The whole Mr Darcy wet shirt thing: why ‘Becoming Mary’ isn’t about that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that Mr Darcy wet shirt thing. In fact I love it so much, here’s a photo of it.

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(hmm shirt is actually dry here, but never mind)

You know what, looking for that inspired me to post this one too – the “look of love” across the drawing-room at Pemberley

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(God I love that moment. Can’t actually count how many times I watched it.)

So yeh, I really loved the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, had a massive crush on Colin Firth, and he and Jennifer Ehle remain my preferred actors for Darcy and Elizabeth (having said that I loved Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen too and that whole film).

But. But. (Sorry back to the point….) I have also loved the book ever since it ruined my life when I was 13 years old. (Yes Jane Austen, thanks, thanks a bunch for ruining my life. I mean it. Ruined. Totally. Ruined.)

And like so many people out there, I really couldn’t bear that the book was over. So I decided I’d better write a sequel. I think  probably the only way for me to write is to write the book I want to read that I wish someone else had written. I still wish someone else had written it, dammit.

So back to the wet shirt thing. It is my contention that it is the wet shirt scene in the 1995 BBC adaptation of P and P that spawned the whole P and P sequel industry. Of which I have read and enjoyed much.

However, the book I wanted to write was less about sexual fantasies, enjoyable as they are, and more about what happens after “happily ever after”. When I was first thinking about it, I was in a cynical mood, probably at the tail end of one of my marriages, and I had mean thoughts about the Darcys, along the lines of ‘yeh, well, they may love each other now, but we’ll see what happens when the honeymoon period’s over’ etc etc. However, when I started to write, I realised that however much of a realist (read cynic) I am, I could not spoil the Darcys relationship, even in fiction. So that’s when the idea gradually came to me about how Mary might try to do so, seeing as she suffers from the same envy and bitterness that I was feeling at the time.

I suppose I wanted to explore how Mary goes from that  state of envy and bitterness to something even more painful, a realisation of the cause of her own envy, the lack of love in her own life, and then a realisation of the horrible and potentially destructive thing she has done to disguise and relieve her feelings. It’s an age-old sequence: if you can’t have something, first of all pretend you didn’t want it anyway, and then try to ruin it for the people who do have it.  Ouch.

Sound vaguely familiar to anyone else?

Here’s a scene from near the end of the novel, when Mary is full of remorse and is discussing it with “someone”. Hopefully no spoilers.

I took a deep breath and spoke in a rush. “I have destroyed the marriage of Mr and Mrs Darcy!”

“Mary, no! How can you say so? If ever there were two people who loved each other and will love each for ever, it is your sister Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. They could not be more devoted.”

“I know, I know! They were! But you have observed, I know you have, the cold looks he has given her. I have done this; I have poisoned his ears with lies. At least, I did not know they were lies, but I have filled his head with slander and untruth about Lizzy, and now he does not love her any longer, and their lives are ruined and it is all my doing.”

I yielded to a burst of sobbing that lasted at least five minutes.

“But Mary,” Mr Someone said when I had calmed somewhat,  “if you were genuinely mistaken about these lies, then of course that will be understood. If someone has misled you, it is not your fault.”

“No! No! I was not misled! Nobody lied to me; it was my own imagination, my own black and distrustful mind that invented it all. And now my poor sister will never be happy again!”

“Oh dear, this is certainly all very terrible. But I know Darcy, have known him for years, and a fairer-minded man does not exist. He will not blame you for your errors, and he will certainly be reconciled with Mrs Darcy, if indeed they have become seriously estranged, which I beg leave to doubt.”

I shook my head. “I know you are trying to comfort me, but it has gone too far for forgiveness – and anyway, I do not wish to be forgiven. I do not deserve to be. I only hope they can find a way to recover, so that the damage I have done can be repaired.”

He took my hand and held it. “Well, Mary, I think you may be proved wrong, and you will find that these misunderstandings can be cleared up by such rational people as your sister and brother. Meanwhile, if they do cast you off and you need shelter, I have been told that old Mr Jackson’s grandson who works the bellows on a Sunday no longer wishes to do so, so there is a vacancy there for a strong young person such as yourself.”

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