It is a truth universally acknowledged that readers and writers are obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. Since Sybil G. Brinton’s 1913 Old Friends and New Fancies, the first original Jane Austen-inspired novel, there have been thousands of prequels, sequels, and variations penned by those who wish to never let the characters quietly rest in literary heaven. Next up for our praise or censure is Unmarriageable, a retelling set in Pakistan in 2000 by Soniah Kamal. Never one to suffer Austen renovators gladly, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.
Over the years I have read and reviewed many P&P inspired books containing a variety of themes including: zombie bedlam, religious conversion, S&M and slash fiction. There have also been some retellings that I really enjoyed, yet I yearned for the full story retold in a fresh and reverent light. It’s the Holy Grail of Austen fandom. Could moving the story to Pakistan at the turn of the twenty-first century be the opportunity to explore southern Asian culture infused with Jane Austen’s story of reproof and redemption? If so, it would be catnip to Janeites!
Unmarriageable’s premise and opening chapters were immediately promising. Kamal had converted Austen’s characters into clever doppelgangers of her Regency equivalents: the Bennet family became the Binats with sisters Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia becoming Jenazba, Alysba, Marizba, Qittyara, and Lady respectively. After being introduced to the Bennet family, whose financial and social position had fallen subsequent to a scandal that destroyed their fortune, the anticipation of meeting Mr. Darcy, now transformed into Mr. Darsee (snort), was quenched by the modern interpretation exhibiting all of the noble mien of the original—rich, proud, and dishy. ZING! Continue reading
We were very pleased when a novel inspired by Jane Austen’s fourth daughter in Pride and Prejudice crossed our path. What Kitty Did Next is a continuation, as such, of one of the five Bennet sisters after the close of the classic novel, whose heroine Elizabeth receives most of the praise from her father and a marriage to Mr. Darcy of Pembeley in the end. Her younger sister Catherine on the other hand, or Kitty as she is called by her family, only earns put-downs and threats from her father after her involvement in her younger sister Lydia’s infamous elopement with Mr. Wickham. Accused of being silly and ignorant, what could Kitty do to regain her family’s trust, raise her self-esteem and make herself marriageable? From the title of the book, my expectations were high. How would Kablean turn the floundering duckling of Longbourn into a swan?
Much of the anticipation for the reader is generated by Kitty’s past behavior in Pride and Prejudice. For those who have not read the original, Kablean gives us ample background and character backstory.
Kitty, meanwhile, was just Kitty. A docile child, she had trailed after her adored eldest sisters but they, like many older siblings, had not delighted in her presence and had sent her off to play with the younger ones. Only sickness and prolonged periods of enforced rest had brought Jane, and occasionally Elizabeth, to her bedside, and when she had fully recovered her health Lydia had so far inserted herself as her mother’s favourite that it had seemed obvious that she should follow in her younger sister’s wake and share all the delights and comforts bestowed upon her. Neither commanding nor being the centre of attention, Kitty had become more adept at observing than doing and, until the events of the previous year, had not questioned this order of things. Chapter 6
Of the five Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the most unlikely of heroines. Priggish, sanctimonious, and unattractive, her prospects for a happy life were bleak. In Mary B., debut novelist Katherine Chen chooses to give Mary her own story – delving into her young, awkward life with her family at Longbourn, her early attempts at romantic attachments, and ultimately her escape to her sister’s home at Pemberley where she discovers an unknown talent, and that men can be interested in women for more than their reputed beauty and handsome dowry.
In Part I of the novel, Chen has paralleled Jane Austen’s narrative in Pride and Prejudice with a glimpse of a prequel to the Bennet sisters’ childhood. We see young Mary, awkward and introverted in comparison to her older sisters Jane and Elizabeth, and the brunt of abuse by her two younger siblings Kitty and Lydia. As the reader we are as hurt and confused as our heroine and it is not an enjoyable experience. As the story continues, those who have read Pride and Prejudice will recognize the plot as it picks up at the beginning of Austen’s famous tale. Through Mary’s eyes we experience the arrival of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy in the Meryton neighborhood, the ball at Netherfield Park and the visit to the family home by the Bennet’s odious cousin Mr. Collins. Infatuated with the silly man, Mary throws herself at him and then watches as he chooses her sister Lizzy as the “companion of his future life.” Adding insult to injury, after her sister rejects his proposal of marriage Mr. Collins does not even think of her as an alternative, marrying their neighbor Charlotte Lucas instead. Continue reading
From the desk of Tracy Hickman:
Lady Susan is my favorite of Jane Austen’s minor works. A scheming widow who also happens to be “the most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan Vernon is intelligent, attractive, and unscrupulous, agreeing with her immoral friend Alicia Johnson that “Facts are such horrid things!” (256) Her letters to Alicia detail her plans to snare wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter Frederica, while causing pain and suffering to those she deems detestable. As she includes her own daughter in this camp, calling her a “stupid girl,” she has no qualms in forcing Frederica to marry a decidedly silly man with a large fortune. Lady Susan is a terrible person, but a wonderful character. While the novella lacks the depth of later works, it is a wickedly funny short story in epistolary form; its tone is reminiscent of the snarky comments found in many of Austen’s letters.
Who better to capture Austen’s witty social commentary than filmmaker and writer Whit Stillman? His first film, Metropolitan, was one of my favorites from the 1990s, but I confess that I didn’t catch its similarities to Mansfield Park until many years later. Now Stillman has written a companion piece to his latest film Love & Friendship in straight narrative form. He introduces a new character to the story: Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, Lady Susan’s nephew. Rufus has penned his “true narrative of false-witness” to expose Austen’s supposed hatchet job on his aunt. His loyalties are made clear with the novel’s subtitle, “In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated (Concerning the Beautiful Lady Susan Vernon, Her Cunning Daughter & the Strange Antagonism of the DeCourcy Family).”
Readers familiar with Austen’s Lady Susan will notice an inversion of good and evil from the outset. Rufus has dedicated his novel to none other than the Prince of Wales, mimicking Austen’s dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent, but in a much more effusively toad-eating style. After two knowing winks from Stillman in two pages: consider yourself warned. Rufus is the quintessential unreliable narrator, writing his rebuttal of Austen’s version of events from debtors prison in Clerkenwell in 1858. The vindication of his maligned aunt, riddled with inconsistencies and bizarre logic, is peppered with tirades on a range of subjects: history, theology, and grammar. These make for some of the funniest passages in the novel. Continue reading
From the desk of Christina Boyd:
As a fan of the Being Jane Austen Mystery series, I have been all anticipation for the latest edition, Jane and the Waterloo Map. Author Stephanie Barron knows her Austen lore, as well as a being a masterful storyteller and researcher; writing in a most Austen-like style. She is also The Incomparable when it comes to Regency mysteries. Given that disclaimer, and holding the series in much esteem, I feel quite at liberty to share my impressions herein.
The novel opens with our dear Miss Austen attending her sick brother Henry at his London residence while editing the proofs of her latest novel, Emma, for her publisher John Murray. Summoned to Carlton House, the opulent London mansion of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, Jane meets his toady Historiographer, Mr. James Stanier Clarke, who not only arrogantly invites her to use the Royal Library to write her next novel, but welcomes her to dedicate her work-in-progress to the Prince Regent himself. As she holds the prince and his profligate ways in contempt, Jane cautiously makes no commitment and politely continues on with the tour. Upon reaching the library, they come upon a Colonel MacFarland, hero of Waterloo, collapsed upon the floor in an apoplectic fit. As Mr. Clarke finds help, the colonel utters his last words to Jane, “Waterloo map.” After a curious inspection of the colonel’s vomit, Jane speculates that the colonel may have been poisoned. The next day, word reaches her that the colonel did succumb, and it is not long before the royal physician confirms that the hero of Waterloo was murdered. Thus begins the intrigue—and danger—for our clever authoress as she exposes whodunit in this thirteenth of Stephanie Barron’s mystery series. Continue reading
From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:
Open any of Jane Austen’s six completed novels and you’re guaranteed a moving story told with wit and insight, but what fan doesn’t wish Austen had time to complete more books. That’s why I treasure well done Austen-inspired fiction, so when I discovered Ann Mychal had written Brinshore, her second Austen themed book, I was full of hopeful anticipation. Mychal’s first novel, Emma and Elizabeth, is among my favorite adaptations. It completes Austen’s intriguing unfinished novel The Watsons by telling the story of two Watson sisters, Emma and Elizabeth, daughters of an impoverished clergyman. The girls were raised separately under very different conditions, but reunited when they were both young ladies. Brinshore continues the tale, this time focusing on their daughters Emma (named after her mother) and Anne, and it takes its inspiration from another of Austen’s novel fragments, Sanditon.
Cousins Emma Osborne and Anne Musgrave could not be more different in temperament. Emma is an outspoken girl, direct in her opinions in the mode of her Mr. Darcy-like father, Lord Osborne, while Anne is a gentler, nature-loving soul who goes into rhapsodies over a piece of seaweed. Neither girl has experienced the hardships of their mothers because both of those women married well. The novel opens in 1816 so the wars with Napoleon are over and Captain Charles Blake will soon be returning to their community, a circumstance that Emma awaits with much excitement.
The end of the wars also mean that people are ready to enjoy themselves more, and in that spirit the girls’ utterly practical, unromantic Aunt Harding (reminiscent of Charlotte Collins) shocks everyone with a big announcement. She’s decided to sell the Chichester house she shared with her now deceased husband to move to Brinshore, a tiny seashore town not far from Sanditon, and she’s inviting both her nieces to come stay with her. Anne is excited right away–the seashells she can collect! The tide pools she can sketch! But Emma is indifferent, she’d rather go to more fashionable Brighton, until she learns that Captain Blake will be spending time in nearby Sanditon. Continue reading
From the desk of Monica Perry:
Letter writing can be such a beautiful way to express oneself, to pour out feelings that are too difficult to say in person. It’s especially romantic when the writer is a passionate soul undercover, and desperately in love. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is just such a person. When we first meet him in Yours Forevermore, Darcy, he’s writing to Elizabeth Bennet, and not for the first time. Since the beginning of their acquaintance, he’s written letters to purge his feelings for her, the woman he wants but is convinced he can’t have. He never intends her to read them, of course; they’re just a cathartic release of emotion, a compulsive coping mechanism to clear his head and let him go on about his life. Now two months after she rejected his proposal, broke his heart and made him reevaluate his entire life, he vows to stop writing and focus on becoming a better man. Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the myriad tales it has inspired know that the beauty in the story of Darcy and Elizabeth is the personal growth each must undertake separately. In Yours Forevermore, Darcy, KaraLynne Mackrory gives readers insight into these journeys and shows how affecting the written word can be to both writer and reader.
Yours Forevermore, Darcy follows canon timeline of P&P fairly closely, with a few well-placed tweaks to keep it being too predictable. After his humiliating rejection, Darcy intends leaving Elizabeth behind him forever with, ironically, only a letter. It’s decidedly NOT his best work, as I now know, but is nevertheless important. She has little time to contemplate it then as, with all the perverseness of mischance, they find themselves together again and again. There’s a theme woven throughout, to describe their emotions, and I loved that. Comparing Darcy to the rich warmth of a cello definitely hit the right note with me! The amiability and humor of Colonel Fitzwilliam is the perfect buffer for them too, and there is more than one scene with him and Darcy that is just laugh out loud funny. Continue reading