Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: From Publisher for Review
In her latest and much anticipated Pride and Prejudice variation, author Jan Hahn has boldly and daringly done the unthinkable…she has engaged Elizabeth Bennet to George Wickham! And she’s not just engaged – but secretly engaged! *gasp* Can you believe it? What on earth is Elizabeth thinking!?! 😉
I must admit I didn’t find Elizabeth’s behavior all that unfathomable. This is partly because Jan Hahn did an excellent job creating a believable sequence of events that gradually lead Lizzy into such a predicament. Lizzy doesn’t immediately accept Wickham’s proposals or request for secrecy, but she does eventually consent due to her compassion for Wickham and her inexperience with men (master manipulators like Wickham are definitely beyond her ken!). I think Elizabeth’s sympathetic nature, sense of justice (Lizzy champions the wronged!) and her belief that she may one day have a love match like her aunt and uncle (who she just discovered weren’t in love when they wed) also steer Lizzy on this unlikely path. Keeping secrets from her sister and engaging in a deception is definitely not a part of Lizzy’s character…but women everywhere often make mistakes for the men in their lives.
Another reason I found Elizabeth’s actions so believable is because it strongly reminded me of another intelligent and sensible Jane Austen character – Jane Fairfax from Emma. Jane had the advantage of growing up around “right-minded and well-informed people,” yet she was dishonest to her loved ones and kept secrets from them for months! And like Elizabeth, Jane too receives a lot of pain and discomfort from her secret, not to mention the torture and humiliation of seeing her betrothed flirt with and pursue other women. Poor Lizzy! And poor Jane! After witnessing what Lizzy went through with Wickham and Mary King I have much more sympathy for Jane Fairfax!
There were several elements I enjoyed about this variation…besides its inventive and daring premise. 😉 I loved witnessing all of Darcy’s emotions and reactions to Elizabeth’s betrothal – he definitely has a lot of conflict to work through! I loved the scenes where he shows his ardent admiration for and constant protection of Elizabeth. I thought the episode with the spring tonic was brilliant. (Way to go, Lady Catherine. High five.) I enjoyed seeing Darcy, Elizabeth, and Colonel Fitzwilliam work together to take care of all the invalids. In addition, I delighted in our sojourn to Brighton! The ocean, the sand, the rocks – what a gorgeous backdrop! I loved how the diverse and dynamic scenery reflected the turbulent emotions experienced by both Darcy and Elizabeth while staying there. And those walks on the beach…loved the vivid descriptions of Elizabeth’s rambles on the sand!
The one main aspect of this variation that I wasn’t too fond of and the reason I can’t give this story a higher rating is George Wickham. I felt that as a character, George was a little inconsistent. I don’t mind it when characters are complex or hard to figure out, but by the end of the novel I want to understand them. I didn’t feel that with Wickham. Like Lizzy, I tried making out Wickham’s character but felt I did not “get on at all” and the differing accounts I witnessed did “puzzle me exceedingly.” In addition, I wasn’t too fond of how prominent Wickham was towards the end of the novel – what he did and what happened to him stole focus from the beautiful and long-awaited happily-ever-after the author skillfully constructed.
Despite some quibbles, I was quite enraptured by Jan Hahn’s emotive and evocative storytelling! Definitely not an easy book to put down! If you are curious to read a unique Pride and Prejudice variation or gain new sympathy for Jane Fairfax, you might want to give The Secret Betrothal a try!