I need to explain that I re-read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year. I loved the early PBS version of the book, but that has been replaced now by the Colin Frith version which I own on DVD. I’ve also dipped into some of the sequels and expansions (most are horrible) to feed by habit.
P.D. James is one of my favorite writers. I have read all of her mysteries. One of my favorites is An Unsuitable Job for a Woman which introduced the young Cordelia Gray. Adam Dalgleish her primary detective is not only a police inspector, but also a published poet. Her books are literate and the mysteries complex and interesting. So when I saw that James had written a kind of sequel to Pride and Prejudice I ordered a copy immediately. And I was not disappointed.
With her usual elegance, James tells brings us to the Darcy estate six years after Elizabeth Bennet married her Mr. Darcy. They now have 2 children and Elizabeth has clearly taken hold as mistress of Pemberley. All the other characters make their appearance including George Wickham who is still a wild neer do well and his wife, Elizabeth’s sister Lydia is still tends to hysteria. They are at the heart of the mystery.
Liesal Schillinger in her review last week in the New York Times book review writes
James clearly understands that many readers feel as close an attachment to Austen’s characters as they do to their own relatives and friends. So she cannily begins by furnishing answers to the natural question: “Where are they now?”
How right it feels to learn, as James informs us, that Bingley and Jane moved away from Netherfield soon after their marriage, wanting to put distance between them and the ever-querulous Mrs. Bennet at Longbourn. What a delight to read that tone-deaf, humorless Mary Bennet has married a “thin, melancholy” rector, “given to preaching sermons of inordinate length and complicated theology.” How apt that the evil seducer George Wickham, after marrying Lizzy’s frivolous sister Lydia, worked as a secretary for the foppish baronet Sir Walter Elliot (a character from Austen’s novel “Persuasion”) until Lydia’s “open flirtation” with the baronet and Wickham’s simpering attempts to ingratiate himself with his employer’s daughter met “finally with disgust.” And what a treat to see Bingley’s snobbish sisters, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, get their comeuppance — and Harriet Smith (of “Emma”) her reward.
Above all, James will delight Austen’s devoted fans by showing Darcy and Lizzy to be (if anything) more in love and better matched than anyone might have hoped, six years into their marriage.
If you love Austen and you love James or you love one or the other, I think you will love this book.
(Illustration by Skip Sterling)