Vanity and Verity by Jeanne Waters

Well, my friends, the next two reviews are going to be a delight or a disaster, depending on your feelings about Jane Austen and the sequels, prequels and spinoffs that surround her canonical novels. This is not part of my Jane Austen reading challenge for 2013 – I will be posting my next review for the challenge on April 1st. This is just something that came up in my Amazon recommendations. I was intrigued by a prequel about Darcy’s parents and the indefatigable Lady Catherine De Bourgh. I got the sample, found the writing to be very good, and then bought the book. I think the blurb is overlong – but here is the link to Goodreads, and part of the blurb:

vanity and verity

A prequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Vanity and Verity explores the London debuts of Lady Anne and Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam. Upon arrival in London, Lady Catherine is immediately taken with the striking Mr. George Darcy (father of Austen’s iconic Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy). But the circumspect Lady Anne questions the character and connections of the yet unknown Mr. Darcy. Anxious to please her proud and domineering mother and concerned about protecting the imprudent Catherine from herself, Anne hopes to forge the right friendships and alliances to steer the sisters safely through a season in 1780s London. However, the cautious Anne is in danger of giving Mr. Darcy entirely the wrong idea of her character, even as Anne herself begins to reevaluate her first impressions of the gentleman. Meanwhile Catherine, intoxicated by the London scene, pursues flirtations with Mr. Darcy, his friend Mr. Tyndall, her cousin, and even the tedious Sir Lewis DeBourgh while Anne struggles to remind her sister – and herself – of the importance of empathy and consideration for others.

I immediately liked the tone and writing style. It starts off reminiscent of Jane Austen, which is easy to do for a few pages, when one’s tongue is gently placed in one’s cheek to mock one’s supercilious characters. That won’t work for a whole novel, as we are none of us Jane, are we? Ms. Waters is aware of this and moves on to a light regency touch. It’s a comfortable, familiar voice, which always adds to a historical when done well. The focus of the book is Anne, the elder daughter, and future mother of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Her sister, Catherine, the future Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is unrecognizable as a spoiled, willful child who flirts with any handsome man who will pay her attention. Anne is far more contained. She is a sociable young woman, with the 19th century failing of most female characters: the inability to tell a pushy man to bug off! But let me back up.

Anne and Catherine’s father is a peer, but one with more title than fortune. His lady wife finds it reprehensible he will not hire a house in town so she can bring her daughters out. She didn’t care so much about Anne, but her beloved Catherine must have a season in London! The Earl doesn’t mind them going, as long as it doesn’t cost him any money. His solution: that his wife and daughters stay with his widowed sister. Lady Charlotte is only too happy to host them, being generous of nature and spirit, but lacking in understanding and social graces. The girls are soon caught up in the whirl of dances and entertainments. Anne has the misfortune of attracting the eye of her cousin’s friend, Mr. Wilson. An obnoxious bore, he reminds me of John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey. He attaches himself to her and won’t let go, despite her attempts to politely rebuff him. It is through Mr. Wilson that she meets Mr. Darcy and the comedy of errors begins. Mr. Wilson boasts of his friendship with Mr. Darcy. Having no idea of Mr. Darcy’s position, reputation or wealth, she doesn’t know that Wilson is only trying to make himself look good by association. Having no desire to spend the evening with more than one Mr. Wilson, she refuses Mr. Darcy when he asks her to dance. He graciously accepts her claim of fatigue and goes to dance with Catherine instead. Mr.Wilson has no intention of taking no for an answer. He drags her bodily onto the dance floor, despite her protestations, and pushes her into the line. Having rudely pushed several people aside and finding herself the center of attention, she has no recourse but to comply. In front of Mr. Darcy and everyone, she is required to dance with Mr. Wilson.

By the time Anne learns she has mistaken Mr. Darcy’s character, she feels she owes him some sort of apology. Her mother, however, does not believe that an Earl’s daughter should apologize for anything. Explain, she may, but apologize, never. Anne is trying to do this as delicately as possible, when her mother pipes up to assure Mr. Darcy that if Anne had known of his birth, she would surely have danced with him.

To a snob like Anne’s mother, this is acceptable, but to a man like Darcy, it makes a bad impression. And so another dance begins, this one metaphorical. Just as Anne begins to regard him, he pulls away from her. Does he despise her? Does she simply like him or does she like him like him? And why does she like him when he has shown her he thinks so little of her? Or has she misunderstood his natural delicacy? Is she reading too much into his actions? Why does he not ask her to dance? In the mean time, her sister is bouncing between Mr. Darcy and his friend Mr. Tyndall, imagining she can use the one to get to the other. A Mrs. Scott and her daughter ingratiate themselves to the ladies, to Anne’s dismay, and Miss Scott begins to flatter her way into Catherine’s good graces. Then there is another young gentleman of fortune named Lord Barham on the scene. Catherine drops all pretense of affection for Mr. Tyndall, she must realize Darcy is beyond her reach, and sets her cap at getting a Lord. And poor Anne is in the middle, trying to keep her sister from making a complete fool of herself and breaking Mr. Tyndall’s heart.

Misunderstanding is heaped upon misapprehension, confusion, lies, backbiting, rumors that are completely off the mark – all against the mix of people striving for engagements, gossip, a place in society, fortune gathering and flattery. I really enjoyed the relationship between Anne and Darcy when it finally started to bloom, and also enjoyed shouting at the pages when obstacles would come between them. In a good romance, you know everything will come out all right, but the author should have you wondering How?! How on earth is this going to be made right?

I do have a few complaints. I loathed Catherine as a character and thought she was nothing like the Lady Catherine of Pride and Prejudice. How she came to be with her husband, Sir Lewis DeBourgh, was unbelievable. Then at the end, the two main characters led us through a line by line review of their relationship that went on and on and on. And finally, as so often happens in these books, I felt the author lifted characters from other Jane Austen books and gave them different names. Most of these seem to come from Sense and Sensibility. A friend, Miss Augusta Anderson may well have been Anne Steele, Lucy Steele’s less manipulative sister. Lady Charlotte was like Mrs. Jennings. Lord Barham (SPOILER ALERT highlight the white text if you want to see who I think he is like ) is sort of a mix of Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park and the future Mr. Wickham.

Those are minor complaints. I enjoyed this book and the main characters. I think it was self-published, but it wasn’t riddled with errors or bad grammar like so many of them. Since it was a prequel, and so many characters were brand new, there was more leeway for the author. Though you know what is coming in the future, you don’t know these character’s pasts, so you aren’t looking to see what all the author might have gotten wrong. And we all knew Mr. Darcy’s parents had to be likable folk. I would read another book by this author in a heartbeat.

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