I have been a Jane Austen fan since my teenage days. My earliest memories of her world were actually watching the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film (Keira Knightley version), which has always been my favourite due to how beautifully shot it is. I think my friends and I all wanted to look like Jane and Elizabeth, and have our own Mr Darcy sweep us off our feet!
I was given a boxset of the complete Jane Austen novels for my 17th, and have currently only reading half of them, 9 years later. Despite a fondness for Persuasion (Frederick’s letter!), my favourite is always Pride and Prejudice. Standard…
As a closet Harry Potter fan fiction writer, I take an interest in fan interpretations of classic stories, and how they progressed beyond the final page. So when I discovered the well-reviewed Shannon Winslow books, continuing the story of Pride and Prejudice, I was curious to learn of the future she had plotted for the Bennets, Darcys and Bingleys.
The Darcys of Pemberley follows the life of newlyweds Jane and Charles Bingley and Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Of course this is a heavy mantel to take up, as everyone has their own opinions on what happened to Lizzie and Darcy, and I think Winslow does struggle with this challenge to some extent. I did cringe – a LOT – at the allusions to the newly married couple having sex. It didn’t seem to me to be written in an adult way, more an awkward way in which a teenager would write about sex, not having any idea what actually happens.
Mr Wickham also returns as Lydia’s unhappily married husband and a VERY pantomime villain. I almost expected boos and hisses or a puff of smoke whenever he appeared on a page! I found his part to play in the novel rather unrealistic too if I’m honest, and a firm dismissal of his character as being thoroughly beyond redemption.
But, having said all that, The Darcys of Pemberley is a light-hearted read and a fun imagining of the future of the characters we all know and love. I did enjoy reading it, although it was rather predictable and followed a pattern of pairing off everyone very neatly and tying up loose ends very tightly in a way that real life would never mirror. But who reads these books for the realism?!
Return to Longbourn is definitely where Shannon Winslow comes into her own. Exploring the story of Mary Bennet, who she sees as the unsung heroine of the novels, she develops a life for Mary beyond the confines of P&P, and charts her future and Kitty’s future following the sad death of Mr Bennet and the entailment of Longbourn. Mary is now a governess at Netherfield to the Farnsworth family, raising Harrison Farnsworth’s children and engaging in constant verbal sparring with the stern widower. At the same time Kitty and Mary come to blows over Tristan Collins, the male heir to Longbourn newly returned from America.
(Side note: in Return to Longbourn Winslow weaves quotes from many of Jane Austen’s novels into her own writing, with an index at the back. It’s a fascinating and clever idea, and makes for a much more Austen-realistic adaptation by adopting her language in such a wholesale fashion)
I found this book more difficult to get into at first, as there are more new characters than originals and my favourites (Lizzie, Jane, Darcy, Bingley) have a much more minor role than in the previous novel. Mary is also a rather stiff and formal character, and she can be difficult to warm to. But she has a good heart and her emotions slowly break down her barriers throughout the story, and by the end you are truly rooting for her to find her happy ending.
If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan and you always wanted to think about what might have happened next, you could do much worse than to pick up these books!