Pemberley Shades: The Legend of the Lost Sequel

Sourcebooks, Inc has just re-issued the classic Pride and Prejudice sequel Pemberley Shades, by D. A. Bonavia-Hunt. Originally published in 1949, this valued and quite rare book is the first Pride and Prejudice sequel to continue the story after the marriage of our favorite couple, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy concluded in Jane Austen’s famous novel. The long road to reprinting Pemberley Shades has been a winding journey that I enjoyed researching. There are many people to thank for making this cherished sequel available again who I have attempted to credit. I offer my thanks and congratulations to everyone who had a hand in it. Well done. 

The Legend of the Lost Sequel 

Imagine walking into a bookstore and finding a novel by an unknown author that continued the story of a book written close to 200 years ago. Would you be tempted to purchase it? Now, what if that novel was based on the characters of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice ? No problem you say, and readily present your cash and carry it home. In turn, imagine that it is 1949 and you are without the benefit of years of memories of Mr. Darcy plunging into the Pemberley pond or rising like a god through the mist of a field to haunt you. Up until this point, there is only one Jane Austen sequel written, and most likely you have not heard of it. Your effortless purchase in 2008 now becomes pure impulse based on the cultural clout of Jane Austen’s name. That was exactly what author Dorothy Bonavia-Hunt and publishers Allan Wingate in London and E.P. Dutton of New York were banking on, and after nearly sixty years after its first publication, Pemberley Shades is still commanding our attention and selling in bookstores thanks to some very devoted Janeites. 

It is quite amazing to think that new ground was being forged here by Bonavia-Hunt nearly one hundred and thirty six years after Pride and Prejudice was first published. She was writing for genre that would not be realized by publishers and the public for another forty-five years with the publication of Pemberley: Pride and Prejudice Continued  by Emma Tennant. Not much is known about her personal life beyond the basic vital statics documented by her birth and death, and a few census records in England. Born Dorothy Alice Bonavia-Hunt in London in 1880, she was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman and was raised in a literary and musical environment. Her father was Rev. Henry George Bonavia-Hunt, who founded the Trinity College of Music in 1872 in London, and her mother the authoress Madeline Bonavia-Hunt. She had three siblings and her younger brother Noel Aubrey followed in his father’s footsteps as an ordained minister and noted authority of secular organ music. Like Jane Austen, she remained a spinster and lived with family most of her life, writing Pemberley Shades while living with her brother Noel when he was Vicar of St. Leonard’s Stagsden, Bedfordshire.

 

St. Leonard’s church, Stagsden, Bedfordshire, England where Dorothy
Bonavia-Hunt’s  brother Noel was vicar from 1937-1956

Pemberley Shades was first published in 1949 in England by Allan Wingate, London & E.P. Dutton, New York, each publisher creating their own cover art and text design. Interestingly the English version which depicts a bucolic country scene with Regency attired figures dominating the composition seems much more appealing today than the US edition which primarily focuses on the architectural prominence of the facade of a country manor house and secondarily on the small walking figures in the foreground. I find the focus of the two book covers amusing. The English publisher in postwar Britain appealing to the return to gentrified living in war torn England, and the US publisher stimulating desire in post war US to have gentrified living with a grand house! The book did have a second printing the same year by E.P. Dutton, so obviously, Americans were craving English culture and stories written about English classic novels. The popularity of the 1940 MGM movie Pride and Prejudice staring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier didn’t hurt its sales either! 

Two covers of Pemberley Shades. Left Allan Wingate, London
and right E.P. Dutton, New York (1949)

And so it was finally in print, sold and then faded away. For the next forty-four years there were no sequels written to Jane Austen’s novels. The BBC started its production of adaptations of Austen novels for television in the early 1970’s and interest began to slowly build again in her work. In 1977 Folcroft Library Editions (Folcroft, PA) re-printed Pemberley Shades duplicating the E.P. Dutton US edition. These editions were a private printing available for libraries to purchase, and as the years passed and libraries deaccessioned their collections, copies made their way into private hands. 

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy & Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet
 in the mini-series Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Twenty years later an event would acknowledge Jane Austen’s genius in a way that no one could have anticipated. The 1995 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice aired in the UK causing an immediate Austen explosion, which turned nuclear when it crossed the pond and aired in the US in 1996. Austen was now the darling of Hollywood making her boffo box office with the release of the Oscar nominated adaptation by Emma Thompson’s of Sense and Sensibility and Nick Dear’s interpretation of Persuasion. Renewed interest in Jane Austen now prompted a slew of authors ready to take on her characters with prequels, sequels, retellings, continuations and imaginings compounded by the advent of the personal computer and the Internet. This new informational highway had given rise to an appreciation of Austen with new websites such as The Republic of Pemberley devoted to her works, the movies, – and a new spin-off – the burgeoning genre of Jane Austen fan fiction found at sites like The Derbyshire Writers Guild

Enter Marsha Altman, author of the newly released Austen-esque novel The Darcys and the Bingleys, but at that time still a student at City College in New York. Enraptured by Joe Wright’s 2005 creative and earthy film interpretation of Pride and Prejudice, she begins writing fan fiction and publishing on-line. 

When I really started getting into Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, I decided to try and get my hands on almost every sequel out there, which included a lot that were out-of-print. There were two things that were just totally unavailable: Any of the Rebecca Ann Collins books, which were only published in Australia, and some legendary ancient sequel called Pemberley Shades that everyone who had seemed to love. Some used copies were floating on Amazon for $300 or so, which I thought was ridiculous. The most I’ve ever overpaid for a sequel is probably $40.   

Interestingly, the two authors that Ms. Altman had difficulty locating copies of their books, Dorothy Bonavia-Hunt and Rebecca Ann Collins are now available to everyone through the good folks at Sourcebooks. For the avid Jane Austen collector, there are first UK and American editions of Pemberley Shades available at Advance Book Exchange, but be prepared to pay dearly for them. After a failed attempt to locate a copy of Pemberley Shades through her own college library, Marsha did track down a copy. 

There was one other copy in New York City, at the New York Public Library reading room, which ironically is not a very good place to read for hours on end. You have to get about three different cards to get a book called up, and then you can’t take it out of the room. Clearly the only solution was to stand at the copy machine and photocopy the whole thing. The book nearly fell apart in my hands. I read it and loved it, and I wanted to make it available to everyone else. The problem was, if it was written between 1923 and 1950 (which it was), the author had 27 years after publication to renew the copyright and extend it, otherwise it had fallen into public domain and anyone could print it. I had absolutely no biographical information on the author. She was a woman and I eventually learned she was from England. I called E.P. Dutton, now a division of a larger publishing house, and they searched their records and couldn’t find anything about the book.  

Marsha then proceeded to investigate if the US copyright had been extended by the author or her heirs and came up empty deciding to self publish Pemberley Shades herself with her own publishing company Laughing Man Publications.  In 2007, the first books were produced carefully recreating as closely as she could the original format and design of the E.P. Dutton 1949 edition with a newly designed cover from the artwork tinted from the line drawings from the title page of the book. Thirty years after the Folcroft private printing in 1977, Pemberley Shades was now available again quickly selling out its first run, and is now in its second printing. 

In the end it was about circulation. I don’t think any literary work should disappear. The preservation of knowledge, however frivolous (and there are a lot more frivolous things than Jane Austen sequels), is a sacred part of the Jewish tradition in which I was raised. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming age of information technology, which is already terrific on how much is available to us, either for free or for relatively small fees. It’s an incredible time to be alive. 

And the final act of this saga is with Deb Werksmen, executive editor of Sourcebooks who chose to reprint Pemberley Shades and include it in their fall release of Austen-esque books, allowing for an even wider distribution. Quite an honor for a novel first published 59 years ago, lost to obscurity, resurrected by an Austen enthusiast and written by an Englishwoman who died never knowing that her novel would one day be respected and cherished. 

Further reading