A few days ago I received one of those notorious “edit memos.” That’s when an editor tells the writer everything that’s wrong with her books, sometimes with useful suggestions about what might fix these problems, sometimes with rather vague instructions like, “Tighten it up” or “You need to make this the best book you’ve ever written.” I’ve been fortunate enough to get very easy edit memos to date, including the one that only told me to change two references in the book, but my latest one is a little more challenging. I need to change the point of view. (Cue scary music)
Yes, the story that was primarily from Elizabeth’s point of view now has to be primarily from Darcy’s point of view. I tend to agree (apart from the part about having to rewrite the whole thing!). The rule of thumb on choosing point of view is to choose the person who has the most at stake during a particular scene, and in a story starting in Hunsford, that’s Darcy. Elizabeth is upset about Wickham and her family, but Darcy has lost the woman he loves.
First, my original version, from Elizabeth’s point of view:
Elizabeth raised herself on one arm and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She must have dreamed it. It was impossible that Mr. Darcy, of all people, would have offered her his hand in marriage. Mr. Darcy, proud, unpleasant, yet undeniably the most eligible gentleman she had ever met, who could even make a declaration of ardent love sound like an insult. It must have been a dream, or in truth, a nightmare.
But it had not been a dream. She only wished it had been. Scenes from the previous night flashed before her. Mr. Darcy, coming to the parsonage ostensibly to ask after her health, but actually to declare himself. His demeaning comments about her low connections, how marriage to her would be a degradation and how society would look down on him for it. On and on he had spoken, until she had finally lost all sense of decorum to anger, and told him he was the last man in the world she could ever be prevailed upon to marry.
She sat up and covered her face with her hands. Oh, she had lost her temper quite abominably! Of course, so had he, but that did not excuse it. And he might be a horrid man, but even horrid men deserved a tiny touch of compassion when being disappointed in love. She shook her head again. Mr. Darcy, in love with her? He had only ever looked at her to criticize!
Unable to bear her confused thoughts, she arose and drew the curtains open. The bright, sunny day seemed to mock her mood. Oh, heavens, she did not know whether to feel more humiliated or complimented. What would her mother say if she ever discovered that wealthy Mr. Darcy had proposed to her daughter — and she had refused? Elizabeth shuddered. Her mother would never forgive her.
She put on a good face for breakfast, which was easy enough since her cousin Mr. Collins was perfectly capable of maintaining a conversation by himself without the least input from anyone else. A few nods and murmurs of agreement were all it took. His wife, Charlotte, did not seem to notice anything was amiss with Elizabeth, but Elizabeth was relieved when breakfast ended.
And now Darcy’s point of view:
Had he missed her? This was the last path through the grove. If Darcy did not find Elizabeth here, then it was hopeless. Either she had already come and gone, or, more likely, she had never come to her favourite place at all for fear of meeting him. Perhaps he disgusted her so much that she could not bear the idea of even laying eyes upon him.
Her accusations from the previous night still echoed in his ears. He had expected her to be joyful when he proposed to her. What a fool he had been, not to realize that Elizabeth Bennet hated him. He must have looked a complete idiot, offering his heart and hand to a woman who detested him, who thought him devoid of every proper feeling. He would never forget her countenance as she told him that he was the last man in the world she could be prevailed upon to marry. She thought him selfish, immoral, and ungentlemanly; he, who any other woman would be honoured to marry!
He would never forgive her. He must have been bewitched, or he would have realized that Elizabeth was every bit as silly as her annoying mother. Did she not realize the advantages he could offer her? She would never have an offer from anyone remotely as eligible as him. She would live forever in that miserable excuse for a country town, when she might have been Mistress of Pemberley. It had been a narrow escape for him; Elizabeth could not have made it clearer that she could never manage the duties expected of his wife. So why did he not feel relieved? Why did he still feel as if he had lost something infinitely precious? He must still be bewitched.
A glimmer of white by the wall caught his eye. Suddenly heavy with foreboding, he recognized Elizabeth’s light figure, her back to him as she closed the garden gate behind her. Her face was shaded, and all he could see was the bobbing of her bonnet, but he would have recognized her gait anywhere. No other woman moved with that mesmerizing grace, like a hummingbird dipping its beak in the nectar of a ripe blossom, like a spirit come to earth to torment men’s souls. Despite everything, his body still ached for her.
He knew the instant that she saw him, for she became instantly still, as if rooted to the ground. An instant later, she began to retreat, as if hoping her presence had not been noticed, but he would not allow her to escape, not now. “Miss Bennet!” he called, forcing his feet to move in her direction, first one step, then another.
She stopped at the sound of his voice, but did not look up. She could have been a doe, poised on the brink of flight, held in check only by the gossamer threads of good manners. Now was his moment. He forced his feet to move, first one step, then another, till he stood so close to her that he could catch a whiff of her lavender scent. She stood, her gaze averted.
I’d have to agree that it comes out more dramatically from Darcy’s point of view. After all, he does have more at stake. Yet at the same time, Jane Austen chose Elizabeth’s point of view. She didn’t have the choice I do. Regency readers would have looked askance at the lady writing the part of a gentleman, and the women’s world was the one she knew, but anyone who doubts whether Jane Austen had the ability to write the point of view of a man in love need only look at Wentworth’s powerful letter to Anne in Persuasion. But what would she have done if she had the same freedom modern writers do? I wonder.