Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Janespotting: Letters from Pemberley

This 1999 "continuation" of Pride and Prejudice, according to its author, Jane Dawkins, is a "patchwork" of events, ideas, and characters drawn from Jane Austen's own work. Austen did reveal a few future events at the end of P&P, and Dawkins builds on those by taking bits and pieces from Austen's other writings, as well as accounts from family members, and weaving them into an epistolary account of Elizabeth's first year as Mrs. Darcy.

The book consists of 25 letters sent from Elizabeth to her sister Jane, also newly married, recounting her new responsibilities as mistress of Pemberley and the new acquaintances she makes. Many of these new characters are other Austen characters in disguise; they have different names, but you can recognize the situations of Emma, now married to Mr. Knightley; Anne Elliott and her family, of Persuasion; and the widowed mother and daughters of Sense and Sensibility. Now, because Dawkins gives them new names that are also drawn from Austen's life and works, I found it difficult to keep track of which character name belonged to which situation. Still, it gave the work an air of familiarity that I found enjoyable.

There's no great plot to this novel; as a series of letters, we get news in bits and pieces. We hear of the events foreshadowed at the end of P&P, such as Kitty's moral improvement, Georgiana's fondness for Lizzy, Lydia's entreaties for money, the birth of a son to the Collinses, and the Bingleys' move to Derbyshire. Other events seem to follow naturally, such as Jane's and then Elizabeth's pregnancy announcements. The final event, a betrothal involving Georgiana, didn't really ring true, but it didn't completely strain credulity, either. And by using the epistolary* form, Dawkins only has to re-create Elizabeth's voice in the letters, and she does so creditably well.

So overall, I'd have to give this "continuation" a favorable rating. It's short, light, and hews very close to Austen; while there's nothing particularly new that would shock (or delight) the Austen fan, it felt very comfortable. You could do worse if you're looking for something Austenish to read.

*I love the word "epistolary," and wish I had more chances to use it, but not many people write novels in letter form any more.


  1. Did you know when you wrote this that the word for the day on AWAD was epistolary, or was it just a happy coincidence?

  2. No, I didn't see AWAD until today. I must be psychic! Or they are. Or maybe they're reading my blog! (Tomorrow's word: delusional.)