Cathy Williams: In Want of A Wife?

May 2011 : 978 1 742 77024 6

 The amusement that could be derived from a Harlequinised Pride and Prejudice was tempered by the knowledge that Cathy Williams was responsibility for this offering. Every Williams’s romance we attempted in the past had been discarded unfinished and were it not for the fact that we blew 593.75 fly-buy points acquiring this book it too would have suffered a similar fate.

It boded ill that the book opened with its interpretation of the emotional climax of Pride and Prejudice.  Darcy’s infamous first proposal and Elizabeth’s blistering dismissal, ‘You are mistaken Mr Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than it spared me the concern which I might of felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner…your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain for the feelings of others, were such… I had not known you a month before I felt that you were last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry,’ is reduced to ‘You’ve never met any of the people from here and yet you think it okay to make lots of assumptions about them. You’re a snob, Mr Jumeau, and I can’t bear snobs!’(p.19).

To reach this point so soon undermines the central conceit. Louis Jumeau is forced to act in un-Darcy-like manner and the story line is consequently robbed of its emotional climax.  Perhaps, we should back up a bit and explain the premise.  Louis Jumeau (Mr Darcy) travels to Scotland to prevent his friend Nicholas (Mr Bingley) from falling into the clutches of presumed gold digger Rose (Jane). En route to Crossfeld House his car breaks down and he is rescued by a motorcyclist to whom he reveals his intent little realising that she is Lizzy Sharp(is the surname a nod to Thackeray’s Becky?).  Mr Darcy would never be so crass or indiscrete but Williams forfeits any subtlety so prejudice and pride may be spelt out  

The book then proceeds to check-list its way through the pivotal scenes of Pride and Prejudice with allusions to the seminal 1995 BBC adaptation. (He was forced to turn away and look out of the window at the falling snow with his back to her, so that she couldn’t make out the evidence of his attraction … (pp.56-57)).  Elizabeth’s extended stay at Netherfield changes to Lizzy falling ill at Crossfeld House after been stranded in snow.  Williams’s Lizzy is insipid and pathetically dependent. So it comes as little surprise that the sniping cross examination at the Netherfield is reduced to this:

‘I still won’t dance with you’, Lizzy muttered.  She clung frantically to the thought that he was still tarring her with the same prejudiced brush that he had used to tar the entire family

‘Why? Are you scared?’

‘Scared of what? I’m not scared of anything.’

‘Because I don’t bite,’ he said softly. And then with amusement is his voice, ‘At least, not until I’m asked.’ (p.83)

And Wickham?  Put it this way, in the Harlequin pantheon with a name like Freddy Dale there is not a chance of even rating as a passing temptation for the heroine.  Freddy’s transgression was to dabble in recreation drugs in his youth.  Williams really did not extend herself with this subplot.  Mary King becomes Eleanor King. Leigh’s (Lydia) Vegas elopement with Freddy is summarily executed.

This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice must be balanced by the contemporary demands of a Mills and Boon romance. We have established that the taciturn Mr Darcy is rendered as a blabbering idiot and what of Lizzy?  Apart from the implied alcoholism (should have scored the number of glasses of wine consumed),   we are repeatedly told that Lizzy is smart but very little evidence is offered to substantiate this assertion.  We know that Lizzy is a good person as she is a primary school teacher in an underprivileged school. This conveniently offers that all-important litmus test of Louis being good with children, ‘…she had a vivid memory of him in the playground, herding all the children together so that he could involve them all in whatever game he had thought up on the spot’. (pp125-126). There must be some relatively lax child protection laws in England if a male stranger is allowed on campus sans police check.

The impotency of the father figure is a reoccurring Harlequin motif.    Pride and Prejudice lends itself well to this. Mr Sharp has negatively geared his property and thus is financial vulnerable.  In addition to the covering the cost of the elopement, Jumeau pays for Rose’s wedding and settles this debt. We are at the point where the financial vulnerability of the heroine is becoming quite intolerable.     

Very early in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Darcy have a conversation (obstinately) about the ideal accomplished woman.  Williams seizes upon this and repeats its ad nauseam.  The various ruminations on Jumeau’s perfect criteria for a woman is irritating to say the least.

As we stagger painfully towards the end, Williams occasionally touches base with the original and some amusement can be had recognising a sentence’s genesis.  ‘If you will thank me,’ he replied, ‘let it be for yourself alone.  That the wish of giving happiness to you, might add force to the other inducement which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny,  But your family owe me nothing.  Much as I respect them, I believe, I thought only of you.’ Becomes ‘I wanted to help your father, just like I wanted to do whatever I could for your sisters, because of you.’ (p.179)

In Want of a Wife?  does not work as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice as Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship is cerebral and Williams’s interpretation simply lacks the intellectual conviction.  For me, Williams is not a Mills and Boon author that we gravitate to.  Overall, a very tepid affair.

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