I am no lover of sequels. I just shut down really, when, in anticipation of a beloved author’s continued words on a character or plot or unfolding event, I run smack into a wall of some stranger’s thoughts. I want JANE AUSTEN’s words, I want new works from her, something more to read, to savor, not a return to or a rehashing of any of the nearly perfect worlds of her six novels. Those are complete to me, and I want them left alone, I want to protect her characters from someone else’s mutterings. So I confess to not reading any of the many sequels and much prefer to just re-read Austen, who says most everything better than anyone. [After writing this, I was looking at Joan Klingel Ray’s Jane Austen for Dummies and find her words on pg 297, almost mine exactly…” I have to admit that when I need more Jane Austen, I just reread Jane Austen….I am not a fan of sequels…and I would never attempt to convince [others] not to read the sequels…but I am content to let Austen’s characters’ lives end with her novels…” (p297) So I am in good company I think! ]…
The one book that cries for a sequel is, of course, Gone With the Wind – what young woman or gentleman does not want to see Scarlett’s “tomorrow”??- when surely Rhett Butler must reappear in her life, that his not “giving a damn” lasted a mere 24 hours. But NO, I say, please leave it alone, let each reader take the story to other places if they must, but please, no words in publisher’s cloth to deny each of us this pleasure.
So you see, I am tough on sequels. I have read two of Stephanie Barron’s Jane as solver of mysteries and find them entertaining, have several more on my TBR piles…. and a recent gift of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict had me on the road to a fast run through it, followed immediately by Austenland by Shannon Hale, and thenThe Man Who Loved Jane Austen (Sally Smith O’Rourke)…all in great fun and not really sequels. The Mr. Darcys and the Elizabeths who show up here are original characters and one can find much amusement in the time travel concept. I mostly feel a tad jealous that I didn’t think to write one of these myself!
The first real sequel to Jane Austen was by Sylvia Brinton, Old Friends, New Fancies: an imaginary sequel to the novels of Jane Austen, originally written in 1913, but recently republished by Sourcebooks. This is on my TBR pile and my initial perusal had me up against all my sequel prejudices…this confection has almost ALL the characters from ALL the books ALL meeting up with each other in various couplings. Yikes!…not sure I can handle that!
But I have tried to put all these prejudices aside after reading about Diana Birchall’s Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma on the Austen-L listserv. I was indeed happy to find it on the shelves of my local Barnes & Noble! [Birchall’s book has some interesting publishing history: released several years ago, but apparently only available in Australia, it has now been published by Sourcebooks for us to finally enjoy] So between the Austen-L comments and Ellen Moody’s fine review on her blog, I was more than ready to give this sequel a chance…
Set 25 years after Pride & Prejudice, it tells the tale of the Darcy’s three children- Fitzwilliam the Rake, Henry the nearly perfect son (and so appropriately named HENRY…shades of Mr. Tilney are everywhere!), and lovely daughter Jane- and the changes wrought by the arrival of the Wickham’s two older daughters, Bettina and Chloe. We see all those who peopled the pages of P&P, and all with their idiosyncrasies much exaggerated by the passage of 25 years: Elizabeth and Darcy as loving as ever; Jane and Mr. Bingley the gentle milquetoasts (and with their one child Jeremy, who follows in the footsteps of his cousin Fitz, a.k.a. the Rake); the Collinses- the Mr. as priggish and sermonizing and Charlotte gone quite sour, and their MANY children; Lydia as we would expect, the wife of a drunkard, too like her mother, awfully crude, and one feels embarrassed each time she appears on the page; Miss Bingley (now Mrs. Babcock), outrageously outspoken and still jealous of Lizzy’s “fine eyes” these many years; Mary and Kitty, so little changed [though Ellen Moody’s linking of Kitty, the most undefined character in P&P, to Mansfield Park‘s Mrs. Norris is perfectly played!]; Georgiana, now Lady Neville, also with many children, and of course Lady Catherine is still about doing her best to command everyone…etc., etc.
Perhaps it is the distance of years, and enough new characters of interest, and the many references to the external world of the early Victorian age, and Birchall’s wonderful use of language, and that despite a fairly basic and predictable plot, it kept this reader intrigued… I found it really a pure delight! (None of us are strangers to Ms. Birchall’s original wit in her other novels and blog posts… certainly her channeling of Mrs. Elton is quite funny and original!]
And likewise in Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, who can resist a chuckle in seeing:
“Mr. and Mrs. Collins [withdrawing] to the [Darcy’s] drawing room to enjoy a thorough contemplation of its ornaments and the family morals”! (p89),
or Henry’s description of his cousin Bettina as “Miss Wickham, in her ringlets, and bare shoulders, and drooping leg-of-mutton sleeves, and lace mitts, was a fan-fluttering coquette in full-flourishing sail” (p151)…
or the long-lived Mr. Bennett on his deathbed saying to Lizzy “I confess that I have been in terror of joining your mother, and hence I have kept off the eventuality as far as was possible, but I think I have reached some sort of peace and can accept anything now…” (p160).
and the Collins’ “admirable promptness in taking up their new residence” [at Longbourne immediately after Mr. Bennett’s death] (p161).
and Mary, ever the same, in vehemently exclaiming upon hearing of Mr. Darcy’s books being scattered all over the house “any disorder in books is what always should be prevented” (p163), and her rearranging all the works of Hannah More so “everyone may consult them…her wisdom ought to be imbibed every day.” (p188).
So many more, but to share would spoil the story. Do read Mr. Moody’s post on the book…her take on “Birchall’s perspective and details that often recall characters and incidents of not only P&P, but also Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Emma and Sense & Sensibility, as well as Austen’s own life” is quite insightful.
So will this lead me to other sequels? I am not sure… so may books and so little time- and I still prefer time spent with true Austen. But like the great sweet escape of a well-written literary mystery, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemmawas a most welcome find, and I do feel the need to be somewhat prepared for the JASNA AGM in Chicago in October, 4 days filled with the joy of sequels! [and I do confess to being more than half-way through Brinton’s Old Friends, New Fancies…. and I do believe I am hooked, so perhaps to paraphrase Catherine Morland “I have just learned to love a sequel!”
Resources on Sequels:
- JASNA’s AGM in Chicago, October 2-5, 2008, is on “Austen’s Legacy: Life, Love, & Laughter”… There are many planned talks and sessions on the mysteries, the continuations and sequels, all part of Austen’s legacy to us today. For more information see the JASNA website.
- Diana Birchall’s Blog Light, Bright & Sparkling, and her website listing of her other books.
- Ellen Moody’s blog review of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma (scroll down past the sidebar as the article is below…)
- Amazon.com: synopsis, reviews, etc.
- On the JASNA-Southwest website, there are a number of terrific Austen-sequel book reviews by Natasha Zwick in the Spring 2008 newsletter.
- Head to Austenprose for a fine listing of sequels: scroll down the sidebar to see all the links for “Austen-esque Prose” listing many if not all sequels.
- On the AustenFans site, see a complete list of sequels listed by Austen title; and a similar listing at The Republic of Pemberley sequels page.
- The Jane Austen Sequels Page, another list…
- Another list, but annotated, of Austen sequels at Eras of Elegance.
- On Jane Odiwe’s Blog, Jane Austen Sequels, you will find the ongoing online sequel “Lydia Bennett’s Story.” [the book is also available for purchase on Amazon.com]
- Amazon.co.uk listing of available Austen sequels.
- A Victorian Web article on “Mrs. Hubback’s ‘The Younger Sister'” a completion of The Watsons, published in 1850, and another on “Nostalgia and Mobility in Austen’s Sequels”
- Several sequel reviews at Jane Austen Today Blog, and at Jane Austen’s World Blog Ms. Place offers a fine review of Birchall’s book, and at Austenblog there are also several sequel reviews.
- “A Jolt of Jane Austen” by Bette-Lee Fox for Library Journal, has some great links to sequels.
And the list goes on…more to come, but this is all for tonight!