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Austen Purists Should Steer Clear
on 8 June 2013
I love the 'what happens next' sequels to these classics. It's great to think that characters can live on beyond the imagination of the original author, but like many others I didn't expect what this sequel had in store!
In her original works, Jane Austen only hints at impropriety in the way her characters behave. To give an example, in Sense and Sensibility she doesn't describe in detail how Willoughby seduced Colonel Brandon's ward and made her pregnant. It's only alluded to by the Colonel himself and the reader is left feeling shocked and horrified by what is left to the imagination. As for what Lydia gets up to when she runs off with Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, well...
This sequel to Pride and Prejudice leaves nothing to the imagination at all, and that's why the Austen purists will hate it. The very idea of Lizzy and Mr Darcy actually getting down to the business of sex (without clothes, too!) is probably mind-boggling to most, but without actually doing it there will be no heir for Mr Darcy, so it has to be addressed, anyway. But it does beg the question of whether or not the act should be described in so much detail by the author. The relationship between Lizzy and Darcy isn't the 'duty' described by Lizzy's sister Jane between herself and Bingley, it is passionate and heated and borne of a very deep love. Darcy is desperate to show Lizzy how he feels, so the reader cops more than an eyeful. Personally I don't see a problem as the author isn't confined to 19th century censorship: what I do have a problem with is that the first quarter of the book describes nothing but Lizzy and Darcy in bed. It was getting a bit boring, and I was amazed Mrs Darcy could still stand up! The scene at her presentation ball where she is asked by Darcy not to wash after they've been together is definitely an 'ewwww' moment, as is what happens with the bed sheet after their wedding night.
Having said that the author creates a world beyond Austen which isn't as pretty as we all hope to believe while reading the original works, and I appreciated being informed Darcy has a past. Not much is mentioned of his previous existence in Pride and Prejudice other than his history with Wickham and the fact he has a sister. It was no surprise to me that he sowed his wild oats before meeting Lizzy. The possibility that he could have fathered a child with a serving girl and the mention of other possibility of infidelities of other characters - one which takes us by surprise - adds tension to the story, and the description of the abduction is riveting. Colonel Fitzwilliam's realisation that he is in love with Lizzy isn't much of a surprise to me. They got on well in the original book.
The author also brings back all the old characters, like Mr Collins, Wickham, Lady Catherine, all retaining the characteristics they possessed in the original, perhaps somewhat magnified. Mr Collins is a little more ridiculous than usual.
I agree with other reviewers that the book is let down by the language. The author is trying too hard to re-create the usage of the period, and although I would have expected correct English, I think it goes a bit OTT. There is a confusing mix of 'Austen-ish' ('compleat' not 'complete') and modern. Apart from the Americanisms which don't fit at all - 'period' (full-stop) and 'sidewalk' (pavement) - I never knew 'dipping his wick' was a 19th century term. I may be wrong, though. What I did find interesting is the British spelling of words, possibly an attempt by the author (who I believe is American) to make the work authentically British. 'Colour' not 'color', 'travelled' not 'traveled', 'learnt' not 'learned;, and 'realised' with an 's' not 'z', an acceptable spelling in the UK but not in the US (technically a misspelling in fact, but not incorrect over here as 'ise' is often used preference to 'ize').
Overall, though, I enjoyed the book and read it until the end, but I would disagree with some claims that it is 'hilarious'. There are some very sad and moving scenes involving Lizzy's difficulties with conception which I thought were very sensitively written.