Cover of The Ballad of Gregoire DarcyThe Ballad of Gregoire Darcy by Marsha Altman. Ulysses Press (May 10, 2011). ISBN: 978-1-56975-937-0. Pages 424 plus Bibliography and Acknowledgement. Trade Paperback. $14.95 (Amazon: $10.91 / Kindle: $9.99).

Previous books in the series: The Darcys & the Bingleys: A Tale of Two Gentlemen’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters (Sourcebooks); The Plight of the Darcy Brothers: A Tale of The Darcys and the Bingleys (Sourcebooks); and Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape (Sourcebooks).

With The Ballad of Grégoire Darcy, Marsha Altman has changed publishers — however, the writing and story crafting are as well executed as ever. This book moves forward the lives of Jane Austen’s original characters as well as those that have been added over the last three books. Since the end of Pride and Prejudice, children have been born to Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, Charlotte and Mr. Collins, Carolyn Bingley and her husband Dr. Maddox, Mary Bennet, and to Lydia and Wickham and also to Lydia’s new husband. The children now are of an age to be looking forward to going away for the education (if they are boys) and to be finished if they are girls.

The world is changing rapidly and the society that Austen wrote about, while still in existence, is being changed by the rise of the middle class and the movement to gain government funding for public education. This book is purportedly about Grégoire Darcy, though it also moves between the lives of the other characters — the changes in Grégoire’s life impacts others as they have an impact on his life. The first change was when Darcy made him promise to stop whipping himself and found him a place in a Benedictine cloister where Darcy believed he’d be safe.

Grégoire has devoted his life to the church. Now-a-days there are many ways of serving — of helping to make the world a better place — but in this age the church, as it had been for many many years, was the first such thought for those who wanted to dedicate their lives to a higher good. The problem for Grégoire is that his desire is not politically motivated but from a deep commitment to God and his religion. It’s his desire to help that leads him to use his funds to help those in need within the range of his abbey. When the church learns of his funds, they punish him for hiding it from them and demand he turn control over to the church, which he cannot do for Darcy can deny the church access. His punishment nearly causes his death — which moves the bishop to want to declare Grégoire a saint. Meanwhile, Grégoire’s abbot is trying desperately to find a way to save him from this fate, for the abbot comes from a family highly placed in the church and he knows the political maneuvering that goes on in Rome. Luckily, Grégoire is rescued from this conflict of interests because Darcy, worried when he hadn’t heard from his brother, sends a trusted family member to check on him. Grégoire is returned to England — near death and excommunicated from the church — and into the care of Dr. Maddox.

It’s from this point that Grégoire struggles to understand what has happened to him and how to reconcile his beliefs and his desire to serve God to the facts of his excommunication. He now questions everything and feels that he has no compass to guide him. Meanwhile other family members are also having their own problems.

Altman manages to move from one part of the story to another and to weave together a coherent tale of the duties, joys, sorrows, and importance of family using the various threads to explore the variations on a theme. When a continuation of the Pride and Prejudice story grows through the addition of characters and a second generation, the author usually narrows the focus of the books to a single story line and will then follow with bringing another character up through the same time period. Altman manages to balance the narrative by time-slicing — moving in order between the various plot lines to bring them all to some conclusion by the end of the book. This is great news for the reader for you don’t have to wonder what is happening to one group while reading about another — you just need to keep reading and you’ll find out. On the other hand, it’s a difficult task for a writer to balance the narrative between plot lines and to keep it all coherent with smooth transitions for the reader. Marsha Altman gets an excellent grade for this — though I can’t help wondering if with the increase in family she’ll be able to do this much longer.

However she does the next book, I know that I will read it. I will most likely enjoy it. And, I’m already looking forward to it. She’s managed to keep the integrity of the original characters and allow them to grow and change with the times while telling interesting and historically relevant stories. Who could ask for more?

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Mr. Darcy's Great Escape book coverA Contest: The Sourcebooks, the publisher of Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, is willing to support a giveaway for the US and Canadian readers of this interview. Leave a comment on the post and I will chose a random comment author on Sunday February 7th. I’ll contact the winner to get their snail mail address. Winner will receive one set of three books in the Darcys and Bingleys series).

Marsha Altman continues the story of The Darcys and the Bingleys in Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, bringing us to 1812. This is book three of the series following The Darcys and the Bingleys and The Plight of the Darcy Brothers. The books are a delight, continuing the lives of some of literature favorite characters Elizabeth Bennet Darcy and Fitzwilliam Darcy. One reviewer said that “that [these books] would please even Jane Austen.” The more I read about Austen’s wit and humor, the more I do believe that she would appreciate Marsha Altman’s continuation of the story.

It may be Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape but you gave the women a very big role this time. Just how much fun was it to pair up the unlikely duo of Elizabeth and Caroline?

Marsha: A lot of fun, but also a little tricky. Even though nine years have passed since the events of Pride and Prejudice, these women still haven’t completely warmed to each other. Elizabeth is still witty and stubborn, and Caroline has to retain a certain edge to her for her to remain Caroline Bingley, even if she’s now Caroline Maddox. It’s not my attempt to make these characters unrecognizable, even if they do evolve significantly as they go through milestones in their lives, particularly marriage and children. Nor was it appropriate to have them constantly sniping at each other, because their journey was very serious. So I had to find a kind of balance there. Darcy and Dr. Maddox actually have more time to bicker, because they have few ways to pass the time while they’re waiting to be rescued.

So much of this resonated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula only without the vampires but with all the Gothic scariness. There’s even a ninja. Did you intend such a homage? Or am I just seeing a connection you didn’t intend?

Marsha: Just a straight-out correction here: There are two vampires in this story. The book just never says it outright, but the hints are hidden in the details. They reappear in other literature I’ve written that’s not Pride and Prejudice related and is either going to be published soon or I’m hoping will sell later this year. And there are no ninjas, only samurai (book 8 has ninjas).

The homage is entirely intentional, but more for the reader than the characters. To them, Transylvania is a place they’ve never heard of and can’t locate on a map before this story begins, except within the context of Brian Maddox having mentioned it was in Austria somewhere in the previous book. Let’s remember that Dracula by Bram Stoker wasn’t published until 1897, and that book was the formation of the modern vampire legend and its association with Transylvania, whereas previously the legends about vampires were less centralized to a place and more nebulous. Vlad the Impaler, on whom Dracula the character is supposedly based, was actually from Wallachia, not Transylvania, and his legend wasn’t widespread until the book was published. So the name “Transylvania” wouldn’t strike instant fear into the hearts of people in 1812. It would be intimidating for being so far east, beyond the known and safe world of the European Continent even if it was technically part of the Austrian Empire at the time, because of its remoteness. The fear comes from leaving familiar Regency England and traveling into a dangerous backwater area, where the “other” is the real scare, not the supernatural.
Nonetheless I chose Transylvania because it has an instant connotation for my audience, and it does have a wealthy historical tradition of folklore to draw from in the scenes that use it. When you’re in a mysterious place, it’s an easy step to be drawn into the foreboding local tales that might surround it, so it’s a simple jump from “scary count who kills people” to “vampires, witches, and warlocks.”

I should remark that this isn’t totally fair to Romanian history. Transylvania had plenty of European, cosmopolitan nobles who had encountered the Enlightenment and were beyond this nonsense (there’s one in the book), but the villains are particularly backwards to heighten the experience.

It seems with each book that Mr. Darcy has to face some of his inner devils or at least learn to broaden his view of the world and the people in it. Do you enjoy tormenting him? Have you got much more torment in store for him?

Marsha: This is as bad as it ever gets for Darcy. Seriously, I let him off easy from here on. He’s better equipped to deal with strife that involves his family lineage in future books after his experiences in this book. This book was my attempt to stretch as far as I could my interpretation of Darcy. In many circles, there are two schools of thought to explain Darcy’s actions in Pride and Prejudice – either he made his mistakes because he was “proud” and then genuinely learned from his actions and changed his characters, or he was “shy” and misinterpreted, causing multiple misinterpretations on both ends that needed to get cleared up before the right people could get married. Austen provides fodder for both explanations: Mrs. Reynolds, on Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley, goes out of her way to proclaim that her master has always been good and kind to everyone, and Darcy admits at Rosings that he’s not good in making easy conversation with strangers, leading to the “shy” interpretation. Then you have Darcy at the end saying that he was spoiled as a child and expected only the best, leading to the “proud” interpretation. I’ve always sided with “shy” because it makes Darcy a better man – he’s not a jerk who reformed so much as someone who made bad decisions and then corrected them.

Today we have a larger understanding of people who are uncomfortable around other people, myself being one of them, and don’t have an easy time making new friendships or retaining old ones. For people like this, parties full of strangers can feel like living hell. In extreme examples, you have Social Anxiety Disorder, where people can actually develop shortness of breath in the presence of too many people, and you have medication for it. I don’t believe that these problems didn’t exist in the past, they just weren’t acknowledged or understood. I am not, for the record, diagnosing Darcy with SAD (his symptoms don’t match), but pushed to the edge as he is in this book, the darker side of whatever makes him an unsocial person comes out in full force, and coupled with a genetic predisposition you have a serious problem on your hands that tests not just him but everyone around him. It’s a pretty radical interpretation of Darcy, but I like doing new things.

It appears that Gregoire may be learning to relax a bit. You’ve taken all the characters in new directions that wouldn’t have been expected just one book ago. But, it all feels so consistent with their growth. Can you tell us in some very general terms what we might have to look forward to in future volumes?

Marsha: G-d willing, this series will keep being published by my benevolent publisher Sourcebooks, and the next book will be mostly concerned with Grégoire, and his spiritual evolution after some events force him to return to England. Grégoire is like his half-sister Georgiana in that he believes in the good in everyone, but he’s a Darcy, so that makes him stubborn as hell about the way he wants to live his life, even if it seems in direct conflict with the way a modern person (in Regency terms) should live their life. In the fourth book you also have the emerging characters of the children. George Wickham (the third), Darcy’s half-nephew, is old enough to be in University, and Geoffrey Darcy is about to leave for Eton, and Georgiana Bingley is getting ready to enter society, so the shape of their characters as adults is starting to emerge, and the parents have to take a greater hand in trying to guide them into adulthood, where potential fortune or disaster awaits depending on their behavior. When they’re little kids, you can kind of let them run around and occasionally give them instruction, but the stakes become much higher much faster in their teenage years.

The fifth book, which a lot of my readers on the internet feel is the best book so far (nobody’s had a chance to weigh in on the last book and the Velociraptor-related ending), is the one where most of the children have entered society or are about to do so, and they become instrumental to the conflict and resolution in the story. There are still a lot of young kids running around, but the main cast of the next generation has emerged as players, sometimes to their parents’ disapproval. I didn’t want to write a series where BOOM! the kids are all adults trying to get married and the adults haven’t changed except that they have more gray hair and wear glasses. Books skip ahead a few years to key events, but the evolution is steady and somewhat mapped. Nobody ever stops evolving, because people are always growing, even in their later years.

What’s been the biggest surprise about response to your series?

Marsha: That people who have not read Pride and Prejudice have read it and enjoyed it. My parents re-watched the movie and that helped them out. I really should have included a summary of Pride and Prejudice in an introduction to the first book.

Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape—in stores February 2010

    Hilarious and action-packed, this installment brings the Darcy and Bingley families to the year 1812 and the intrigues of the Napoleonic Wars. Darcy and Dr. Maddox go in search of Darcy’s missing half-brother and land in a medieval prison cell.

    Much to his dismay, Charles Bingley is left to hold the fort at Pemberley while his sister Caroline, Elizabeth, and Col. Fitzwilliam traverse Europe on a daring rescue. Meanwhile, Lady Catherine de Bourgh kicks up a truly shocking scandal. One never knows what might happen next between the estates of Rosings and Pemberley.

Marsha AltmanABOUT THE AUTHOR:

    Marsha Altman is a historian specializing in Rabbinic literature in late antiquity, and an author. She is also an expert on Jane Austen sequels, having read nearly every single one that’s been written, whether published or unpublished. She has worked in the publishing industry with a literary agency and is writing a series continuing the story of the Darcys and the Bingleys. She lives in New York.

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Mr. Darcy's Great EscapeMarsha Altman continues the story of The Darcys and the Bingleys in Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, bringing us to 1812. This is book three of the series following The Darcys and the Bingleys and The Plight of the Darcy Brothers. While the lives of the major characters have continued since Pride and Prejudice, Altman has remained true to the character of each person and yet allowed them to grow and change, not to mention beginning a new generation of Darcys and Bingleys.

The book opens as the entire clan gathers at Netherfield, which Mr. Bennet has had to rent, for Kitty’s wedding. It’s an occasion that allows the reader to catch up on the growth that has taken place and refresh their memories of the previous books. It also sets up the relationships between the characters and their families, so what happens later in the story fits into these new and expanding friendships and family connections.

Once past the confused chaos and joy of the wedding, we’re hit with incident after incident with little quiet time to relax until the end of the book. That’s not to say the book is episodic or has gaps that make the story jerky — it’s just much more of an action adventure thriller than the sedately paced story most readers would expect from a Pride and Prejudice follow on. In fact, I don’t think any of Altman’s books are quite what you’d expect, but they are nevertheless some of the best follow on stories to Pride and Prejudice that I’ve read to date. Each volume is filled with humor, quirky happenings, incidents that will have you laughing right out loud, as well as scenes that will catch at your heart and put a tear in your eye.

You probably wonder why I’m not getting to what the book is about, well, it’s a book that brings a lot of characters together in way that you would not expect, doing things you probably would never have thought possible. Lady Catherine de Bourgh finally invites the Darcys to Rosings and of course she has ulterior motives that in themselves bring on some especially trying and unexpected consequences. Dr. Maddox’s brother Brian has invited him to visit with him and his wife in Transylvania. It’s a strange letter and Dr. Maddox feels he must not just respond but take the journey to find out for himself what is going on. Darcy has lost contact with his brother, Gregoire. The war is heating up in Europe and many of the monasteries are being disbanded. Concerned that traveling alone could be dangerous, Darcy and Dr. Maddox decide to travel together. When their wives receive notes that make them suspect that something is going on, Elizabeth and Caroline put aside their differences and set out on a mission to discover what has happened to their husbands.   Bingley and Jane, of course, need to stay behind and watch over all the children, related businesses and establishments. I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine who had the worse part of this adventure.

There are plenty of incidents that occur in England and in Europe and Altman manages to keep us informed on what is happening to each of these various groups: Darcy and Maddox; Elizabeth and Caroline; Gregoire; the Bingleys, and the Fitzwilliams. Just as in life, it’s complicated, but once you begin you just can’t put the book down. I ended up reading it through four times preparing for this review because if I opened it to look up something, I ended up rereading it. In fact, I’m about one third of the way through again.

So don’t waste any time, Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape should be available from Amazon and from wherever you usually buy your books. But don’t start reading until Friday night because you’ll want to finish it in one go and start over again to savor the humor, the adventure, and the pleasure of spending time with the Darcys and the Bingleys.

NOTE: Tomorrow’s post will be an interview with Marsha Altman about Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape and other books planned for the series. Please check back for the interview and to enter a contest to win a set of all three of the books that have been published in this series so far.

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Marsha Altman was gracious enough to make A Curious Statistical Anomaly a stop on her Blog Tour and talk about her newest book, The Plight of the Darcy Brothers. We’ll be giving away 1 set of Marsha’s two books: The Darcy’s and the Bingleys and The Plight of the Darcy Brothers (must have a mailing address in the US or Canada). I will pick a random person who as posted a comment on this blog post as the winner. Winner will be chosen on August 19th.

Marsha AltmanI’m the author of The Plight of the Darcy Brothers, a sequel to The Darcys and the Bingleys, which is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. And it is a series; book 3 (Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape) is due out in Feb 2010. Gayle asked me to talk about the problems of remaining true to the original characters once I’m beyond the scope of the original Austen book, and in book 2, about four years have passed since the wedding, other people are married too, and there are kids. I would say I’m pretty past the scope.

The real answer, as I see it, is that there is no way to remain true to the original characters because there is no one set of “original characters.” Every person who reads Pride and Prejudice comes away with a different impression of how the characters acted and how they would like them to act in a sequel. I have my own interpretation; at times it’s wild and at times it’s pretty straightforward. As an author, my job is to make it presentable, so even if the reader doesn’t agree with it, the reader is at least willing to accept it.

Cover of The Plight of the Darcy BrothersA prime example is the first book, which got a lot of criticism for having Darcy be a lush and therefore the butt of several jokes while in college. I didn’t think making Darcy a lush was at all negative to his character. You work up a tolerance for alcohol by drinking a lot, and Regency gentlemen drank more than a lot. The idea that Darcy has a lower tolerance means that he is very conservative in his alcohol consumption, perhaps fearing that a slovenly image would harm his family name (which is so clearly important to him in Austen’s work), and as a result he doesn’t have much of a tolerance compared to his peers, so when he does drink, he gets very drunk quickly. Since Darcy lives on his high horse, his college friends (and Wickham, of course) take any advantage they can get to knock him off it. In other words, he’s so virtuous that people enjoy seeing him knocked down a peg, albeit in a friendly way. I felt it was an amusing way to soften Darcy, but some readers didn’t agree, as Darcy is not supposed to be ridiculous. I can see their point, but it’s the story I wanted to write, so I wrote it.

Much less controversial methods of maintaining a tone involve simply expanding a character, keeping the old ideas in place but implying there are other facets of a character’s personality we haven’t seen before. Bingley is still overly sweet and has bad handwriting, and knows his judgment when it comes to assessing relationships can be flawed, something he learned in Pride and Prejudice, which is why he went to Darcy for help vetting Caroline Bingley’s suitor in my first book. On the other hand I felt no need to make him a complete idiot. His father was massively successful in trade, so Bingley is good with numbers and languages. He’s not experienced running an estate but he’s a fast learner. Caroline and Louisa show the same qualities; Caroline’s knowledge of Italian was what put her so constantly in Dr. Maddox’s presence that she married him. In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley was a snob, obsessed with fashion, stature, and putting other people down. Adding intelligence doesn’t contradict that. Even after she marries someone arguably below her station (though he was born well above her station), she maintains a certain edge absent in Jane and even Elizabeth. The important thing is that it isn’t directed at her husband and doesn’t bother him, and being married and settled predictably makes her a bit softer, as most of her cattiness in Austen’s work was due to trying to woo Darcy and shun Elizabeth, something she no longer has to do.

I’m supposed to end these guest blog posts with a question to start a discussion pertaining to my novel, but as this is the last stop on my blog tour, so I’ll ask this instead: Chicken or fish?

About the Author

Marsha Altman is a historian specializing in Rabbinic literature in late antiquity, and an author. She is also an expert on Jane Austen sequels, having read nearly every single one that’s been written, whether published or unpublished. She has worked in the publishing industry with a literary agency and is writing a series continuing the story of the Darcys and the Bingleys. She lives in New York.

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Cover of The Plight of the Darcy BrothersThe Plight of the Darcy Brothers begins several months after the ending of The Darcys & the Bingleys. Elizabeth has miscarried. She and Darcy are devastated but they have their son, Geoffrey, who is very much like his father, and they are assured that there will be more children.

Starting with such sadness, you’d expect this book to be much darker than its predecessor, but there is hope. Jane and Bingley live nearby and the visits are frequent. Elizabeth begins to come out of her depression. Even Mrs. Bennet surprises us with her common sense advice — who knew she had it in her.

Then a mysterious letter comes from Mary Bennet who has been studying in Paris, asking Jane to come to her in Brighton. It’s mysterious because it’s not like Mary to be so uninformative and secretive. Jane, of course, asks Elizabeth to come with her. When they arrive at the Fitzwilliams’ home, Mary isn’t there. They don’t know where she is staying or how to find her. But then Mary shows up and breaks her bad news. Jane and Elizabeth, while shocked to their core, immediately offer Mary all the assistance they can and the trio sets off for Chatton, Jane’s home.

The entire family gets involved and begins to come up with a plan to save Mary’s reputation. Someone must take charge and we all know that someone will be Darcy. He’d been looking for a way to help Elizabeth get over the loss of her child and the journey they must take would be the perfect opportunity. Also, it seems from Mrs. Reynolds that there is also some unfinished business of his father’s in France. Hopefully, they can handle it and Mary’s problem at the same time.

Cover of The Darcys and the Bingleys...While The Darcys & the Bingleys, took us from the marriage at the end of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to the two couples settling down and adapting to married life, The Plight of the Darcy Brothers moves us into unknown territory. Many sequels to Pride and Prejudice move us beyond the wedding, Altman manages to do so by adding additional characters and by allowing the characters to grow and change in accordance with the events that have happened to them since the wedding. Yet, she is still working with the characters that we have grown to love — she doesn’t deviate from the integrity and moral values that Austen imbued them with in her work. However, they’ve moved on–grown. Kitty and Georgiana have become friends with the result that Kitty is more calm and responsible and Georgiana is less shy. Caroline Bingley has found happiness with Dr. Maddox and lives in London.

This story, while about Mary, has Mary only as the driving force of the plot and mostly off the page. It’s Darcy and Elizabeth that take center stage. They are trying to save Mary’s reputation and, by extension, Kitty’s. They make some new friends and find some unexpected allies and family along the way.

Altman manages to move between the story lines — Darcy and Elizabeth in Europe and Bingley and Jane and the rest of the Bennets in Chatton, and Caroline and Dr. Maddox in London — deftly. As with the first book there is humor, always apt, sometimes silly but always fitting to the occasion and circumstances and, if we’re honest, resonating with our own lives. There are also some moments of extreme poignancy that actually brought tears to my eyes (even on rereading the book a second and then a third time).

Altman manages to stay true to the original characters, tell a whopping good story, make us laugh and cry in all the right places, and make us want to read it again and again. It’s that ability that makes her follow-ons to Pride and Prejudice, ones that we will impatiently await like the coming of a new season.

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Cover of The Plight of the Darcy Brothers...If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a wicked (in the New England use of the term) fan of Jane Austen’s works and avidly read and review many of the the books written by others to continue the story of the characters that Austen breathed life into.

On August 1st, Sourcebooks is releasing The Plight of the Darcy Brothers: A tale of the Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman. I reviewed her first book, The Darcys & the Bingleys: A Tale of Two Gentlemen’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters earlier this year. I’ll be posting a review of this new book this weekend, but first I’ve got some exciting news — can you tell I’m trying to build up the excitement?

Marsha Altman is going to be doing a blog tour to talk about her book. This is the list of sites where she’ll be talking about The Plight of the Darcy Brothers: A tale of the Darcys & the Bingleys:

July 23: Jane Austen Today
July 24: Fresh Fiction
July 28 J. Kaye’s Book Blog
July 29: This Book For Free
July 30: Debbie’s World
July 31: Grace’s Book Blog
August 3: Jenny Loves to Read
August 4: Stephanie’s Written World
August 5: A Bibliophile’s Bookshelf
August 10: Everything Victorian
August 12: A Curious Statistical Anomaly

So, if you enjoy Jane Austen, her books, her characters, and the world she allows us to peer into, you might consider checking out Marsha Altman’s blog tour. Check out my review of her first book, then check back for my review of this new book. I’ve enjoyed her take on these wonderful characters and her ability to maintain their integrity and personality while allowing them to grow and change as they live their lives within her world.

[Hyperion:] Gayle’s being a bit understated again.  Look at the August 12th blog listing, then look up a the title of the one you’re currently reading.  Take a second … okay …  now do you see why she’s excited?

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