Saturday, October 04, 2008

She dares to dabble with Mr. Darcy

I read yesterday that Colleen McCullough (of The Thorn Birds fame) has written a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. She claims she’s done it to thumb her nose at the literati and I have no problem with that.
The new books is called “The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet” and the premise sounds interesting – it’s about Mary, the neglected middle Bennet daughter and her story is set twenty years into the future, when Mary comes into her own as an interesting middle aged woman, after years of caring for her mother. Mary has a late-in-life romance. All good.

Naturally, Mary’s sisters, Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia and Kitty all get a mention. Jane and Charles Bingley are happy with a big family. Kitty has transformed herself into a rich society wife. Lydia is not quite so happy.
But of course, it is Lizzie that we all really want to know about. Or not? Do we really want to know how her life with Mr. Darcy has turned out in the fertile world of Colleen McCullough’s imagination?


Apparently Mr. Darcy, now called Fitz, has gone into politics with his eye on being Prime Minister. OK, I can cope with that. He and Lizzie have lots of daughters and a disappointing son. Fair enough. They are a powerful couple. Totally believable.
Liz is not happy.

No, Colleen, no.

You can thumb your noses at the literati, and perhaps you were not impressed by P&P in the first place, but why interfere with the dreams and enjoyment of thousands of readers who love to think of Mr. Darcy as the ultimate romantic hero?
I do understand why writers often want to rework other pieces of fiction. When I was teaching I often got my students to write additional scenes for their favourite books… it makes them think harder about the original and of course, post modern thinking assures us that “the reader owns the text”. But isn’t this latest offering, just a tad too disrespectful to all kinds of people on many levels?
Of course, I haven’t read the book and I know the focus is on Mary, so perhaps the hint that Elizabeth isn’t happy is not a drama. Perhaps I don’t want to know.
On reflection, I think it’s kinder to write prequels rather than sequels.
I loved The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which is a forerunner to Jane Eyre. It tells the story of Mr. Rochester’s first marriage to the woman who is later mad and locked away in the attic. It’s a fascinating story in its own right and it doesn’t necessarily disrupt one’s reading of Charlotte Bronte’s original book.
I guess, at 71, Colleen McC has done it all, and she can’t resist thumbing her nose at all of us.


Anonymous said...

I agree, no-one should mess with Elizabeth and Mr Darcy that way. I have read another sequel and the author treated them very appropriately. Sometimes I think people write things just because they can.

Anne said...

I'm not so sure, Barbara, that the The Wide Sargasso Sea didn't disrupt my reading of Jane Eyre. Certainly it showed a different and rather ruthless aspect of Rochester's character. I love Jane Eyre and always thought of Rochester as a suitable hero, but after reading Jean Rhus's book, he became more ambiguously heroic to me.

Barbara Hannay said...

Anne, I take your point. I should admit that it's twenty years or more since I read Sargasso Sea and my memory is vague at best. Perhaps all re-writing interferes with the original. And I guess it's up to the reader whether they want to "go there" or not.