Taking liberties with Miss Austen

I am a big fan of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. I read it first at uni and was delighted by the characters.  Independent, spirited Lizzie Bennet is my favourite but I also enjoy her sisters and her acerbic father. Even the odious Mr Collins and his patron, the imperious Lady Catherine, are so bad they are good. I don’t think Mr Darcy made all that much impression on me – he was simply the necessary hero to Lizzie’s heroine, and had the good sense by the end of the novel to see her obvious worth despite the drawback of some less than worthy relatives.

The BBC adaptation of the novel – the one featuring Colin Firth as Darcy – remains a great favourite of mine. The storyline and much of the dialogue are faithful to the novel and the acting is uniformly excellent. I was less happy with a more recent movie adaptation because, to my mind at least, there were too many changes to key aspects of the storyline. I can’t see the point of making a film of a beloved novel and then changing things, but I was probably in the minority.

One woman who did enjoy the film – who found it literally life changing – is American writer Sharon Latham. Ms Latham had not read the novel or seen earlier adaptions before watching the 2005 film, but she has since written at least four ‘sequels’ to Pride and Prejudice, the first of which – Mr & Mrs Fitzwillam Darcy, Two Shall Become One, I bought during a recent trip to Dymocks.

I’m not adverse to giving new life to classic novels and spending time with beloved characters. I’d be interested to read an account of how Lizzie assumed the role of mistress of Pemberley, to find out how Jane and Bingley and of course Lydia and Wickham got on, but I got both more and less than I expected.

Mr & Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy starts immediately after the wedding of Lizzie and Darcy, and recounts the first months of their marriage. Its focus is on showing them as a couple passionately in love and there is rather more sex than I expected given its origins in an Austen novel.  In addition to a chapter entitled ‘The Wedding Night’, every opportunity is taken to emphasise how the love of the protagonists is expressed physically.  Opening the book at random and you find ravenous kisses, smoldering gazes and wild abandon – over and over again. No exchange between the two is recounted without a reference to their physical compatibility. Lathan mixes a Regency writing style with a disconcerting preoccupation with sexuality, all overlaid by a florid love story. I felt Lizzie and Darcy deserved better, and only skimmed the novel.

But again, I may be in the minority. Lathan has a successful website and has published numerous novels in this vein.  She’s part of a sub genre called Austen Authors, or Jane Austen fan fiction, people who write novels based on characters created by Jane Austen, so it is likely many more people are  re-imagining the lives of Darcy, Lizzie, the Bennets and the Bingleys.  I just hope they do so with more fidelity to the spirit of the original source than I found in Mr & Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy.

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