Women of Pemberley
Between 1848 and 1858, the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and their many descendants sort themselves out. We have five chapters, each one following a different woman: Emma, Jane Bennet Bingley’s daughter; Emily, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s daughter; Cassandra, Elizabeth and Darcy’s daughter; Isabella, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s daughter; and Josie, the spunky proto-feminist writer who is destined to be the next mistress of Pemberley. If you are confused, the list of names and connections at the end of the book provides some help.
As a great fan of the original, I have begged for years, “I’d like some more Austen, please.” Yet I have watched the recent spate of spin-offs filling bookstore shelves with some trepidation. My conclusion is that, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jane Austen needs must have her fanfic. Unlike works still under copyright, however, Miss Austen is not around to sue anyone publishing less-than-standard stuff. If the reader relishes more time in a world where all the people are sensible, this is the book. If, however, a great portion of Austen’s appeal is her sharp humor, social commentary and brilliant characters, this way lies disappointment. The difficult people who provide the whole impetus for the original—or their carbon-copy descendants—are the only glimpses we get of that sort of world. Mr. Collins and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are sadly departed. Lady Catherine has left Rosings to more deserving hands (never!). Wickham and Lydia had the good sense to have two sons the image of their father (without the charm), but Darcy’s stern oversight and bags of money come along to smooth over every bump far too soon.
Wouldn’t it be more interesting if the Wickham offspring were trying to cultivate some shred of decency in their parents’ shadows?