Sourcebooks Inc. has several new Austen-related books coming out this month, but one by debut author Marsha Altman, gives us new insights into the Darcy – Bingley relationship: The Darcys & the Bingleys, a Tale of Two Gentlemen’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters. I have just started to read it and hope to do a full review by weeks end, but am delighted to find already in the first few chapters that Ms. Altman has perfectly presented the Darcy I most love [the young proud man bound to his family duties, but oh so endearingly socially inadequate, unable to “perform before strangers”….], as well as giving Mr. Bingley a voice of his own…
So today we offer you a post from the author as well as a CONTEST for a free giveaway of the book, courtesy of Sourcebooks. Ms. Altman has been most generous in sending us her thoughts on writing this sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and I append her post forthwith… and we invite your questions and comments over the next week with Ms. Altman answering your queries! On September 10, we will randomly draw a name from those commenting and the happy winner will receive a copy of this latest addition to the Austen legacy. So PLEASE JOIN IN AND COMMENT!… and thank you Ms. Altman for joining us here this week! [ and for more information on the author and her book, go to the Marsha Altman.com website ]
We’re currently enjoying a wave of Austen sequels, continuations, paraliterature, or whatever fancy term you want to give fan fiction. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise – Jane Austen is very much in vogue right now, and these floods generally follow a major adaptation by a year or two. The 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries gave way to a lot of sequels, mostly self-published around 1997-98. With the 2005 movie, it’s not surprising that we’re in 2008 and talking about sequels again. Because publishing is sometimes based on speed and convenience, much of the current stock is composed of formerly self-published books, purchased and republished by a larger company. However, with new technologies and the internet, anyone can be an author and the potentials are therefore limitless.
That doesn’t explain away the compulsive need to read and produce this spin-off literature, just proves the timing of production. The answer to the question of “What is all this nonsense?” in response to a torrent of fan fiction about the work of one of the greatest English novelists is simple: We can’t leave it behind. The book ends, the movie credits roll, the miniseries comes out with the definitive DVD edition and companion book, and we’re not ready to let go yet. Austen’s characters are too compelling. We want to stay with them a little longer, whatever the diminished literary quality. It’s the only way to explain how Emma Tennant’s Pemberley, a book I have never met a fan of, has stayed in print for 15 years – about 12 years beyond the shelf life of good books.
Every sequel – and for brevity, let’s call them all sequels, as no one has written a prequel, just many books from Darcy’s POV – faces the same existential challenge: How to keep Austen on her well-deserved pedestal but take the characters down without having appeared to. The result is haphazard. Loyalists merely rewrite the story from Darcy’s perspective (or occasionally someone else’s), without adding any unexpected color that might offend purists, and lifting a lot of dialogue from Pride and Prejudice. There are sequels – actual continuations – that attempt to copy Austen’s style. Dorothy Hunt’s Pemberley Shades was probably the best attempt at that, but generally these things can fall flat because our task is different. Austen wrote contemporary fiction; we’re writing historical fiction while attempting to imitate the style of the Regency period. She wrote what she knew; we’re writing what we think she may have known. And let’s face it. None of us are Jane Austen, and no one’s claiming to be. We’re just using her public domain characters because we love them.
Then there are authors who let themselves go and tell the story they want to tell, staying relatively within the lines when it suits them and moving into fantasy when it does not. Darcy has a scandalous past, Darcy and Elizabeth solve crimes, Elizabeth has magic powers, Darcy and Elizabeth have the best sex life in the history of mankind and the author isn’t short in the details. Purists rant and rave, but that’s usually because they’ve bought the book and read it, which meant, well, they bought the book. Linda Berdoll is reviled by many, but she’s the best-selling author of all time in this genre and she knows it. She wrote the story she wanted to write and she’s not ashamed of it.
When I started writing Jane Austen fanfic (and I’m not going to distinguish between published work and fanfic, because much of the work on shelves was originally fan fiction), I had a story I wanted to tell. When I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school, I thought Mr. Bingley was shortchanged. If you read the story without knowing the plot ahead of time, you think for the first hundred pages or so that the story is about the Bennet sisters trying to marry off Jane to Mr. Bingley, and things go so well you wonder why there seem to be another 300 pages left. Darcy is a sucker-punch protagonist, the one you don’t see coming until Hunsford. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Darcy isn’t the ultimate romantic hero, but Bingley has been pretty ignored in sequels and even Darcy stories, which logically should contain a lot of Bingley. Precisely, there’s often no discussion – or just a throwaway line – to how they met, and as their friendship is so crucial to Darcy’s introduction to Elizabeth, I felt there was material there I wanted to play around with. That is how “A Bit of Advice” – the first of the two stories in my book – came about. Darcy and Bingley can be as much dramatic foils as Elizabeth and Darcy, just without the romance.
The story was put up online and some people seemed to like it, so I rode that wave of confidence and decided to set up the ultimate challenge – making Miss Bingley a sympathetic character without making her pathetic or unrealistic. With so much ink devoted to different scenarios with Georgiana, Kitty Bennet, and Elizabeth’s life at Pemberley after their marriage, I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done yet except in a few obscure fanfics. Whether I did it successfully or not is up to the reader to decide.
What are you looking for in a sequel? What stories do you feel are left untold?