23 February 2011

Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge (2011) - Suspense & Sensibility or, First Impressions Revisited

Summary: Ms. Bebris's second Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery is even better than her strong debut, Pride and Prescience (2004).In the spring of 1813, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy agree to sponsor Elizabeth's sister Kitty for a season in London along with Darcy's 17-year-old sister, Georgiana. In the course of their social rounds, Kitty meets Harry Dashwood - a younger cousin of the Sense and Sensibility Dashwoods - and the courtship begins. Mr. Darcy makes inquiries into Harry's character, fortune and expectations, but no sooner does he receive favorable answers than the suitor begins to behave most strangely. Harry gives a friend the "cut direct" outside Boodle's Club, and there are rumors of gambling and worse excesses. It's up to Darcy and Elizabeth to discover the cause of these aberrations, and, if at all possible, see Kitty happily established. The author smoothly combines characters from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility while remaining true to Austen's originals. A few elements of the paranormal help illuminate the mores of the period. Regency romance readers will also be delighted. Summary from Amazon.

Comments: Suspense and Sensibility is the first book I have read by Carrie Bebris though apparently it is part of several that fit into a Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery category by Ms. Bebris. I added this to my list to read for the S&S Challenge because it was different than anything else related to Miss Austen that I've read and I liked the idea of mixing the characters from Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice.
At first the main characters seem a little one dimensional perhaps, and this would be okay, I suppose, because there is an assumption that we know the characters from their original stories. Darcy seems to be boring as a character which contrasts him nicely the with liveliness of Elizabeth. He seem too serious at first. Kitty has little depth at the beginning as well. That said, Miss Austen didn't make much of Kitty either. I am pleased to say that this is remedied over the course of the book and the characters do take shape. One pleasing note
is time spent on Georgiana helps provide more to her character and is a pleasant drafting of a character.
Kitty is plainly, with the encouragement of Mrs. Bennet, in the marriage market with little but good connections, a pretty face, and a relatively sweet temper to recommend her to eligible young men. Darcy's meeting of Sir John Middleton was beneficial to the plans to
introduce Kitty to eligible men by inviting them to a large party being given to which, it appears, half of London is in attendance. Mr. Harry Dashwood, son of the late John and widow Fanny Dashwood, is handsome, charming and attentive except that he believes he's
addressing Miss Georgiana Darcy and her thirty thousand pounds. This is mortifying to Kitty who has a very small dowery. Dashwood, to his credit, rights his error immediately and makes it clear that he's pleased with Kitty's company.
Dashwood becomes more acquainted with the Darcy family and while Elizabeth takes to him easily, as does Georgiana, Mr. Darcy is not equally impressed and sees a vain, ignorant young man who is more interested in being with his friends and other mindless pursuits. Darcy has expectations that all young men are as serious and mature has he is. Elizabeth also renews here acquaintance with Professor Julian Randolph (who she met in the previous book in this series). An intelligent intuitive man that Elizabeth relates to, but apparently
Darcy doesn't appreciate.
Dashwood's parents were not involved in his upbringing, which is a plus in that he wasn't influenced by his scheming harpy mother, but a minus in that he learned nothing about managing Norland which he is to inherit. Darcy sees this as a failing in Dashwood, but eventually because of a true show of interest in learning and in Kitty, he takes Dashwood on as a protege.
Where is the suspense? So far, from where I sit, there isn't any.

The characters are improving on me, they feel more real than they did at the beginning, but Kitty is still a little lacking. We finally get to see more of Henry Dashwood's family. There is the charming repugnant Lucy Ferrars (nee Steele). The description here of Lucy and her daughter Regina, who is apparently intended for Henry, is priceless. A quote is in order: "Lucy reminded one of a cat, her bearing exhibiting a decidedly predatory aspect. Regina, in contrast, carried herself with bovine grace. She was considerably plumper than her mother, with a figure that even her high-waisted gown could not flatter. Lucy's thin frame looked almost skeletal in contrast, as if since Regina's birth it had been daughter, not mother, eating for them both." I can totally see them both - what a sight!
Henry's interest in Norland (finally) is further shown by deciding to hold his twenty-first birthday fete there and inviting the Darcy family to join them. Georgiana demurs, preferring to stay in London for a concert and to be less competition for Kitty as Mrs. Dashwood
seems to have a preference for Miss Darcy, and her thirty thousand pounds. Henry, not to be influenced by his mother, proposes to Kitty and it seems like a good match for them both - even though they are both a bit young.
Once again, I ask, "Where is the suspense?" and just in time it arrives in the revelation that Harry is starting to act a little squirrelly.
It seems an odd transformation has taken place and Harry's personality changes completely. He, at first, is just remote and seems to be avoiding the Darcy family, but he becomes more and more uncharacteristically ungentlemanly. He gambles, drinks too much, hangs out with the wrong people, and just is dissolute. Kitty is devastated and in atypical style breaks the engagement herself. Darcy is furious at Dashwood's inflicting pain on Kitty, and by degrees Elizabeth, and Dashwood's rejection of his friendship and assistance.
So is Harry crazy or possessed by his long dead relative. Professor Randolph had suggested Harry look into the antiquities of the attics of Norland and so he did -- unfortunately. 

I won't continue except to say how much I enjoyed the book. My original reservations were cleared away regarding the depth of the character and my impatience for the suspense, largely the fault of Agatha Christie, PD James, and Colin Dexter, was misplaced. If I had not been provided with all the information prior to the changes in Harry's character, I couldn't have appreciated them or what was to come. I will certainly look for other books in this series.

1 comment:

  1. but did the suspenseful part have too much crap in it? like all that "supernatural" "paranormal" stuff? was it a little or basically the entire mystery? sorry hah.. I was really disappointed when another book in this series (at least in the mystery part) was like about voodoo magic and crap x/


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