We begin ominously, with a preface. In it, Berdoll quotes some of Charlotte Bronte’s criticism of Austen, about ignoring the Passions and the Throbbings. Berdoll then continues by saying that Bronte is correct. Austen wrote of what she knew: she never married, and her life was more or less entirely without romance. Thus, all of her novels end with the wedding ceremony. Technically true, but when you’re writing a novel about courtship and young women attempting to get married and secure their financial future, along with finding a suitable husband, there is very little left to write about after they get married. Berdoll, however, is mostly referring to what she really wants to hear about:
What throbs fast and full, what the blood rushes through, is denied her unforgettable characters, and therefore, us.
Penises. Her characters are denied penises, and therefore we are also denied penises. A delightful image to start off, and we haven’t even cracked the first chapter.
But the throbbing that we first encounter is not the cry of a passionate heart. Another part of her anatomy is grieving Elizabeth Bennet Darcy.
Make that two delightful images.
The Darcys ride along in a coach. Darcy offers Elizabeth a pillow, being aware of how much her nether regions are paining her. Having evidently ruptured the hymen shortly before, the jarring of the coach is uncomfortable. While I don’t really want to know this, the offer is sweet. Darcy is evidently concerned for Elizabeth and wants her to be as comfortable as possible. Elizabeth, however, refuses because it would be “a blatant admission of conjugal congress”. Well, the sheets are probably bloody. And you’re newlyweds, so everyone around knows exactly what you’ve been doing. Not to mention that they’re in a coach by themselves. Who, exactly, is going to see what’s going on?
Elizabeth thinks about the past few days, using plenty of words that I have to keep checking the dictionary for their actual meaning. Oddly enough, I rarely had this problem while reading P&P itself. In the course of a page we learn that after their engagement, Darcy started calling her Elizabeth. Then, last night, he whispered “Lizzy” into her ear. And suddenly, this morning he’s calling her Mrs. Darcy – not just in front of others, but in private. She doesn’t know why, is upset, and chooses to sit there silently. He remains silent as well. So our newlyweds aren’t speaking to each other. Elizabeth strikes me as the type of person who would speak up about such things, possibly even poking fun at the perpetrator. Instead she sulks.
At lunch he returns to calling her Elizabeth. So just like that the problem’s solved. Instead of learning something about him or their relationship, the first few pages of this book are spent on an issue that doesn’t even exist.
They return to the carriage and she continues thinking about what might have caused this. The only thing weird that took place is that morning, when she decided not to take a bath. Because she didn’t want to wash her husband’s scent away. Never mind that she would be spending the entirety of the next day in a coach with him. That’s truly delightful. For one thing, sex is sweaty. And wet. And there is a smell that accompanies it. So after your wedding night, covered in the sweat of two people, and with certain areas of your body covered with other things, among them being blood, you decide against bathing, because you’re so in love with his scent that you don’t mind all the servants noticing you smell funny.
Later, Darcy admits the exact same thing to her. He couldn’t bear washing away her intoxicating bouquet. I think this scene is supposed to show us the depths of their love and passion for each other, but instead it just comes across as disgusting.
This book is off to a promising start.
We then skip back into their engagement. So apparently when Berdoll said in the preface that she was picking up where Jane Austen left off, she only meant for the first chapter.
Mrs. Bennet doesn’t bother telling her daughters to be….chaste. For whatever reason. Perhaps she trusts them. At any rate, Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley take long walks together, outdoors, each couple separated by a large distance from each other. On one of these strolls, there was a passionate kiss between Elizabeth and Darcy. Shortly afterward, it started raining and continues raining and for quite awhile the young lovers are confined indoors with their relatives, where this whole kissing business cannot continue. Elizabeth is annoyed by this. And also by the fact that Lydia Bennet Wickham is coming to visit.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s no reason for this whole three-names business. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia simply calls herself Mrs. Wickham. No extra name, no hyphen. I have no idea why Berdoll is doing this.
The omniscient narrator tells us that Lydia’s marriage is not a particularly happy one and has not been for some time. So she asks Wickham to return home to see her newly engaged sisters. Delighted at the prospect of having her several hundred miles away, he agrees at once.
Lydia thinks to herself. She realizes that both Elizabeth and Jane are now going to be a great deal richer than her. She’s poor, and figures that since her sisters will have more money than they know what to do with, they might as well share it out with her. Her plan for endearing herself to her sisters consists of informing them what they’ll encounter on their wedding nights, since their mother will not do this. Why this will endear her to them we’re not told, although it’s certainly possible that Lydia is just that clueless. We are then treated to a page of Lydia thinking about what an accomplished lover Wickham is. She knows this because he tells her so. Frequently. We get a nice little quote:
…she soon learnt there are only so many bodily orifices to penetrate…
Yes, and once you reach the ear canal, it’s time to stop, I guess.
Upon arriving at Longbourn, Lydia takes the first chance she gets to pull Elizabeth and Jane into a bedroom and have a nice sisterly chat, where she begins warning them about how their fiancés are men and subject to uncontrollable desires. The thought of this horrifies Jane, who, after living with her idiot of a sister for sixteen years and listening to her prattle on about nonsense, is now suddenly believing everything she hears. Lydia then explains what sex is all about:
“Your husband’s manly instrument will swell big and red and hard and angry and enormous…and when he first puts it up your nonny-nonny it will be with such force to render you prostrate with ecstasy and pain. […] It is a sweaty prospect. And his spendings are sticky. And his larydoodle does go limp with great dispatch after he has had his way with you.”
Some Googling tells me that larydoodle and nonny-nonny are, in fact, period euphemisms for the naughty bits, but that doesn’t help me take the preceding paragraph any more seriously.
Lydia goes on to explain that Wickham’s penis is much larger than most other men’s. Wickham told her this, which makes me wonder how Wickham is so knowledgeable as to other men’s penis size. And then Lydia has some more sisterly advice for Jane:
“…if you allow Mr. Bingley to kiss you too ardently, he will be aroused to such lust his loins will ache and his engorged lance will burst from his nether garments to ravish you!”
Lydia then leaves them to mull this over. Elizabeth doesn’t believe a word of it, while Jane sits in stunned and horrified silence. So, like the strong, self-assured person that she is, Elizabeth calmly tells Jane that Lydia is certainly exaggerating and at any rate Mr. Bingley is much more of a gentleman than Wickham, and so she has nothing to worry about. No, wait. Instead, she says nothing and leaves Jane to worry. What a wonderful sister she is.
Wickham’s life sucks. He wants to be in villages where there are whores, likker, and young gentlemen to gamble with. This village doesn’t have enough of them. He wonders why Darcy married Elizabeth. Then it occurs to him that since he is now Darcy’s brother-in-law, maybe he can get some of Darcy’s money. This is related to us over the course of six pages of very small-typed material, along with some backstory for those who haven’t read Pride and Prejudice. For some reason, it’s not very interesting. Then again, six pages of someone sitting and thinking about things that we already know or can easily guess rarely is.
That night, when Bingley and Darcy come over, Jane is horrified and shying away from her fiancé like she expects his penis to suddenly leap out and rape her – which means that this extremely unfunny scenario was the entire reason for Lydia’s talking to her sisters two chapters ago.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, is having a difficult time making sure “that her gaze would not alight upon that explicit bulge in the fork of his unhintables.” Now, I’m not exactly an expert on the female mind, but I have on good authority from several of my female acquaintances that they do not find penises, or men’s crotches, particularly attractive. There are number of body parts one could find attractive on Colin Firth. His face. His shoulders. His chest. His legs. Instead, Elizabeth (and by extension, Berdoll) is focusing all her attention on his codpiece.
Despite her rather odd obsession with Darcy’s anatomy, everything would have been just peachy if she didn’t slip up the next day and decide for no real reason to bite his lower lip when he kisses her. For some reason, this turns him on, and they proceed to stand with their arms wrapped around each other making out before breaking free, slightly embarrassed and ashamed of each other.
I’m guessing this is supposed to show us how much Darcy and Elizabeth want to do each other.