The Darcys and The Bingleys by Marsha Altman

The Darcys and the Bingleys: A Tale of Two Gentleman’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters, by Marsha Altman

I am always open to perusing a sequel to find out whether someone has been able to do an adequate job in following up dear old Jane. While this book was funny, well-written and endearing, The Darcys and the Bingleys is not for Pride and Prejudice/Austen purists. After reading the first few chapters I gave up hope of trying to see this as a sequel picking up where the characters that I loved so much left off. It’s essential to think of this as a novel set around the same time period as P&P, focusing on two wealthy friends and their engagements and marriages to two sisters, then this works as a light-hearted and romantic comedy set back in the day in England.

The novel begins with Charles Bingley admitting that he doesn’t know much about what goes on in the bedroom and as such he is showing much concern about his upcoming wedding night.  He goes to his friend Darcy to get some help and advice which leads them to begin reminiscing about how they first met. We flashback to them as young bucks making their way through Oxford, and this is where the sequel deviates questionably from the original.

Darcy and Bingley meet at a fencing party they both attend during their freshman year. Darcy has not yet grown into the proud man whom Elizabeth meets and eventually marries, but is instead uncomfortable about his station in life and intimidated by the wealth of the other men at Oxford. Excuse me? Darcy isn’t titled but he is supposedly one of the richest men in England. I highly doubt that he would have felt out of place with the wealthy especially by the time he reached University. He would have been bred with the people he is supposedly intimidated by, they would have run in the same circles, and he have very well would have known his position in society.

Darcy is also uncomfortable around women to the point that he runs off at a hint of their approach and apparently is a lightweight who can’t hold his alcohol.  Bingley and Darcy are so gauche as to both discuss the source of Bingley’s wealth and how he is barely suitable for society.  It all rather odd and the behavior doesn’t really fit with any wealthy men of their time even if you don’t take Pride and Prejudice into account.  Needless to say Darcy isn’t to happy to stroll down memory lane and he puts an end to all of it by riding off to bring Bingley his very own copy of the Kama Sutra to help him figure it all out.

The rest of the novel follows the subsequent pregnancies of the sisters, and the rivalries of Charles and Darcy
through pretty much everything and anything you can think up.  If you can get past a lot of the mis-characterizations and treat this as a separate entity from Pride and Prejudice then this novel is charming and a fun romance.  The banter between the couples Darcy and Elizabeth, and Jane and Charles is endearing and witty (I particularly love that Elizabeth has Darcy wrapped around her finger). The conversations between Elizabeth and her father, Mr. Bennett were surprisingly true to form and Mr. Bernnet, if no one else, was true to character. And watch out, Miss Caroline Bingley is back on the scene and her story gives us a little more insight into why she behaves as she does.  You almost feel for her…almost!

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