“Upon my word,” said her ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?”
“With three younger sisters grown up,” replied Elizabeth smiling, “your ladyship can hardly expect me to own it.”
Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished at not receiving a direct answer; and Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence. Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 29
Win a copy of The Pemberley Chronicles!
Recently, Austenprose was sent a review copy of The Pemberley Chronicles written by Rebecca Ann Collins, a sequel based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Being unfamiliar with the series, we were astounded to learn that this is the first novel in a series of ten that were previously published in Australia between 1997- 2005. We were curious about the author, who we learned writes under a nom de plum. She kindly sent us her story that she had previously contributed to, Jane Austen: Antipodean Views, edited by Susannah Fullerton and Anne Harbers, for The Jane Austen Society of Australia, Sydney 2001.
Let it never be said that author Rebecca Ann Collins does not express her opinions decidedly, turning her displeasure of other Pride and Prejudice sequels into writing ten novels to suit her notion of what Miss Austen’s Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s future life was like together. Like Jane Austen’s character Lady Catherine de Bourgh, we were both intrigued and astonished by her decided opinions on the Jane Austen sequel industry. One of the benefits of writing anonymously is that you can say what you will, and she does! We offer a few responses, because, we must always have our share of the conversation.
“How I came to write The Pemberley Chronicles makes an interesting tale. The BBC’s magnificent TV production of Pride and Prejudice had just concluded in 1996 when I was given a video copy to which I soon became addicted. Having read the book many times, I enjoyed seeing Miss Austen’s witty masterpiece brought stunningly alive, perfect in every detail. (None of the productions before or since has had the same energy and polish.)
We heartily concur with Ms. Collins there! The recent ITV and BBC adaptations were ‘nice’, but did not match the “light, bright and sparkling” darling of Austen adaptations, the 1995 BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice.
“That Christmas, a well meaning niece presented me with two books- sequels to Pride and Prejudice by Emma Tennant titled, “Pemberley” and “An Unequal Marriage“. To my huge disappointment, I found that in these “sequels” Jane Austen’s beloved Elizabeth and her Mr. Darcy had been transformed into players in an American style soap opera – set in Regency England! Shallow, self-indulgent and often downright silly, they were quite unrecognisable. Their superficiality, lack of judgement and total disconnection from Miss Austen’s original characters so appalled me that I sent off an irate letter to the publisher and the Jane Austen Society of the UK.”
Having not read Ms. Tennant’s novels, we can not comment on the truth of their silliness, but we are aware of several other Pride and Prejudice sequels that would certainly qualify as being written in the style of an American soap opera, and even, dare we say, soft-porn! Others readers do too, and we were reminded of this amusing and tongue-in-cheek review on AustenBlog.
“But the more I fulminated, the more frustrated I became. It was in this context and with the encouragement of a literary friend whose judgement I respected, that I began work on The Pemberley Chronicles, which I saw as a means of extending the lives of Jane Austen’s own characters into the wider environment of nineteenth century England.”
Hell wath no fury like a woman scorned, or a Janeite who has had her Austen characters trifled with!
“I wanted to place them in the context of that most dynamic and interesting period of English history and observe them as they dealt with events in their own lives and the consequences of profound social, political and economic change. A sort of “Life after Meryton” exercise- if you will.”
Ms. Collins historical research is quite extensive. Even though Miss Austen concentrated on the microclimate of her characters country lives, and rarely mentioned their outside world, Ms. Collins’ novels delve beyond the Austen realm of working “on three or four families in a country village” and place the characters in full historical context. She has created a much wider environment evolving into the historical romance genre, similar to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series or Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck.
“I could not accept that after Waterloo, with change all around them transforming the lives of all the people in England, educated and intelligent men and women as Darcy and Elizabeth are shown to be in the original novel, would spend all their waking moments absorbed by the most superficial matters of fashion, romantic intrigue and gossip – before falling into bed again! Yet, that is exactly how they are portrayed in a rash of so- called “sequels, which have come thick and fast since the BBC made Pride and Prejudice and to a lesser degree Jane Austen – a cult! In some parts of the world sequel writing appears to have reached epidemic proportions – with no accounting for quality.”
When one looks at sequel authors and publishers, her mention of “some parts of the world” appears to be the USA. Being Americans, we’re not sure we appreciate the spirit of that remark. The cult of Austen sequels has certainly become a cottage industry, but Americans by no means have a monopoly on accountability of quantity and quality. We are a nation founded upon free speech and capitalism. We agree that sequel quality varies, but the appeal to readers is as diverse as Miss Austen’s characters in her novels.
“More recently, there have been attempts at bizarre distortions of character and increasingly improbable sexual adventures – to “spice-up” the reserve and dignity of Miss Austen’s characters – all of which serves to reveal an ignorance of the complex values and morés that underpin the world view of Jane Austen.”
We take the Jane Bennet approach to the whole business, and try to make them “all good”, until proven otherwise. We love the language and style of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, but the sales of author Linda Berdoll’s ‘Darcy‘ series would support that the majority of readers like silly and sexy in their sequels. The difference, in our minds, between a good sequel and a bad sequel is honesty, respect and loyalty to Miss Austen.
“Hers was not the world of Tom Jones or Vanity Fair; rather, her main characters in whom she invested a great deal of integrity and commitment, reflect the best of eighteenth century Augustan values. They were no less passionate or emotional for being imbued with a sense of dignity and decorum. Like Jane Austen, they valued reason, wit, and sound judgement in both public and private life. Those that did not – like Lydia and George Wickham, or Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford ( Mansfield Park ) were shown up for what they were. Jane Austen is quite pitiless in exposing them to censure and ridicule.”
This is beginning to sound like a Fordyce sermon. We appreciate Ms. Collins’ passion, but she is preaching to the choir here. We abhor sexing up Austen under the pretext of modernization. Austen did indeed apply morality lessons through her un-proprietous characters, but some authors and screenwriters have not heeded her example! We have not read all ten novels in The Pemberley Chronicles series, but we can safely say that there is little “spice” or “adventure” to throw off Austen purists in the first one. Thank you Mr. Collins, – oh we meant Ms. Collins!
Nor was I comfortable with the kind of linguistic “pastiche” – using Jane Austen’s phrases and other contrived “regency-style” constructions that seem to be de-rigeur among many sequel writers. I make no attempt to imitate Jane Austen’s literary style; that would indeed have been presumption of a high order.
Austen is all about language and style, so we are at a bit of a loss here. If a sequel writer does not wish to emulate Miss Austen’s “Regency-style” or language, does just borrowing her characters names qualify a novel a Jane Austen sequel?
“I do not pretend to be another Jane Austen – I merely affect a recognisably ‘period style’ of writing to suit the context of the stories I tell – which range over a fifty year period of the 19th century. So, as you see, The Pemberley Chronicles was a sequel which resulted from a reaction against another, earlier sequel. Almost one might say an Austenian irony of circumstance – but to judge by the response of my readers – a very happy one.
The Pemberley Chronicles begins with the marriage of the Darcy’s and Bingley’s, and progress into the next generation and beyond for 50 years. Ironically, it may have been inspired by the author’s dissatisfaction of another authors sequel of Pride and Prejudice, but her vision of how the Darcy’s lives continue has evolved into an entirely different genre, and may not be a sequel at all.
CONTEST: Win a copy of The Pemberley Chronicles, Volume I. Leave a comment before 11:59 pm on April 30th, stating your opinions pro or con on the recent “epidemic proportions” of Austen sequels, and your name will be entered in a drawing to be announced on May 1st. The winner will receive a new copy of the book by mail.