"A delightful romp through Austen fandom."
Reviewed by Beth Reinker
Posted November 28, 2013
Jane Austen | Romance Contemporary | Romance
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and her work is more
popular than ever before. In her new novel UNDRESSING MR.
DARCY, Karen Doornebos has created a delightful romp
through Austen fandom.
Vanessa Roberts hates all things Jane Austen, but her
beloved Aunt Ella is a serious Janeite. When Aunt Ella asks
her for a favor, Vanessa can't refuse, and she finds
herself handling PR for Julian Chancellor's new book while
he is visiting Chicago for the Jane Austen Society of North
Julian spent a year living as
Austen's beloved hero Mr. Darcy, and he wrote a book about
it. He plans to use the proceeds from the book to save his
family's historic estate. He is publicizing the book at
Austen festivals with a unique lecture titled "Undressing
Mr. Darcy." During the talk, he disrobes down to his
drawers, discussing each article of clothing and its
significance to Regency culture. It goes without saying
that his lecture is a hit with the ladies at the
Vanessa begins working with Julian to promote
his book via social media, and his popularity skyrockets.
As Vanessa spends more time with Julian, her anti-Austen
sentiment changes. Soon, she's buying a bonnet and
scurrying around Bath on a Jane Austen scavenger hunt to
get to see Julian again. Her workaholic ways become a thing
of the past. Suddenly, Vanessa's life is filled with
adventures with her new Janeite friends and a warm
flirtation with her high school acquaintance Chase, a
unique man who dresses up as a pirate in his spare time.
The cast of Janeite characters are charming and genuinely
interesting. Doornebos includes an abundance of Austen
quotes and trivia, which enrich the story. The only
negative aspect of the story is how unwilling Vanessa is to
see what is right in front of her. It becomes frustrating
to watch her continue to jeopardize her happiness, but she
remains a charming heroine who the reader wants to be
Filled with witty humor and quirky characters,
UNDRESSING MR. DARCY is a story that Austen fans will savor.
Taking it off in the name of historyâ€¦
Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa
Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So
when her elderly Jane Austenâ€“centric aunt needs her to take
on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very
private man from England whoâ€™s written a book called My
Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But sheâ€™s not
â€śexcessively diverted,â€ť as Jane Austen would say.
Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of
her e-reader, coffee, and smartphoneâ€¦
â€¦Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his
Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational â€śstripteaseâ€ť down
to his drawers to promote his book and help save his
crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly
realizes things have gottenâ€¦personal. But can this
old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS?
It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip
to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate
re-enactor to find outâ€¦
ExcerptMr. Darcy's plane landed forty-five minutes late.
Vanessa, with coffee in hand and an earbud in one ear,
steered her aunt in the airport wheelchair toward the throng
of people gathered at the international arrivals area of
She leaned over her auntâ€™s shoulder. "How are we doing,
Dowager Countess of the local Jane Austen Society?"
Aunt Ella turned and smiled. She eagerly awaited Mr. Darcy,
a.k.a. Julian Chancellor, from England. He was her honored
guest and a keynote speaker for the Jane Austen Society of
North Americaâ€™s annual conference.
He'd written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, with a
quill pen no less, detailing how he'd spent a year living as
if he were a Regency gentleman, and accepted the invitation
to speak and promote his book at the conference. He and her
aunt had been corresponding via handwritten letters for
months now and had become such good friends that sheâ€™d
invited him to stay, as academics often do, in her condo.
But even a week with a Mr. Darcy clone couldnâ€™t change her
auntâ€™s status to healthy. Even he couldn't delete a dementia
Still, from the perspective of Aunt Ella's red-framed
reading glasses, Julian's arrival couldn't be topped even if
it were a visit from a royal. Sheâ€™d had his September
arrival date circled on her Austen calendar for months.
Vanessaâ€™s aunt, who had done so much for her and now faced
dementia, considered this conference her final legacy to the
literary society she had founded with a few other women and
a teapot full of Earl Grey back in the 1970s. Now more than
six hundred professors, scholars, and young, Web-savvy
Austen enthusiasts the world over were coming to the
conferenceâ€”the last one to be held in Chicago for at least
fifteen years. Vanessa wanted this whole thing to be
white-tablecloth perfect and as festive as the Queen's
Jubilee. She needed all the iâ€™s dotted and not a single tea
crossed. That wasnâ€™t too much to ask, was it?
A magazine slid from Aunt Ella's houndstooth-skirted lap and
Vanessa stopped to pick it up. The cover story title read:
"Pottery Shards Prove Jane Austen Never Lived the
Upper-Crust Life." A photo of blue and white china plates,
broken apart, with pieces missing, topped the page. She
could almost hear the clatter of the china as she handed the
magazine back to her aunt, and the sharp, jagged edges of
the shards gave her a chill. They reminded her of fragile
hearts and fragmented . . . minds.
"Excuse me," she said with a wiggly smile, while people
darted all around, and sometimes into, the two women. Her
seventy-nine-year-old aunt didnâ€™t need the wheelchair, but
it did make it easier for them both, if only people could
successfully text while walking!
#Grrr, she thought, but didnâ€™t post. Posting would only
bother her aunt.
When the Austen Society board had asked Vanessa to take on
the public relations work for Julian, she'd said yes as a
favor to her aunt and declined pay in order to help the
cause. Since she ran her own boutique PR agency, she figured
this would be a straightforward pro bono job. Sheâ€™d already
laid the groundworkâ€”in fact, sheâ€™d planted an entire English
gardenâ€”to ensure his success.
She'd treated him as one of her top-tier clients and plugged
everything into her online calendars, complete with alerts
and reminders. Sheâ€™d established his online presence, since
he had surprisingly little of that; generated thousands of
followers across all the social networks for him; and lined
up newspaper and radio interviews, book signings, and even
another major appearance. Now all she had to do was escort
him around Chicago, drive him to Kentucky for the Jane
Austen Festival, do the real-time social networking, grab
photos of him to post, film his events for uploading to
various websites, hope something would go viral, and boom.
Heâ€™d be back in England reaping the book sales benefits and
Aunt Ella would be pleased with her nieceâ€™s crowning
She nudged the wheelchair to the front of the cordoned-off
crowd, right behind the rope, and pulled out the sign sheâ€™d
printed. It did double duty as a PR stunt while letting
Julian know where they
were in the crowd, since he wasnâ€™t the texting type. The
LOOKING FOR OUR . . .
A young woman standing next to her read the sign. "Are you
twoâ€”waiting for Mr. Darcy? The Mr. Darcy?"
Vanessa knew better than to wait for Mr. Darcy . . . or any
After her latest relationship #fail she had determined she
wouldn't meet her next boyfriend in a bar or in a train car
or in a house or with a mouse. Sheâ€™d signed up for eBelieve,
an online matchmaking service. Now she had many potentially
perfect menâ€™s messages filling up her in-box, all of them
sharing her interests and goals, all in her age range, and
each geographically desirableâ€”but she had yet to find the
time to reply to any of them.
Statistically, one in five relationships began online. What
better way, really, to get matched with someone these days?
It made complete sense to her, especially after surviving
this past summer, also known as yet-another-wedding-season,
when, if she hadnâ€™t been invited in person, sheâ€™d endured
the wedding photos and videos splashed all over her formerly
single friendsâ€™ social media. How many wedding gowns,
bouquets, and kissing-at-the-altar images could a single
girl take? And if they werenâ€™t wedding pix, they were baby
Online. That was how it would happen for her.
Oh, she eBelieved.
She reached into her overstuffed but completely organized
bag for a promotional postcard to give the young woman. "His
name is Julian Chancellor and heâ€™s the author of the book
My Year as Mr. Darcy. Proceeds from his book will
help save his historic family estate from demolition."
It was all very Downton Abbey of himâ€”she knew this
because she had absorbed some of the BBC miniseries from
behind her laptop as her aunt watched on Sunday nights. He
wanted to save his family home and had written the book to
raise awareness and garner donations to restore the place.
Aunt Ella nodded toward the young woman. "He is very much
talked of in England for his foray into the life of a
gentleman. His publisher paid for his flight over to the
States, and we're all hoping his book is a raging success on
this side of the pond. Itâ€™s for a good cause, you see."
Vanessa handed the woman the postcard. "You can follow him
on all the social networking sites. And to help promote his
book and generate donations for his estate heâ€™ll be doing a
show called Undressing Mr. Darcyâ€”"
Vanessa now had the attention of several people in the
crowd, and the womanâ€™s green eyes flickered.
Sex sells, even to smart, liberated women, and Mr. Darcy was
the smart girlâ€™s pinup boy.
"Undressing?" she asked.
"Yes, he gives a little historical background on his
Regency-era clothing as he proceeds to take it offâ€”down to
his drawers." Vanessa smiled.
"I'm in," the woman said as she looked at the postcard.
Nobody, it seemed, was above watching Mr. Darcy remove his
cravat, breeches, and boots all in the name of history.
A few others in the crowd turned their heads and Vanessa
handed them postcards, too. Jane Austen fans, she had
learned from her target-market research, were everywhere,
including online. They made Austen one of the most popular,
if not the most popular, dead authors on social media, and
they fueled a marketing bonanza for Austen-inspired
merchandise. Just searching for "Jane Austen" plus â€śgiftsâ€ť
on the Internet yielded more than six million hits. These
modern Janeites were well educated, often professors and
lawyers; they preferred cats over dogs, tea over coffee;
they enjoyed opera; and many played the piano.
Her aunt played the piano, too, only now she needed her
"Vanessa, you and your electronics! Must you keep that
wretched thing in your ear?"
Sheâ€™d forgotten all about her earbud, and she lifted a hand
to take it out, but a text beeped on her phone from a client
just as her aunt spokeâ€”
Aunt Ella continued, "Did I tell you I saw your old friend
Lexi on the conference attendee list? She's getting her
masterâ€™s in history, specializing in sex during the Regency
Vanessa almost dropped her phone, although none of this
surprised her. The name dredged up feelings almost as
unwelcome as being left for yet another "sleepover" at her
aunt's condo when she was thirteen, her parents separated
and her mom heading out on a date. That little girl sported
a backpack on her back, clutched her favorite blanket, and
stared into Aunt Ella's glass curio cabinet at antique
teacups and a framed silhouette of a woman she came to know
as Jane Austen.
Lexi was no more her friend than she was the typical Austen
fan. Vanessa needed to switch up her mindset and turned to
her phone, where she tapped on another one of her charity
clients' social media pages: the Cat's Meow, an urban cat
shelter. She flipped through this weekâ€™s pictures of cats
and kittens. She liked cats and kittens. That much she did
have in common with Austen lovers. The cat shelter proved to
be her favorite client and they didnâ€™t even pay her.
Still, she couldn't scratch out the name: Lexi. She turned
her attention back to her aunt. But the young woman and Aunt
Ella werenâ€™t looking at her. They were beaming at a tall,
dangerously good-looking man on the other side of the rope
wearing a formfitting Regency tailcoat, cravat, buff
breeches, and black riding boots. He had an antique,
leather-bound book tucked under his arm and didnâ€™t carry
suitcases but toted old leather trunksâ€”leather trunks on a
wheeled cart? A tumble of black hair spilled onto his forehead.
How could he look so much better in person than in his
author photo? She made a mental note to update that shotâ€”it
would increase their crowds. Pleased with his looks (for
marketing purposes, of course), Vanessa cleared her throat,
as if to clear her mind.
He wore his Mr. Darcy garb on the plane? Then she found
herself trying not to notice the slight tug of his breeches,
the snug way they fit himâ€”
Huh? He was a client, after all, regardless of whether he
was paying her or not.
Even if he had been a prospect, she preferred a man in a
well-tailored Italian suit or blue jeans and a button-down
shirt, didnâ€™t she? What woman, at thirty-five years old,
with a condo, her own business, family ties, and a thing for
modern American amenities, would consider a man from another
continentâ€”not to mention the nineteenth century? She didnâ€™t
And, letâ€™s face it, Mr. Darcy's skill setâ€”chiefly, diving
into a pond in his shirtsleevesâ€”would get him nowhere in
todayâ€™s job market.
"Miss Ella Morgan and Miss Vanessa Roberts, I presume?" he
asked in a bass-range voice that needed no emoticons to get
attention. Then he bowed.
He was none other than a very official-looking Mr. Darcy. On
the big-screen TV above him, a bomb exploded on the news,
and when Vanessa tucked her long brown hair behind her ear,
her earbud popped right out.
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