When I got to Cambridge recently I made a beeline for Heffers, now part of the Blackwells group, and had a good look at the fiction section for unexpected treasures. In fact I was so long in the bookshop Northernvicar got round quite a few college chapels… It was worth it if only for this book. I had seen Hesprus Press reprints before. Why had I not seen this?
There are many sequels to Pride and Prejudice. Some are a lot better than others. Many come from America, which is interesting, but does lead to some mistakes where characters cover enormous distances very quickly which have only ever been seen on a map. This book not only continues the story of the characters from Pride and Prejudice, but also the other five Austen novels. It is a fascinating game of spot the character, and this novel was also written over a hundred years ago, in 1914. Hesperus Press have reprinted a gem here, and I am only sorry it’s taken me a while to find it.
The novel is mainly concerned with the progress of Georgina Darcy, sister of Fitzwilliam, who of course has a small but significant role in the original story. This is not a loving continuance of the Lizzy – Darcy marriage as many sequels are; instead we read of the difficulties of a shy young woman whose journeys around the country feature the ups and downs of love recognised and unrecognised. Kitty reappears, even if the other sisters are dismissed, and it is a strength of this novel that all the characters continue to be as flirtatious, serious, considerate or whatever they were in the original novel.
The other great strength is the cunning and clever ways characters are brought in from the other novels. There is Mary Crawford, still difficult to understand, William Price, still an attractive sailor, Mrs Knightly attempting to match make, and Mrs Jennings making unhelpful comments. Bath and its social scene is recreated, and sailors and their difficult lives discussed. A tricky thing is keeping up with the references which pile in even when the narrative is strongly proceeding; as a result of the successful romances in the novels many women have changed their names. As a result there is great pleasure in spotting the novel and characters mentioned, especially when they are behaving in a way that Austen originally envisaged. Lady Catherine is still imperious and impossible to deal with for any but the bravest.
Looked at from a distance, the story is quite slight and there are no earth shattering events, as every Austen reader will appreciate. As in many Regency set novels, certainly from Heyer onwards, there is a chase across the country lest the fortunes of the heroine and hero be left in sad disarray. It is a densely written book in which Brinton juggles many characters to include so many favourites, but it flows well and is in no way a labourious read. The style may appear dated and is far more eventful than the Austen originals, but it should be regarded as a great achievement in that it sets out to cover so much ground and largely succeeds. There are many characters, all with their speeches faithfully written, who appear in many locations. There is even an amateur theatricals production which makes it to performance!
Altogether this is a good book which every Austen fan would enjoy reading and puzzling out. Do try and get hold of a copy!