One of the common characteristics in Jane Austen’s novels is the fact that heroes are not always present while the action develops. In all of her works, the leading man is absent, whether for short periods of time or even years, as is the case in Persuasion.
Thus, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth spend a substantial amount of time apart. The novel takes place over roughly a year, but the hero and heroine only happen to be in the same neighbourhood for about 12 weeks altogether. That’s less than 25% of the time covered in the novel!
Mr Darcy’s Absences
During the time they spend apart, the novel tells us about Elizabeth’s thoughts and happenings in great detail. However, I have always wondered what Darcy was up to when he is gone. Whatever happens to him has some significance, as it substantially changes his views.
My second novel in the Austeniana series, Miss Price’s Decision, looks at those absences and suggests what might have taken place. It is Susan Price’s story, but Mr Darcy is present on a number of occasions, which coincide precisely with the time he spends away from Elizabeth. Let’s recap the key moments.
Elizabeth and Darcy’s First Encounter
Darcy and Elizabeth meet in October at the Meryton ball. It is not an auspicious start, but there is a spark between the two, particularly after Elizabeth spends around a week in Netherfield tending to unwell Jane. Nevertheless, Darcy, Bingley and the rest of the Netherfield party leave for London just a few days later, at the end of November.
Elizabeth does not see Darcy again until four months later, when she goes to Kent to visit Charlotte, towards the end of March, and Darcy arrives as guest of Lady Catherine. What might Darcy have been up to? We know that towards the end of March he is at Rosings. Presumably, even if he stayed in Pemberley for a substantial amount of time after Christmas, he would have stopped over in London at some point on his journey south. This is when he makes his first appearance in Miss Price’s Decision.
The First Proposal
We all know what happens in Kent. Less than three weeks after arriving in Rosings, Darcy makes his catastrophic first proposal, only to leave immediately for London. Again, we have a longish period of separation, roughly another four months.
How might Mr Darcy have felt after his rejected offer of marriage? Angry and humiliated at first, no doubt about it, but his fury would have mellowed after a few weeks and turned to despair. That’s how we see Mr Darcy in a subsequent section of Miss Price’s Decision: he is as distant as ever, but clearly a broken man.
In early August, Elizabeth visits Pemberley and meets Darcy once more. The chance encounter is a happy event, also because Mr Darcy’s attitude towards Elizabeth is much changed. In Miss Price’s Decision, we get a glimpse of what might have contributed to this shift.
Up north things are looking promising, until the letter about the news of Lydia’s elopement arrives. Elizabeth and Darcy only get four days together this time. She leaves for Longbourn at once, and he goes to London immediately afterwards.
The Search for Lydia
In August, Mr Darcy is in London, looking for Wickham and Lydia, and he again makes an appearance in my novel. It would have been unusual for a gentleman like him to be in town around that time of year instead of his (or a friend’s) country estate.
Not only that. Darcy specifically goes to East London, where he is present at Wickham and Lydia’s wedding. Anyone coming across him would have been fairly surprised to see him there. His attitude would have been very different as well: his determination would have been obvious, for he was a man on a mission, albeit a secret one.
Elizabeth and Darcy do not meet again until mid-September, when he and Bingley call on the Bennets in Longbourn. We have a feeling that things might work out in the end, but once more he leaves for London at the end of the month.
He is absent for about a week, and what a week it must have been! He knows that he wants Elizabeth, and yet he must have doubted at times whether proposing again was a good idea. What if she rejected him a second time? So something happens during that short week that gives him that final bit of encouragement to return to Netherfield and give us the ending we have all been waiting for.
Filling the Gaps
I have really enjoyed writing Miss Price’s Decision and putting together these pieces of the puzzle. For those of you keen to know my take on Mr Darcy’s absences in Pride and Prejudice, Miss Price’s Decision will come out in precisely one month, on 17 October.
Next month, I will share with you an extract from the novel. I can’t wait! In the meantime, here is the cover reveal. I hope you like it!
A Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice Variation
Pretty, talented and hungry for adventure, young Susan Price is secretly thrilled when the poor health of Lady Bertram, her aunt and protector, forces a departure from sedate Mansfield Park. London and Bath offer a world of possibilities and new friendships, such as the Allens and Miss Moreland, or Mr Bingley and his mysterious friend, Mr Darcy. However, with momentous decisions on the horizon, new enemies that threaten her place in the Bertram household and an unexpected encounter from her Portsmouth past, will Susan’s self-belief and unlikely allies be enough to secure her happiness?