An Affectionate Heart by Heather Moll is one of those novels that I thought about immediately rereading as soon as I finished it. It’s a fresh take on Pride and Prejudice that mostly takes place in Meryton. There are so many passages I wanted to linger over, yet I also wanted to find out what happened next, so I frequently moved along too quickly to savor everything I wished to. There is tragedy and loss, but there is also romance, light teasing and banter, long walks, secrets, misunderstandings, and oh, so much that appeals to me about this novel.
Elizabeth as the poor relation
This P&P variation involves lots of changes to the original story, the most important of which is that Mr. Darcy comes to Hertfordshire not with the Bingleys but with his sister, and they’re leasing Netherfield Lodge, an old gatehouse, not the great house at Netherfield Park. Another important difference is that Mr. Bennet has died of a heart attack, and Mr. Collins and Mary Bennet are now married and preside over Longbourn, and not at all generously. Nearly all of Elizabeth’s sisters are married, but she is left moving between one relative’s household and another. Because her uncle and aunt Gardiner are on a long trip to the Canadas for business reasons, she’s stuck moving between households where the company puts her under a great deal of discomfort regarding her status as a poor spinster relation, in spite of her being only twenty-one. At Jane’s home in London, it’s Jane’s mother-in-law Mrs. Cuthbert who is a mean-spirited, constant irritation, doing everything she can to make Elizabeth feel shame and distress over her reduced status.
Darcy has a secret
When Lizzy has to return to Longbourn, things are even worse, and her own health has become a worry. She fears her life will never be happy again, and may in fact be rather short. When she happens to meet the man who is renting Netherfield Lodge, about whom there are terrible rumors circulating, Mr. Darcy seems as unpleasant as he’s rumored to be. But the next time they meet, at a party at Lucas Lodge, he seems to take an interest in her conversations, especially when she talks of her recent time in London. Then he shows great concern for her when he comes upon her during a spell of sickness. When she asks him about his eavesdropping, he explains that his sister is an invalid and lonely, and he wants to bring her interesting bits of news of fashion and society. After this, Lizzy goes out of her way to offer her kindness to Miss Darcy.
The story is told from both Elizabeth’s and Mr. Darcy’s points of view, and it’s an incredibly touching story. Highly recommended.