Search This Blog

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest Abigail Reynolds: Honor, Duty and Marriage in the Regency

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Abigail Reynolds and her latest Pemberley Variation, Mr. Darcy's Undoing, in which Elizabeth accepts another marriage offer before Darcy can renew his attentions.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of Mr. Darcy's Undoing which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Abigail will select the winner. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winner within a week of selection, I will award the book to an alternate. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winner Abigail selected is Christine Bails! Congratulations, Christine, and thanks to all who came over.

Welcome, Abigail!

Abigail Reynolds:

The Regency period presents novelists with all sorts of lovely plot complications in terms of society rules, trying to strike a balance between keeping our heroines respectable and having them fall in love. My latest Pride & Prejudice variation, Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, hangs on a variant of that dilemma. Mr. Darcy wants to marry Elizabeth Bennet, but while she returns his sentiments quite passionately, she has a broken engagement in her past, and this makes her an unsuitable bride for Mr. Darcy.

Unlike modern times when engagements are easily made and broken, Regency engagements were considered legally binding, and the wedding was just the church’s blessing on the legal contract of the engagement. While either party could cry off the engagement, there could be substantial repercussions to their reputations and, in the case of gentlemen, to their pocketbooks.

While keeping young women chaste was of crucial importance prior to engagement, the rules relaxed substantially afterwards. As long as an engaged couple was discreet, they could do pretty much whatever they liked, as can be witnessed by the number of healthy babies born five months after the wedding day. While that might engender a little talk, it wasn’t considered a serious matter as long as the couple had been publicly engaged. Unfortunately, this meant that a woman with a broken engagement was considered to be ruined, since her former betrothed could have made free with her charms to one extent or another. A man with a broken engagement would likely be considered unkind and something of a rake, but a woman with a broken engagement would deal with permanent repercussions and was unlikely ever to make a good marriage.

Jilted women did have one recourse apart from finding a man to defend their honor. A male relative could sue the man in question for breach of promise since the engagement was legally binding. Sometimes this would cause the gentleman to honor his commitment, though one has to wonder about how happy such a marriage would be. Unfortunately, the judgement against such a man was usually be a fine, rarely over 250 pounds, so a gentleman of means could choose to pay rather than honor his word, and 250 pounds wouldn’t go far to support a lady.

In Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, the situation is reversed, with Elizabeth choosing to end her earlier engagement after realizing that her heart lay elsewhere. Today this would open up the way for her to make a new marriage; then it turned her into a fallen woman, unsuitable to marry a gentleman. Elizabeth says as much to Mr. Darcy:

“Mr. Darcy, the rules for a woman in making a marriage are much like those at a dance. A woman may not choose her partner; she has only the right of refusal, and even that comes at a price. If she refuses to dance with a gentleman who has invited her, she must then refuse to dance with anyone else who asks, or be thought ill-bred and improper. When I chose to break my engagement, I did so with a very clear knowledge of the price I would pay. I knew it would mean I would be a scandal, that I would never marry, never have children of my own. It was not a decision I entered into lightly.”

There isn’t an easy way to solve problems like this. In my book, the HEA ending is reached by Darcy choosing to accept the loss in his social status that comes from marrying Elizabeth. Since he cared very little about his position in the ton, this was not a major sacrifice for him, though it would eventually have some impact upon their children.

A passionate new Pride and Prejudice variation explores the unthinkable—Elizabeth accepts the proposal of a childhood friend before she meets Darcy again. When their paths cross, the devastated Mr. Darcy must decide how far he'll go to win the woman he loves. How can a man who prides himself on his honor ask the woman he loves to do something scandalous? And how can Elizabeth accept a loveless marriage when Mr. Darcy holds the key to her heart? As they confront family opposition and the ill-will of scandal-mongers, will Elizabeth prove to be Mr. Darcy's undoing?

About the Author
Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing the Pride and Prejudice Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking "What if...?" She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit her website at


Karen H in NC said...

Hi Abigail,

You are a new-to-me author and it is a pleasure to meet you here today and to read a little about your work. You raised some points in your post today that I have thought about but never really considered the whys of the situations. I have always wondered why a Regency woman would be ruined because of a broken engagement. Now, finally the light of understanding dawns on me! Funny I never realized the why after reading tons of regency books! I guess I just needed to be led to the answer! LOL

I'm adding your website to my favorites and will be looking closer at yiour books.

Ranae Rose said...

Sounds like a great book. :)

contact [at] ranaerose [dot][com]

Chrisbails said...

This sounds like a great book. This is also a new author for me and would love to win and read this book. I love the character of Mr Darcy.
Thanks for the giveaway and the chance to win.

Alice Faye said...

I started reading Regency Romance back when there was only Barbara Cartland at my bookstore I used to haunt. I have not read any of your other books and look forward to loading your book into my nook. I too like Karen H. Never knew why a woman was considered ruined when she broke an engagement. It does explain a lot.

Alice Faye

Jennifer Ann Coffeen said...

Great post! It's wonderful how you used the social restrictions of the time to create your story's conflict. I'm excited to read this.

Delicious Romance From Cerise DeLand said...

Thank you for this post. Very informative and I am driven now to read the book!

catslady said...

As Karen said, I didn't realize the implications either. Thank goodness times have changed. I've recently discovered that there are even variations on P&P and have enjoyed quite a few. I just love all the what if's being answered and there seem to be so many. Such endless and wonderful possibilities and I look forward to yours.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

I love learning from posts like this--thank you!

Robin Haseltine said...

Terrific blog post that explains a lot about the scandal of a broken engagement. Sounds like a great book too!

Abigail Reynolds said...

Thanks for the great comments! It seems like very few people do understand about how a regency engagement differed from a modern one. That fear of broken engagements makes a lot more sense once you know.