misgivings. The feeling that her new husband regrets marrying her troubles Elizabeth immensely, despite Darcy doing all he can to allay her fears.
Now, given the title, any reader who has in fact looked at the cover can guess what’s going on here. The point of the novel is not the mystery of whether Darcy is a vampire or not. Instead, it’s a question of whether Elizabeth will realize it, and when she does, what will happen. Grange drops an absurd number of clues in front of Elizabeth, who seems to go back and forth between guessing the truth and willfully deluding herself. Darcy cancels their planned honeymoon in the Lake District of England, and instead whisks Elizabeth off to Paris. She meets more of Darcy’s family (i.e., fellow vampires) and mingles with Parisian society. Darcy vacillates between being attentive and loving, versus brooding, cold, and distant. Elizabeth is constantly surprised and puzzled by his actions, especially his announcement that they must go visit a distant relative that lives in a remote castle in the Alps. The situation becomes even worse when Darcy’s formidable aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, shows up to once again rail on about how the wedding was a mistake and Darcy should never have married Elizabeth. While Elizabeth is simply hurt because she feels that Lady Catherine disapproves of her family and lack of money, the reader senses a much darker undertone, knowing what Darcy and his family are. Lady Catherine does not simply refer to social class when she tells Darcy that Elizabeth does not belong in their world.
Darcy and Elizabeth travel through the Alps, staying briefly at the castle of the mysterious Count. Their time there is not happy however, as Elizabeth has terrible nightmares and the castle overwhelms her. Finally, unexpected violence forces them to flee the castle. The couple, despite their obvious strain, cling to hope as they travel over the mountains to Italy. Their adventures continue in Venice, especially when they meet an Italian prince who takes a great liking to Elizabeth. The prince invites them to Rome, but things take an extremely dark turn soon after they arrive at his villa. Elizabeth is forced to come to terms with the reality of her marriage, as well as the fact that outside forces are seeking to tear her from Darcy at any cost. Elizabeth must decide how far she is willing to go for the love of her life, regardless of whether or not she might get her dreamed-of happy ending.
This novel is well written, and I was impressed and pleasantly surprised by Grange’s level of commitment to the time period and Austen’s original work. Pride and Prejudice is not cheapened by this sequel of sorts; in fact, it was kind of fun to read Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and look back at the events of Austen’s novel and analyze them with the new notion of Darcy, Georgiana, Lady Catherine, and Anne all being vampires. It certainly would explain a lot about the way they acted (and why Anne never died, despite her poor health). I have also come to terms with the widespread revisiting and re-imagining of classic novels. Though not all of the new alterations are for me, I have realized that they’re at the very least keeping the classics alive, and using the modern trends to hook new readers who might not have read them otherwise. Obviously, I hope that reading a zombie/vampire/monster novel based on a classic would eventually lead a reader back to the original work, but even if not, at least people are reading. That’s what’s most important to me, at the end of the day.