About four years ago my husband and I introduced our children to a favorite movie of ours, The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews. If you have not seen it, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Our kids fell in love with the character of Sir Percival Blakeney, an English aristocrat who assumes a secret identity to rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. It was then that my husband suggested . . . what if Mr. Darcy was secretly the Scarlet Pimpernel?
At first I laughed at the idea. The French Revolution was before Darcy’s time. Pride and Prejudice is set in England, not France. Austen never wrote about political events. Darcy wasn’t a foppish fool, he was proud and superior. Nobody would ever believe he could be the Scarlet Pimpernel!
But then something clicked in my head and I thought . . . . what if? What if Darcy did live during the French Revolution? What if his proud and superior attitude was an act to disguise his secret, noble character? What if Jane and Elizabeth were living in Paris, not Meryton? What if Elizabeth fell in love with two men at the same time, not realizing that they were actually the same person?
The result was my current work in progress, now being posted on darcyandlizzy.com. This has been the most challenging story ever for me to write, because it brings together two completely different worlds. But it has also been a lot of fun, because putting Darcy, Elizabeth and Wickham into the world of the French Revolution raises the stakes considerably! It also allows me to make some changes in their personality and character. A little excerpt is below.
In this scene Darcy is Elizabeth’s escort to see a play in Paris. Darcy has already declared himself to Elizabeth, but she needs a little . . . . convincing. 🙂 I hope you enjoy this!
Darcy’s reaction when she came down the stairs did not disappoint. For a moment he appeared dumbstruck; then he advanced and offered her a bouquet of pink lilies. When she extended her hand he bowed low before raising it to his lips, his eyes still fixed on hers. “Forgive my ill manners just now. I am not often at a loss for words, but your beauty removed my power of speech.”
“Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth let her eyes dance at him. “I did not know you were adept at flattery.”
“Quite the contrary. I never flatter. I only tell the absolute truth.”
Inside the theater they had a few minutes to spare before they had to go to their seats. The Gardiners went off on their own to speak with friends while the others stayed together, enjoying the sights all around. Darcy and Elizabeth examined the handbill for the play, which Darcy said he had seen in Rome, but was completely new for his companion. The play was described as a comedy revolving around the dilemma of two men in love with the same woman, presented in Italian.
“Do you speak Italian as well as you speak French?” Elizabeth asked.
“Better, or so I am told. I stayed in Rome for six months on my grand tour and during that time my tutor refused to translate a single word for me.”
“I hope you are not as strict with me! I can read and write the language, but I often fail at understanding it when it is spoken. What a shame that young ladies are not sent to the continent to finish their education as gentlemen are.” But Darcy shook his head.
“It is a waste of time for most young gentlemen. They spend more time carousing and wasting money than improving their understanding of the classics.”
“You did not do so, I’m sure.”
“Nor would you have, given similar circumstances. You have made the most of the opportunities given to you here in Paris, learning the language and becoming familiar with the city. With so many similarities between the languages, I expect you will have no problem understanding what is spoken on stage tonight.”
“If I understand anything amiss, I shall count on you to correct me.”
During the first act they all sat in the same row, almost at the front of the balcony, and Elizabeth had no trouble following the humorous, quickly moving story, for what she did not understand in speech could be taken in through other means. The exaggerated gestures the actors made, along with their comical facial expressions, communicated their intents and motives almost as much as the spoken word. The plot was amusing, the players talented, and Elizabeth laughed as much as any person there.
But after the intermission there chanced to be a rearrangement in their seating. A lady in the front row complained of a draft and nothing would do except for her to be accommodated elsewhere. She was part of a large group that all wanted to sit together. This, along with the discovery of a broken arm rest elsewhere in the section, made it necessary to reseat almost everyone in that area of the theater. At length the Gardiner party found themselves separated, each couple now in a different row. Jane and Bingley were closest to the front, where the light was better and everything was easy to see. Their aunt and uncle were a row behind them. But Elizabeth and Darcy were last of all, near the back, and had to strain to see the stage.
As soon as the curtain went up on the second act Elizabeth gave up all hope of understanding what was happening. The players were too far away; her view was too obscured by other people. And the main character, Florindo, broke into a stylized, poetic soliloquy to woo his love, Rosaura. The elaborate language was beyond Elizabeth’s rudimentary skills in Italian, and she sighed in disappointment as she sat back in her seat.
Darcy took in the situation at once. Leaning towards her in the dark he brought his head to her level, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb the other patrons. “Florindo is telling his love that her beauty is beyond his ability to describe,” he said quietly, almost in a whisper. “He is speechless in her presence. and his heart beats passionately for her alone. He asks, how can she be so cruel, to deny his desire?” There was a pause while Florindo spoke again, and then Darcy translated, “How long must I exist in my uncertainty? Your face is like the sun in the sky, ever shining, but never pouring its warmth upon me.” Another pause. “Your name is a silver bell in my heart, and when it rings, I hear . . . “
Elizabeth expected to hear Darcy finish the sentence with, “Rosaura,” but instead she felt his breath against her ear as he whispered, “Elizabeth . . . Elizabeth.”
She should not have been surprised, and yet she was. She turned her head to look at Darcy and was instantly caught by his eyes, so close to hers. Even in the darkness she could see the tenderness in them. They were so intense that she could not bear to look at them, yet could not bear to look away.
“Elizabeth,” Darcy whispered again, and this time Elizabeth felt a soft touch on her cheek, light as a feather. She closed her eyes as he brought his face closer to hers. “Sweetest Elizabeth.” He touched her lips gently with his.
So there it is! Don’t you just love a dashing, romantic Darcy? If you want to read more, head over to darcyandlizzy.com to get the full story in progress!