From the desk of Aia A. Hussein
The author of several Jane Austen adaptations, including Darcy’s Passions and Darcy’s Temptation among others, Regina Jeffers returns with the appropriately-timed release of Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Sequel. Historically situated in Regency England, before the holiday season evolved into its present monumental proportions, Jeffers’ novel attempts to capture the simple lessons of the holiday season of which she considers love, strong family ties, and generosity to be at its core.
Of course, as this book is about the holidays and as Lady Catherine de Bourgh is now technically Lizzy’s aunt, you can also expect family drama to be present in high doses as well.
In an attempt to provide some extra holiday cheer to Lizzy, who has been uncharacteristically subdued and morose after numerous miscarriages, Darcy secretly invites the Bennets and Bingleys to spend the holiday season at Pemberley. However, as he and Lizzy are on their way home to join the surprise gathering, a blizzard hits the English countryside which forces the couple to take shelter at a small inn. While they wait for an opportunity to return home, a Mr. and Mrs. Joseph arrive in need of a place to stay and Lizzy becomes anxious for the very pregnant Mrs. Joseph. It turns out Lizzy’s anxiety is spot-on as a long and painful labor quickly ensues and Lizzy is the only one able and willing to provide help.
Meanwhile, at Pemberley, Georgiana is left alone to tend to her brother’s guests and finds herself in the unenviable task of opening Pemberley’s doors to eleven unscheduled visitors – one of whom is the formidable Lady Catherine – who are all seeking shelter from the surprise storm. Determined to shed her childhood fears of incompetence and helplessness, Georgiana tries desperately to manage the large party but Lady Catherine’s bitter resentment of the Bennets for their so-called pollution of the shades of Pemberley, the surprise return of Colonel Fitzwilliam from the American front who awakens unexpected feelings in Georgiana, Caroline Bingley’s infatuation with a mysterious American who makes everyone uncomfortable (except for Mrs. Bennet, of course, who is enamored of his talk of wealth and importance and throws Kitty in his path whenever possible), and a host of other entanglements threaten to plunge Pemberley into holiday chaos.
One of the advantages to writing sequels to beloved classics is the knowledge that your readers will automatically feel invested in your characters simply because they are familiar. There is something about familiarity, about knowing the back story to Darcy and Lizzy’s relationship for instance, that makes the reading experience seem so much more personal. We are willing to journey with these characters a little bit longer because we feel like we have a history with them. In many ways, this book is like catching up with old friends. That experience, in of itself, is usually enough for me to pick up a book like Jeffers’ novel. That being said, there is also the risk of inserting impressions and interpretations that may seem foreign or misplaced to the reader. The overtly religious tone of the novel, for example, is not something I would normally associate with an Austen reimagining and I found it a little surprising. Jeffers is not heavy-handed about it, nor is she judgmental, and it all results in a very thoughtful and contemplative novel about the nature of love, pain, and trust that anyone can appreciate.
One of the problems, however, with crossing a Regency-inspired novel with the sentimentality Christmas may inspire is that you run the risk of being too maudlin and, unfortunately, I did find the book to be a little too sweet for my taste. The structure of the novel is also a bit dizzying with the transitions to and from the multiple storylines not as smooth as I would have hoped. All that being said, however, the holiday season is usually when some readers crave sentimentality and, to that end, this is a satisfactory novel filled with familiar characters as they continue to overcome obstacles, find love, and remind each other of the true spirit of the holidays.
4 out of 5 stars
Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Sequel, by Regina Jeffers
Ulysses Press (2011)
Trade paperback (336) pages
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Cover image courtesy of Ulysses Press © 2011; text Aia A. Hussein © 2011, Austenprose.com