Jane Austen fans immediately spot the Pride and Prejudice connection. Pemberley is the grand country estate that made Mr Darcy considerably less repulsive to the eyes of Elizabeth Bennet. When asked at what moment she started having feelings for him, she famously claims it was after seeing his stunning fields at Pemberley (allegedly said as a joke…).
Now, there are countless P&P sequels and spin-offs, from the snobbishly literate to the downright bizarre (like that infamously hilarious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). I was understandably reluctant to read a sequel, especially since Austen gives us a good glimpse of the main characters’ fates in her epilogue. However, when I heard that P.D. James was preparing a sequel herself, and loving her writing style, I thought I could make an exception. I always thought that my equal taste for Austen’s books and murder mysteries was rather odd, but I am glad I am not alone.
P.D. James takes on the story 6 years after Elizabeth marries Darcy. There is a juicy introduction, in which she briefly (and deliciously) re-tells P&P from the neighbours’ point of view. In their eyes, of course, Elizabeth was just a lucky trollop that schemed her way to the bed of the richest bachelor in sight.
And then the murder takes place. From here, the style bounces from Austen to James. Sometimes you can tell the pastiche from the modern, but just as many times the styles fuse perfectly.
I have read some comments from Austenian puritans who can’t conceive Elizabeth having fewer lines than Darcy, and those who go on and on moaning how this book is not like the original.
Well, of course it’s not like the original! It’s a murder mystery! If a corpse appeared by Emma Woodhouse’s doorstep, you would not expect her to demurely sit at her parlour, order some tea, and then write to Mr Knightly asking him to call as long as he is not too much inconvenienced.
There are servants involved, and police and constables, as it would have truly happened back in those days, but it is doubtful that Austen would have had the knowledge to tell such a story. Let’s be honest; Jane Austen wrote amazing pieces of literature from observing a very limited world. We can only imagine how richer her books could have been had the customs of her time allowed her a wider range of experiences. P.D. James offers a helping hand here.
James pays homage to Austen as much as she makes the story her own. She clearly wrote without thinking for one second what people were going to say, and she surely loved it. You can tell she is enjoying every line, like that brilliant letter from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, which could have perfectly been written by Jane herself.
I have always thought that writing should please the writer, and if the result turns out to please others, happy days. In this respect I admire James’ self confidence; she has proven the world she can write, so now she can indulge herself.
If I were to complain about something, it is only that Mrs Bennet did not have a major role (she does remind me of more than one family member). However, the story takes place in Pemberley, and P.D. James very assertively declares that Darcy’s poor mother in law is simply and utterly unsuited for good society.
If you happen to see this bright yellow cover at hand, definitely give it a try.
This post was submitted by Oscar de Muriel.