My favorite book of all time is the classic Pride and Prejudice by the incomparable Jane Austen. I swooned over Darcy before Colin Firth dove into that stream fully clothed, igniting Darcy fever all over the world. The first time I ever read it, I let out a sigh at the last page as Darcy and Elizabeth joined the ranks of unforgettable characters like Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. I know Darcy and Elizabeth technically came first, but I grew up with Anne (with an “E”) before I learned to give Fitzwilliam Darcy the proper respect he deserves.
Unlike Jane Austen with Darcy and Elizabeth, L.M. Montgomery gave us quite a bit of Anne’s story. We grew up with Anne, became bosom friends and kindred spirits with Diana, wept copiously when Matthew died, rejoiced as Anne finally and truly understood that Marilla did indeed love her with all her heart, went to college, fell in love at last with Gilbert Blythe, worked for a time as a school principal in a small village ruled by a family with so much pride they made Darcy look positively humble, got married, lived in our house of dreams next door to the charming Captain Jim and the marvelously blunt Cornelia Bryant, played matchmaker for Leslie and Owen, had one baby, hired the most marvelous nanny/maid ever introduced into literature, moved to a much bigger house and then had a zillion more babies. We even got the scoop on Anne’s kids-we loved them all, but Walter and Rilla are so totally the race that knows Joseph!
But Jane Austen didn’t tell the whole story, just the part where Darcy and Elizabeth overcome their pride and prejudice, and the societal mores of marrying betwixt the classes, and come together just as we knew they would from the moment Darcy claimed Elizabeth to be merely “tolerable.” Austen’s ending is classically romantic, but the insatiable disciples of Austen want more, hence an influx of Pride and Prejudice prequels and sequels.
The Austen fandom tends to be of three minds about these forays into the Darcy’s world. One group holds the belief that there can never be too much Darcy and Elizabeth, particularly naked, sexy Darcy and Elizabeth. The second group is okay with the concept as long as the story is tasteful and in the spirit of Jane Austen-graphic Victorian porn is most decidedly not acceptable. The third group considers the entire concept sacrilege. I fall squarely into group two. I have at least read, if not added to my library, every single permutation I have been able to find.
Most are harmless enough and include quite a bit of Austen’s original scenarios and language while expanding on supporting characters and adding new and frequently lively exchanges between our hero and heroine. Characters such as poor, sickly Anne and shy, modest Georgiana frequently take a much more active role, as they emulate, and sometimes surpass, Elizabeth’s independent nature. Other outings are downright plaigarism – if Jane Austen weren’t in the public domain, I’d recommend she sue. My favorite is a three-part series by Pamela Aiden which remains fairly true to the world, while having some fun in book two with the popular gothic novels of the time, giving details regarding Darcy’s adventures between the botched marriage proposal and their surprise romantic reunion on the grounds of Pemberly. She also introduces a brand new character who manages to fit right in, and acts to goad Darcy into action while humanizing him even further. Some of Aiden’s fans even prefer this new character to Darcy himself. (Heresy!!) My most despised of the prequels and sequels, by Linda Berdoll, consists of the aforementioned Victorian porn and features Wickham as an even more villainous character than Austen even imagined. And almost all of the different versions have jarring moments that knock me out of the story altogether. Either a character will use modern slang to express themselves or, as in the case of the most recent knock-off I’ve read, Darcy obliquely references his growing attraction for Elizabeth by debating whether he should wear breeches or trousers. He ultimately settles on trousers since his attraction will be less obvious.
I have enjoyed many of the different versions I’ve read, but even the best is proof positive that nothing beats the original and authentic Austen. I was once asked if I felt that way why I continue to read them? The answer? I always need more Darcy in my life.
So in all this musing, I have two questions for you:
- Are there any fictional characters who came to life so fully for you that you were truly disappointed when the story was over and there was nothing left to read?
- How do you feel about these published prequels/sequels for books in the public domain? How about for fan-fiction in general?