Monday 18 April 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Heiress: The Untold Life of Anne de Bourgh by Molly Greeley

Fictional Drama

A Pride and Prejudice Novel

As a fussy baby, Anne de Bourgh was prescribed laudanum to quiet her, and now the young woman must take the opium-heavy tincture every day. Growing up sheltered and confined, removed from sunshine and fresh air, the pale and overly slender Anne grew up with few companions except her cousins, including Fitzwilliam Darcy. Throughout their childhoods, it was understood that Darcy and Anne would marry and combine their vast estates of Pemberley and Rosings. But Darcy does not love Anne or want her. After her father dies unexpectedly, leaving her his vast fortune, Anne has a moment of clarity: what if her life of fragility and illness isn’t truly real? What if she could free herself from the medicine that clouds her sharp mind and leaves her body weak and lethargic? Might there be a better life without the medicine she has been told she cannot live without? In a frenzy of desperation, Anne discards her laudanum and flees to the London home of her cousin, Colonel John Fitzwilliam, who helps her through her painful recovery. Yet once she returns to health, new challenges await. Shy and utterly inexperienced, the wealthy heiress must forge a new identity for herself, learning to navigate a “season” in society and the complexities of love and passion. The once wan, passive Anne gives way to a braver woman with a keen edge—leading to a powerful reckoning with the domineering mother determined to control Anne’s fortune . . . and her life.”

Another Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen spin-off? Do we really need them? Well, probably yes because these forays into 'what if' speculation are very popular among Austenites. (Is that a word?) And I do admit, I am one among them.

Anne de Bourgh has always been a bit of a pathetic figure within the P & P genre. Readers either treat her with contempt or feel sorry for the poor, down-trodden girl. I’ve wavered between the two, and have often wondered about her situation. Was she content with being treated as an invalid? Smothered and coddled? Was she relieved that she no longer had to marry that proud Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy? Phew! Thank goodness for Miss Elizabeth Bennet who came along and saved her from a future life as a wife (and expectations to become a mother) that she did not want!

Or, perhaps she did want? Did poor Anne, like most of us, loathe her controlling mama?
I wonder, was Jane Austen dropping us, the reader, a powerful, but whispered, hint about the Georgian attitude towards sex in Pride and Prejudice? I’ve always wondered: the Bennets had quite a few children, so did the Gardiners, but Mr Darcy and Anne de Bourgh were only children – while their respective, presumably doting and best friends, mamas seemed to have not indulged in ‘that sort of thing’. Does this tell us something about their characters?

This entertaining novel explores some of the speculative questions. I cannot say that I agree with all of the author’s theories, but Ms Greeley makes a fair attempt at believably painting Anne’s life, and does it quite well. The pace was a little slow in places, but we meet some familiar characters in various situations, and are most adequately entertained.

Probably a must read for Austenites.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anne Holt
 e-version reviewed

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