Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The Pride & Prejudice Sequel We Need

 There have been plenty of attempts to satisfy readers who wish they could know more of what happens to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy beyond the brief closing notes which Austen provided for her readers.  While in other areas, what might be called "fan fiction" is confined to the web, there have been numerous published novels in the Austen Extended Universe.  But as we were taking our walk the other night, we were realizing that all of these we were aware of simply give us more of the same: more of Lizzy as a fairly young woman, happily married perhaps but still essentially the same type of story that we have in the literary classic.  

But really, short of silliness like zombies or murder mysteries at Pemberley, we already have the story of Elizabeth nee Bennet the young woman.  If there's going to be another story, it should address a point where the characters have changed.  And, as MrsDarwin and I decided during our walk the other evening, the interesting thing to do in terms of seeing these characters at a different point in life would be see them again 20-25 years later as the Bingleys and Darcys.

In the original novel, the activity of being a mother of marriage-age children is made humorous by the shallowness of Mrs Bennet herself.  The fact that the only really sensible people we see that age are Mr and Mrs Gardiner can make it seem like it's an inherently silly set of concerns.  But of course, it isn't.  In Austen's society in particular, it was by far the most important hinge point on people's lives: career and family rolled into one.

So in counterpoint to the original story, it would be fascinating to see an older Elizabeth and Jane going through the same stage of life that we last saw in their mother.  Not only is that interesting from a character point of view, but it opens up fascinating options in terms of history.  Although the (lost) first draft of Pride and Prejudice was written in the late 1790s, the novel was actually publishes in 1813.  Let us take it that this means that it takes places in 1813, because that provides more interesting scope for this sequel.  Why?  Because we could set this sequel twenty-four years later in 1837 and thus have it take place the year that Queen Victoria ascended to the throne.

Let's give Lizzy a break and take it that with her first child she laid to rest any fears about inheritance in the Darcy family by having a boy, young Fitzwilliam.  After that, however, she had three girls in a row, followed up by young Edward.  As the story opens, Lizzy's daughters are 20, 19, and 17 and none of them are as yet married.  Georgiana Darcy did, in the end, marry, but being of more delicate stock she has only one child, though the Darcy girls all love their frail cousin dearly.

Jane on the other hand, has four boys.  With the eldest splitting his time between learning to manage the Bingley family money and learning to manage the London season debutants, Jane could wish that she had her mother's problems.  The second eldest is up at Oxford and may pursue a career in the church.  

Indeed, one of the great things about this timing is that we can both play with Anthony Trollope style ecclesiastical politics, but the Oxford Movement is beginning to cause waves through the Anglican Church.  John Henry Newman and other young clergymen began to publish Tracts For Our Times in 1833, and Newman's scandalous decision to join the Church of Rome would occur in 1845.

The Bennet family has its own window into ecclesiastical politics because Mary Bennet surprised all the family by contracting a late marriage to the most reverend Archbishop Westcott.  Pedantic, imperious, and given to odd hobbies such as building model churches with meticulously leaded real stained glass windows, the archbishop was attracted to Mary's seriousness and her obvious attraction to him.  He also hoped that, after the death of his first wife, Mary would keep his children in order.  And they are in much need of keeping in order as his eldest son (less than ten years younger than Mary herself) has spent rather too long on the Grand Tour soaking up the splendors of Italy, and he is now showing dangerous signs of aligning with Newman and the Tractarians.

To no one's great surprise, it took only a few years for George Wickham abandon Lydia, though in typically improvident fashion they had two children during those short years.  They are not technically separated.  Wickham went abroad to pursue a venture with a friend from the army in the West Indies, and although his infrequent letters promise that he is always on the verge of making a fortune it does not take much imagination to realize that he has no intention of returning or sending real support to his wife.  He works as the foreman on a friend's sugar planation and lives with a series of dusky beauties seized from among his charges.  Lydia seems to thrive, in her way, on having the basic respectability of a husband without the limitations of having him actually present, and she cheerfully sponges off her sisters.

Kitty never did marry, and she and Mrs Bennet spend much of their time visiting Jane, where Mrs Bennet can enjoy the reflected glow of her rich son in law.  (Mr Darcy is too intimidating to be so easily used.)  Still, although Mrs Bennet spent so much time about what would become of them when Mr Bennet died, he remains hale in his early 70s, splitting his time between his own library and that of his favorite daughter Lizzy.

This, of course, leaves the unfortunate Mr Collins still without an inheritance.  He is also without a patron, as Lady Catherine shuffled off this mortal coil before she could see England's second ruling queen.  Aside from his natural and verbose mourning at Lady Catherine's passing, this puts Mr Collins in a delicate position as it is only after the death of her mother that it becomes clear that her daughter Anne de Bourgh, who inherits, never liked Mr Collins.  She cannot remove him from his living, but she can get her own chaplain and ignore Mr Collins, which is a crushing blow to his pride.  Mr Collins wishes that he might receive some position at the cathedral, but that of course would be in the gift of Archbishop Westcott, thus awkwardly making Mr Collins dependent upon the good will of Mary's husband.

And so, you see, there is any amount of fascinating drama to play out in this sequel, a passel of interesting characters of various ages to follow, and even the possibility of crossover characters from Middlemarch (set in 1829-1832, though it was written in the 1870s.)


Sherwood said...

Love it! Love it! LOVE IT!


Agnes said...

I wish you (either of you) would write this! I'd love to learn more of this era through your description of it and through the lens of these characters - and, as you say, I'm interested in the later stage of life of Jane Austen's characters and the next generation.

Anonymous said...

This is a very promising plot outline. It would need someone with Austen's talent to write it and make it a great sequel that could stand on its own. I think the problem with Austen imitations is that they are jarring in their anachronism. Austen was living the period she wrote and understood it thoroughly. I think it would need an author with the Daniel Day Lewis acting methods to write a successful sequel - someone who has thoroughly immersed themselves in 19th century culture and history to the point of nerdiness. For instance, one of the things that makes LOTR so compelling is that Tolkien was a philologist and expert on myths.

mandamum said...

My daughters and I also look forward to reading this sequel (no pressure!). The Tractarian tie-in sounds fascinating.

Michael said...

really splendid idea. I caught myself pining for a sequel as we finished re-watching the 1995 miniseries just last night. The children all enjoyed it (though I'm not sure many of their peers would). I'm sure our seven-year-old will next pick up the novel, so you'd best get on with writing yours!

(note in your original you have typed 'Wichham' and 'Queen Victory')

Darwin said...


I should have realized that unlike Samuel Johnson, I can't write without proofreading. Thanks. Fixed.


I was partly made to think of the Tractarian tie-in to the period because, if memory serves, it comes into Tom Brown at Oxford -- the sequel (by the real author, not fan fiction) to the more famous Tom Brown's Schooldays which Jo March is reading in Little Women. Tom Brown's Schooldays was written in the late 1850s, but it was set during the author's schooldays, which was the early 1830s, and then the sequel is set at Oxford later in the decade.


Yeah, getting the period and feel right would clearly be the major challenge. So many regencies just read as romance novels.

Agnes & Sherwood,

Your confidence in us is inspiring. Now I feel like I should actually figure out a plot or something...

Emily J. said...

I could just picture all of these characters doing exactly what you described - especially Mrs. Bennett installing herself at Jane's. So fun!