The shades of Pemberley have been polluted, and it wasn’t by Elizabeth Bennet’s family. Jane Austen is my favorite author, and Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time. I have read it countless times since I bought myself a copy nearly twenty years ago. Since then I have mostly enjoyed the fan fiction that has been written based on her characters, even though very few authors ever come even close to matching her wit and style.
Be that as it may, I always have high hopes when I find a book that tries to continue the story. Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued by Emma Tennant caught my eye, and I just had to read it. Now I’ve read it.
If Lady Catherine de Bourgh worried about Elizabeth’s family being a pollution to the shades of Pemberley, she would have succumbed to a faint at the pollution of this novel. It defiles the mere memory of Jane Austen’s beloved work and characters. I am not entirely convinced that Emma Tennant was as familiar with Pride and Prejudice as a person would need to be to write a convincing sequel.
On a side note I should mention that I have no qualms about Emma Tennant’s writing abilities. She wrote an interesting book, with enough plot turns to keep things intriguing. She kept it clean by not having explicit scenes (that should be the one thing any Austen wannabe ought to know) or foul language. If she had been using original characters I would be writing a completely different blog post.
However, she has trifled with my beloved book and beloved characters. Worse yet, her trifling demonstrates a lack of understanding on her part of the very characters of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Her plot clearly shows that she hasn’t pondered the last chapter of Pride and Prejudice much.
My first point of contention is all in the timing. In Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen wrote “Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters.” Maybe I am too literal, but I have always understood that Jane and Elizabeth had a double wedding with their respective partners. I know I am not the only person to think this since the film makers of BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle have a double wedding as the end of their adaptation. I might add that it is my favorite visual version of Pride and Prejudice ever made.
So what does this possibly have to do with Emma Tennant’s Pemberley? The action takes place in her book after Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for one year. Okay, no big deal… EXCEPT Jane and Charles Bingley have had one child already, and Jane is due to give birth to their second one at any time. You can talk as long as you want to defend this by saying that Jane might have gotten pregnant before the wedding, but it’s all nonsense. After going through the experience with Lydia and Wickham, Jane would never ever have done anything to have a baby until after the marriage. Not only that, but her oldest child is big enough to walk and talk, so clearly she’s been around more than a year.
Even if they did not get married simultaneously you will never convince me that Elizabeth and Darcy had an engagement for a couple of years. There was too much chemistry for that to have ever happened, especially with her mother pushing it forward so that Mr. Darcy couldn’t untangle himself or his ten thousand pounds. In Pemberley it has been four years since the Wickhams have been married. Elizabeth and Darcy were engaged within months of Lydia’s marriage, and nothing can persuade me that they were engaged for almost three years. As Jane Austen would have said, such a situation would have been intolerable to the pair. In fact it was intolerable and Austen proves this point when she wrote in the last paragraph of chapter 60 that Elizabeth “looked forward with delight to the time that they should be removed from society (her vulgar relations) so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their little family party at Pemberley.”
In the last chapter of Austen’s book she states, “Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelve-month.” After this period, in an effort to get away from Mrs. Bennet, they moved to house 30 miles from Pemberley. The location is the same, but the timing just doesn’t add up to me.
To make the timing matters worse, Georgiana, Mr. Darcy’s sister, is sixteen in Pride and Prejudice, but only 17 in Pemberley. That jives well with Elizabeth and Darcy being married a year, but not with the Wickhams being married for four years or Jane being ready to have her second child since she isn’t even close to being engaged to Mr. Bingley when we find out that Georgiana is sixteen.
My second point of contention I have with Pemberley is the fact that they have been married a year and Mr. Bennet has already died. Jane Austen wrote that Mr. Bennet “delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected.” Emma Tennant has him die with three months of Elizabeth’s marriage. Hello? How can he go often to Pemberley in three months? With travel the way it was and visits being what they were he might have had time for one visit, if he had followed them home to Pemberley within weeks of their marriage.
My third point of contention is that Kitty is still as silly, vain, and officer hungry as ever, and even goes to visit Lydia. Jane Austen wrote that Kitty spent her time at Pemberley and with Jane. “Her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia, and removed from the influence of Lydia’s example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. From the farther disadvantage of Lydia’s society she was of course carefully kept, and though Mrs. Wickham frequently invited her to come and stay with her, with the promise of balls and young men, her father would never consent to her going.” So her character in this continuation is a complete contrast to what Austen actually wrote.
My fourth point of contention is that Austen wrote that Elizabeth and Georgiana became as close as sisters. “… the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other, even as well as they intended.” Emma Tennant has Georgiana pull away from Elizabeth and become even closer friends with Miss Bingley to the point of joining her in London for its frivolous society.
I could keep on going all day, pointing out flaw after flaw, One huge one is that Bingley has a child out-of-wedlock that is six years old. Darcy, out of compassion for his friend has sheltered this boy on his grounds. However, in Pride and Prejudice Austen clearly states that Mr. Darcy had intended his sister to marry Mr. Bingley. He would never have done this if Mr. Bingley had fathered a child out-of-wedlock. Egregious error on Emma Tennant’s part.
But my largest disappointment comes from the very material change of character in Darcy and Elizabeth. For all that Austen says of Darcy’s improvement in manner and his newly found sense of easiness in company, Tennant has Mr. Darcy become so proud again as to completely shut out his wife in the rudest manner possible. Mr. Darcy’s rudest moments in Pride and Prejudice came from his pride of station, not from a lack of understanding what was due. But Tennant has him act in a way that is so foreign to his character that I did not even recognize him as Mr. Darcy, the pinnacle and paragon of masculinity created by Jane Austen
As for Elizabeth… Let’s just say that she turns from being a bright intelligent woman with a witty tongue and intelligence to adapt to her surroundings to a melancholic mess of a woman who can’t cope with life at Pemberley or the barbed comments of Bingley’s sisters. She loses all her strength of character that makes readers fall in love with her and turns into this nincompoop who hasn’t learned anything from her uneven courtship with Darcy. If she was really the character Emma Tennant created Darcy would never ever have found her more than intolerable.
It’s a harsh thing to say, but I think Emma Tennant should not borrow someone else’s characters and start writing books with her own characters. They would be better books.
Note to all writers considering messing around with Jane Austen’s books: think twice because Jane Austen was a master.