“THE FORMIDABLE Mrs ELIZABETH DARCY”: In The Beginning

Once my first novel ‘Ghost Love’ was done and dusted and safely in the hands of my publishers I started to cast around for a new writing project. I began a sort of follow-up entitled ‘Hotel Russ’ but realised I wanted something different to get my teeth into.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ has been haunting me ever since I studied it at the university in Moscow. In England much more is available to get your imagination racing: various TV series, films, history programs, my children’s GCSE and A-level syllabus…

This is a Gillray cartoon which shows William Pitt and Napoleon Bonaparte carving up the world, this ‘carving’ a consequence of England and France signing the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. I have taken the Treaty to be the reference made by Jane Austen in P&P’s final chapter to ‘the restoration of peace’.
This is a Gillray cartoon which shows William Pitt and Napoleon Bonaparte carving up the world, this ‘carving’ a consequence of England and France signing the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. I have taken the Treaty to be the reference made by Jane Austen in P&P’s final chapter to ‘the restoration of peace’.

When we debated it around the family table three things were often mentioned as puzzling. The first: how parochial the Meryton society inhabited by the Bennets was. As Darcy says, ‘In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society’. Indeed, from what we learn (or rather don’t learn), the inhabitants of Longbourn and Meryton have absolutely no interest in what is happening outside their insular little world. They are so myopically intent on romances and marriage that there is not a single reference to the war with France, to Napoleon or the abolition of slavery. So the question arises: how would Elizabeth cope with suddenly finding herself the wife of one of the richest men in England and being plunged into a society much more concerned with the big questions of the day? This would be a huge and challenging change of milieu for a girl of twenty-one.

Secondly is the enigma of why Darcy is plain ‘Mr Darcy’. His fortune is immense. Whilst some commentators would have us believe Darcy’s £10,000 is equivalent to an annual income of $331,300 or even $800,000 in today’s money these estimates seemed to me somehow wrong. So I turned to my tame accountant, Rod, for an answer. Based on PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), Rod estimates that Darcy pulled down something in the order of £10 million per annum in today’s money, which fits comfortably with him being able to run such a vast estate as Pemberley and a house in London. This would have put him in the top 200 earners in England circa 1800 and those guys didn’t relish the tag ‘Mr’. So what stopped him being ennobled?

Thirdly, is the question of Darcy’s personality. In the beginning of the book he presents as being stand-offish, rude, arrogant, and very full of himself. By the end of the book he’s caring, considerate, loving … a complete volte-face. Now it’s easy to say his falling for Elizabeth was the cause of this softening, but is that the whole story?

These three questions were my starting point. And when I came to think of writing a new book this seemed a perfect opportunity for me to try to answer them.

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