Letters From Ramsgate is a Pride & Prejudice variation story that actually starts the variation before the original events of Austen’s tale and in so doing highlights new characters, new elements, and yet still has the flavor of pride, prejudice, and what I love about the original.
I think anyone can pick this up and enjoy it, but I do think that having a solid idea of the original story this is based on would do you one better.
Fitzwilliam Darcy has the co-guardianship of his younger sister twelve years his junior. He wants all the best things for her and realizes that she needs more guidance than her school and he, as a man, can give her to overcome her shyness and prepare to be launched into high society. He engages a confident yet warm woman, Mrs. Isobel Younge, to be Georgiana’s new companion and makes arrangements for the pair to enjoy a seaside holiday at Ramsgate while he takes care of business affairs.
Elizabeth Bennet joins her Aunt Gardiner to journey to Ramsgate so they can enjoy a seaside holiday while staying with her aunt’s childhood friend and in the process, Elizabeth meets Georgiana Darcy and the girls become friends. She is dismayed to learn that her young friend is entangled with a rake who Georgiana believes loves her and wants to marry her. Georgiana swears Elizabeth to secrecy so Elizabeth is forced to keep her promise while still warning Georgiana’s brother of what is occurring since the chaperone Mrs. Younge seems to be allowing the scheme of Wickham to happen. An anonymous letter is sent.
Darcy encounters Georgiana’s friend Elizabeth for the first time when they meet in her county of Hertfordshire in company with his friends the Bingleys and her family at an assembly. He is glad for her friendship and even learns to enjoy it for his own, but is disturbed by her lower connections so he must suppress the more tender feelings that grow and step back from further contact on his part.
As matters proceed, a terrible error in judgment leads to heartbreaking and terrible results for Darcy and Elizabeth so that what was unlikely between them now becomes impossible. It seems a hopeless matter, but strong friendship, love and forgiveness might be enough to restore what is broken.
Alright, as I said earlier, this one has the distinction of beginning in a place that is not more than a memory by the time Austen’s Pride & Prejudice begins. I loved getting the Ramsgate near scandal first hand and loved even more the focus on Mrs. Younge and Georgiana as well as the strong theme of friendship being the heart of it all. Wickham’s role made him more hateful than ever, but it’s somewhat chilling the way his powerful charm works on women.
The romance advanced slowly and tenderly based on that strong element of friendship. The author had the right touch that didn’t deliver an overly-sweet or too acrimonious build up, just relying on a major moment to deliver the conflict and angst. I appreciated that while there is a whiff of love triangle that it doesn’t actually go there- hearts are most decidedly still loyal even if heads are not.
There are actually several places in the story that I appreciated the author’s originality of plot whether it was a new place, a new character, or a subtle change to elements of the plot. I was allowed to see the connections to P&P while still getting a rather well done new variation.
Characters were well-crafted and had good connections to the plot and each other.
As much I enjoy a vitriolic Caro Bingley, a silly Mr. Collins, and a bossy Lady C, I was pleased that the conflict and focus was elsewhere. The best surprises for me were Colonel Fitzwilliam, Anne deBourgh, Lady Edwina, Mrs. Gardiner, and Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth has a serious rival in this one with Lady Amelia, the sweet and accomplished woman Darcy is considering for his bride.
The author wasn’t afraid to have the hero and heroine do a flip-flop when it comes to a big moment in the original P&P. The tempestuous proposal scene takes place in a reversal of sorts. Elizabeth’s decision to place loyalty to a friend by her silence over when the truth should come out is fateful, but Darcy jumps to conclusions in the process and is responsible for destroying his own happiness and that of others. I was somewhat taken aback by Darcy’s strong reaction which came out of the blue it seemed, but then again it was a needed moment for when he will break and grow in the ways needed. It was heartbreaking to read, but made for a strong finish in the end.
And lastly, the attention to historical detail, setting, and cultural norms of the time layered with the plot and characters made a strong story richer and more colorful for the reader. I now get the significance of the parosols on the cover and loved how this cover fits the story so well.
I have one word of caution to other readers. Pay attention to the dates that head each section because the time line can back up a bit with the change in narrators. This is not a complaint. In fact, I enjoyed the overlap that let me see an event from these diverse perspectives.
In summary, I found this a treasure of a story that tugged at the heart and kept me deeply engaged. I recommend it strongly to Austenesque lovers, but those who enjoy sweet historical romance would probably adore it, as well.
My thanks to Meryton Press for this book in exchange for an honest review.