by Beau North
Back in March of 2020 I was given Beau North’s book The Colonel to review. It was a companion to her earlier published novel, Longbourn’s Songbird. At the time I hadn’t read the first book, but decided to review it anyway as The Colonel wasn’t exactly a sequel, as events in the novel take place before, during, and after Longbourn’s Songbird.
The Colonel, is set in America post WWII; and focuses on Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s cousin. The Colonel is an intense story spanning from the 1940s to the 2000s. It has drama, comedy, heartbreak, love, births, deaths, weddings, funerals, etc. The themes involve parenthood, family, trauma, biracial/bicultural romance, etc.; it is a meaty book. And I enjoyed every part of its emotional roller coaster.
Longbourn’s Songbird I had mixed feelings about. I enjoyed some parts of it, but others I didn’t like as much…let’s start at the beginning and when I get to the parts I didn’t enjoy as much, I’ll stop.
This novel takes place post World War II in the rural South of the United States. The Bennets are farmers who have an estate that is doing okay. Elizabeth had left for a while to pursue a singing career but returned home after she had her heart broken by her boyfriend, pre-fiancé.
Moving to her neighborhood is Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Caroline and the Hursts. Darcy is very interested in purchasing land in the area, primarily Mr. Bennet’s, and wants to move forward with his business. He ends up being stuck inside for three days due to heavy rain and finds himself in a foul mood on the day of a community party. When his best friend Bingley falls in love with another girl, (he had “fallen in love” not that long ago), Darcy tries to dissuade him against it and against trying to pair him up. Unfortunately to get Bingley to leave him alone he makes a very rude comment about Elizabeth which she overhears, Darcy’s reputation being sunk.
Mr. Wickham meets Elizabeth and sees how Mr. Darcy likes her, making it his mission to go after her just to stick it to Darcy.
In this retelling, Jane Bennet has diabetes; a condition that is always serious but especially in this time period. Darcy’s mother suffered from the same thing and died when giving birth to Georgiana. Darcy recognizes the signs and speaks to Jane about her feelings on Bingley. He asks her to think long and hard about her future with Charles and to talk to him before moving forward. He was coming from a place of love for his friend, but instead of discussing this with Charles it spooks Jane and she decides to refuse all attentions from Bingley.
As I’m sure most of you Janeites know, Darcy develops feelings and when he tries to tell Elizabeth she rejects him. He leaves Netherfield, a rejected Bingley leaves as well, along with Caroline and the Hursts. Left behind is a letter to Elizabeth explaining himself, apologizing, and warning her against Wickham.
The letter is written beautifully, I’m not sure how Elizabeth doesn’t fall for him then and there.
Leland Collins has come to town as well and is a very rude and controlling man. When his behavior extends to trying to discipline the younger Bennet girls, Collins is sent away, only to return as he is to marry Charlotte Lucas.
Meanwhile, Darcy and Bingley are both deposed missing their girls. Darcy finally fesses up what he did, but also why; and the boys are back in town to try and win over the hearts of the women they love.
Jane falls ill visiting the Bingley’s, as she forgot to take her insulin, and Darcy immediately recognizes what ails her. He goes to Longbourn and picks up Elizabeth, in such a hurry to save Jane the two end up in an accident. Not only do they save Jane, but the incident brings the two together; they quickly falling in love.
Charlotte turns out to be a lesbian, marrying Mr. Collins because she wants a family, her own home, and marriage is something that is expected of her growing up during that time period. Mr. Collins turns out to be a terribly abusive husband, which I knew was coming as I have read the second book. However, since writing that review I feel different about Mr. Collins, the more I reread Pride and Prejudice, the more I feel Mr. Collins gets a bad rap in modern adaptions and retelling. I mean he wasn’t right for Elizabeth and incredibly foolish, but he wasn’t terrible. However, reading North’s interview in the back of the book, she purposely wanted to bring awareness to domestic violence, especially domestic violence in this time period where there wasn’t as many resources or understanding. With that purpose in mind Mr. Collins is the character that makes the most sense to use in this plot as any other character it wouldn’t be as powerful or it would destroy a beloved character. Since we are discussing abuse, I do want to mention the following:
Are you suffering from domestic violence?
If you are in danger call 911, a local hotline, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.
- Learn more about the resources in your area from your state or U.S. territory coalition against domestic violence
- Learn more from other national service providers
- Learn more about internet and computer safety
- Learn more about the red flags of abuse
- Learn more about the forms of abuse
Now for the part I frankly did not care for. So Darcy and Elizabeth have fallen for each other and moving toward marriage, etc. Then at a party, Darcy’s cousin Richard Fitzwilliam shows up and it turns out he is the man who Elizabeth was in love with when she had left home.
Yes, this is where I run into issues with the book. This situation is too difficult for me, as I was raised you never date your ex’s family and you never date your family’s exes. It’s a struggle for me to want Elizabeth and Darcy together, because she was with his cousin. And not just his cousin, his cousin who is his best friend, like a brother to him, who has helped him raise his sister. Like, how can Darcy be with his cousin’s ex? How can Elizabeth not feel weird about coming between them. On my mother’s side (the Mexican side) I have a LOT of cousins, some of them I barely even know there is just so many; while some I’m super close to. But I couldn’t date anyone that I found out had dated my cousin, lived with my cousins, talked about having a future with my cousin, slept with my cousin, etc. It’s weird.
I mean I knew it was coming as I had read the second book, but Elizabeth and Richard’s relationship is not really talked about as much as it focuses more on his life separate to the events in this book. So while North is a good writer, I’m sorry I personally can not get past that. Like if Richard and Elizabeth went on a couple dates, it wouldn’t bother me so much but with the two being so close; I just can’t. I’m sorry it’s a trope I cannot handle.
Otherwise I thought the book was okay. I don’t agree with all of North’s choices in her story telling, but she is a very good writer and knows how to get you invested in her story; just watch out for the emotional roller coaster you’ll be on when reading.
For more Beau North, go to Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl Audiobook
For more Pride and Prejudice, go to Mr. Darcy’s Valentine
For more Pride and Prejudice adaptations, go to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: A Book-to-Table Classic by Martha Stewart
For more Jane Austen, go to The Making of Pride and Prejudice (1995)
For more on stories that take place post-World War II, go to The Colonel