Everybody we know is reading DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY, P.D. James’ sequel to Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE which is number three on the New York Times bestseller list this week. Well-known detective writer James has said this work is a combination of her two greatest passions, crime stories and Austen, a one/two punch which also pretty much explains why the book is irresistible to a lot of people.
This approach is double indulgence, but also double risk for an author who must not only write a good mystery, but somehow live up to the high – even impossible – standard set by Austen. The professional reviews for this book have been good. Who can oppose such a pairing of genii? Yet actual reader reviews have been less enthusiastic. On Amazon the book averages 2.5 stars out of five and at Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads, 3.5 stars. (We were disappointed by the thinness of the mystery and appalled that the witty Elizabeth Bennett was portrayed as a housewife.)
Austen’s novel is so close to perfection it doesn’t seem possible to successfully expand on it. Nor does it seem like a worthwhile endeavor. Can anyone – foolish hope aside – really imagine the marriage of pride (Darcy) and prejudice (Elizabeth)? When we try to do this, we inevitably picture something rather formal and distant. Why go there, we wonder.
Yet, the market says otherwise. Sequels to Austen’s six novels, especially PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, are practically a literary genre in and of themselves. Who knew? A search on Amazon revealed 116 in paperback, many of them highly popular among readers:
Wikipedia’s list of sequels includes the bizarre: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: THE JEWESS AND THE GENTILE, MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.
If you have a good idea for a story, you might consider dropping in the Darcys to make it more marketable: Picture them on Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign or floating down the Missouri with Lewis and Clark. If you are a fantasy or sci-fi writer, you need not stick to the era of the actual book. The Darcys at twilight, anyone?