Linda Berdoll’s “Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife”

Portrait of Jane Austen, from the memoir by J....

There are many things wrong with this book, but I’m giving it a 2-star rating because it actually has some potential.

The most annoying thing about this book is the fact that Berdoll seems to have swallowed a thesaurus, and an archaic one at that. No one has said (or written) “howbeit” since the 15th Century. At least no one who was trying to write anything serious. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The writing style itself is so verbose and convoluted, it defies definition. Sentences meander with no regard for structure or form. There’s no reason to create frankly unreadable and incomprehensible sentences in order to write a P&P Regency period continuation story. In fact, it’s ridiculous to try. Jane Austen was writing for her contemporaries, so her style was basically reflective of how people wrote in that era. To try to duplicate that style now is ludicrous. You can still write a Regency period book without resorting to overinflated and unnecessary language. Interestingly, she messes up her own attempts and slips into modern lingo constantly, which just adds to the groan-inducing structure. But I mentioned that the story has potential. You can see kernels of humor emerging amidst the laborious writing and I wish that Berdoll had had the sense to tone down her attempts at pretentiousness and explore her talent for comedy.

I’ve read other reviews of this book and a lot of folks talk about characterization in the book and how Darcy and Elizabeth aren’t true to form. While I agree that “voice” is important, departure from original characterizations is sometimes necessary in order to move the story forward. This is especially important when writing “what if” speculation stories, because as a writer explores the potential for alternate beginnings and/or endings. In the case of a continuation story, however, it rarely works. If you’re simply continuing a story, you have to stick to the original characterization. Sadly, Berdoll completely misses this point. Her Elizabeth is a petulant child, not the strong, confident, and witty heroine of Austen’s P&P. Darcy is a bit closer to the original, but not by much.

And the sex scenes? If the language wasn’t so belabored, they might at least be fun to read. As it is, they are boring, cliched, and frankly, beyond unrealistic. On the one hand, Berdoll is insisting on creating a Regency period scenario (badly), and on the other, she writes scenes that are completely devoid of the social dictums of that era. The departures from decorum are horrific. Darcy taking Lizzy up against a door, in broad daylight, with guests in the house? Really?

Overall, it’s not a bad read. It’s just not that great.


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