I must admit I have joined the ranks of Jane Austen fans. I have read all her books and when waiting for my son to be born not that long ago I had a glorious afternoon of binge watching the closer approximations of Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. I have even read Love and Freindship, and Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition are waiting on my bookshelf.
I heartily believe that Pride and Prejudice is one of the best stories ever told. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was fifteen as part of the summer reading challenge for high school and it was completely lost on me at that time. Now with the movies and re-reading it as an adult, I have been sucked in to Austen’s work. As an adult, I can easily see its appeal. What woman, set apart from the others by being quick and independent minded, wouldn’t want an attractive rich man secretly pining for her, even if she might loathe him for a time? And then who loves her despite the mess that is some of her family and does not want her as anyone other than herself?
Anyway, with my first love declared (the one of Austen’s P&P) I must declare another love, which is the love of a different take on the same story. Classic stories are classic for a reason, and I love another’s perspective on the same set of events. I am by trade a Psychologist and I spend my day getting everyone’s perspective on the same set of events. It is how I think and have been trained to think. What was this story like for the other characters? Blog post spoiler: Wickham is a real bastard.
I selected three books that tell this classic tale from other perspectives: Longbourn, by Jo Baker, which tells the story from the perspective of the servants, Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer, and then The Forgotten Sister by Jennifer Payne.
Longbourn is the novel of this group about which I have heard the most buzz and seen on Amazon and must read blog book lists. It was actually my least favorite. Part of the enjoyment of P&P for me is the appeal of the privilege in which these women live their lives. I understand this privilege is precarious for women of that time and place and indolence for few weighed heavily on the hard work of others. Longbourn is a fine novel set apart from the fact that it talks more about the darker personality aspects of the characters as well as the hard work of maintaining the Bennet family on a tiny staff. When I was composing this post I read another blog review of this book by a graduate student, Jennifer L. Radin, which is an excellent post , and I was tempted to just post this link and say, “yeah, what she said”: http://www.criticsatlarge.ca/2014/09/baker-longbourn-austin-pride-prejudice.html
When I want to read P&P I want to be entertained by amusing events, romance, and privilege, not entertained by learning about the sad hardships and realities of adult relationships of that time, privileged or no, and injustices that were more often people’s experiences than a life of relative ease. Longbourn is interesting, well-written, and valuable work. I completely agree with Radin’s assessment that it is a wonderful work on its own but would stand alone without the framework of Pride and Prejudice. I have seen other comments of the book state the same, that it does not need the framework of Pride and Prejudice and the Bennet family to be a good novel. It just did not fill the same reading needs for me as P&P does.
Darcy’s Story by Janey Aylmer was closer to what I want in a P&P related read. Any story from another character’s perspective should generate empathy for him or her, and this novel does that. In her review of Longbourn, Radin talks about the extension of the character that is portrayed in P&P and this extension was feasible. One does have some empathy for Darcy as he first appears when one is reminded that women are paraded in front of him for the marrying all the time only due to his money. One also develops more liking for him when considering the constant reminders of the duties that accompany his privilege. Also, it made me think about how rich boys were raised at that time, to believe that they are above most everything else, namely, women and rules. “Boys will be boys.” The fact that Darcy has not grown up like a real self centered snob is a miracle in itself.
It got confusing in parts with all the traveling that Darcy does and sometimes there was more telling than showing; however, writing from the perspective of a specific man of privilege in another time and place is a challenge. The author clearly knew the story well and pulled in dialogue from Austen’s story which definitely increased the authenticity. I felt her dialogue, even when not pulling on Austen’s, was well matched. Austen’s novels make me slow down to make sense of the different language, and this book did too. I would recommend it.
The Forgotten Sister by Jennifer Paynter . I hid from this book as it was recommended to me on Amazon before I decided to do this post. I do not need more ebooks! (but let’s not pretend this was my last ebook purchase). But, when I did read it, I liked it more than I expected that I would. I felt that the character extension was excellent for Mary and of course I developed more empathy for her. The book explains more why she can often become preachy; sometimes, she just does not know what else to say. Also, in the book she seems to be caught up in her own world and her opinions silly, but this book shows her as actually a perceptive young woman who actually tries to warn Elizabeth off Wickham before she discovers for herself his true nature. Mary follows her heart in this rendition despite the personal consequences to herself, noble in a time when marrying in your class mattered.
I developed less sympathy and liking for Elizabeth and her alliance with the father who is not as fond of his wife or his other children as he is of her. She was prickly and shorter on patience in this book, although her sister Jane keeps her always sweet and lovable nature. I also was reminded that the other four Bennet girls were paired up with each other and she is in in the middle with no one. She cannot relate to Kitty and Lydia, and Elizabeth is jealous of any alliance she might make with Jane. I liked that the author stuck with the basic characters and the plot but she added in some unexpected pieces, like the real reason that she is upset when Lizzy refuses Collins and he becomes engaged to Charlotte Lucas. I always thought Mary had wanted him for herself, and in my most favorite modern movie rendition with Kam Heskin and Orlando Seale (2004) Mary ends up with the Collins character after pining for him throughout the movie. The language was more relatable and despite my early reluctance this book was actually my favorite of the retelling of Pride and Prejudice and the most likely to recommend.
One uniting trend in these books is that Wickham is a bastard. In Longbourn he is scary, actually, with the way he behaves with the servants. He is what we would call a dodged bullet for Elizabeth (unfortunately not so much for Lydia). I looked up on Amazon to see what has been written from his perspective and there looks like a prequel about his affiliation with Georgiana and some background on his father. That seems to be the character extension most agreed upon.
There are renditions of the story available on Amazon from Kitty’s and Georgiana’s perspectives as well, that look like they are worth a look, but I have not read them.
Are there other retellings of Pride and Prejudice that I should check out? I do not mean the continuing of the story. I have thus far been resisting Death Comes to Pemberley but I don’t know for how long that will last. Leave a comment below!