Okay. Anyone out there who doesn’t like Jane Austen may now be excused from the room.
Three days ago, January 28, to be exact, marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of what is commonly referred to as ‘the best book ever’ – Pride and Prejudice. In three hard-cover volumes, yet!
Probably no one who has ever seen the BBC/A&E filmed version will disagree with that opinion. After all, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy created an entire spin-off conglomerate all by himself! We’ll talk more about that in a moment or two.
It’s so unfortunate that Jane Austen was unable to write more books, but under the circumstances in which she wrote, we should just be immensely grateful that she was able to produce the masterpieces with which she gifted the world. I’m sure she would have had a difficult time understanding the cottage industry that has arisen around her stories and the characters she created: good, bad, or indifferent. It’s so much fun to seriously dislike Mr. Wickham or Mr.
Willoughby or Mr. Crawford. (boo! hiss!) Or,
maybe you drool over Mr. Darcy or Colonel Brandon, especially as they were so
dashingly brought to life by Colin Firth and Alan Rickman, respectively.
Actually, we should probably credit Mr. Firth with propagating the Jane Austen Industry – he single-handedly brought the
its knees during the six-week broadcast of Pride & Prejudice in 1995. For
sure, the A&E/BBC film was epic, to say the very least. It is, perhaps, the
most glorious reproduction on film of any literary masterpiece, ever. In my
humble opinion, that is.
The proliferation of sequels to an already mostly-complete story that P&P did is truly mind-boggling. There are literally hundreds of books currently available (with more appearing all the time!) drawing on the beloved Jane’s characters for inspiration. They range from continuations of the Darcy’s story, to cousins or cousins, twice-removed, perhaps. There are straightforward fiction, romantic fiction (of varying sensuality levels) and mysteries, both contemporary to Ms. Austen’s time and our own.
Jane Austen is commonly credited with having given birth to the Regency Romance. However, she was writing contemporary novels, not historical fiction. And they weren’t really romance, either, but just…plain…fiction. That’s a minor quibble, however, for after all, it was Georgette Heyer and to a slightly lesser extent, Clare Darcy, who took the whole notion to a still higher level with their marvelous books. (But that’s an entry for another occasion.) Today, we’re all about Miss Jane—and her literary descendants.
The Making of Pride and Prejudice by Susie Conklin and Sue Birtwistle is the perfect companion to the 6 hour film version. In fact, it’s part of a lovely boxed set of three DVDs and book. You could read my review of the book here, if you’re so inclined. (It was the third review at this page last I looked.)
Let’s start with mystery. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron burst upon the world on April 1, 1996. It was no joke, either, capturing high praise for the wit and meticulousness of the writing, the plotting, the language--everything. It was the footnotes which truly captivated me. Now, there are now eleven books in the series. In these pages, you’ll meet Jane, her sister Cassandra, her Mother, and several dashing gentlemen, one of whom is quite definitely Jane’s cup of tea.
Another dandy mystery series is by Carrie Bebris, and to date, there are seven titles, each of which quite cleverly takes off from one of the original Austen stories. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are the Nick and Nora type sleuths, aided by her sisters, sometimes, and/or hindered by her mother. I think a good many of the characters wander in and out of these pages, whether their own story or not. They also have a good bit of humor. I found them delightful!
The first truly great series of Regency mysteries, however, were those by the late Kate Ross. These were superbly done and researched, true to the period, and with a believable crime but clever solution. Julian Kestrel was the hero in Cut to the Quick and four others. The premature death of Ms. Ross was indeed a great loss.
Another series that tends to look at the darker side of the Regency era features a very sympathetic wounded warrior as hero. Ashley Gardner bathes her stories in a realistic Regency atmosphere while her hero suffers the torments of the damned as well as unrequited love. But still he puts his intelligence to work by meticulously working out the mysteries in these well-crafted and enjoyable books. Currently, there are seven books, plus a novella available, with the promise of two or three more to come. Hooray!
For a slightly different take on the Regency era, look for Death on a Silver Tray and three others by Rosemary Stevens. She won an Agatha Award and the Romantic Times Award for Best First Mystery for the first of these mysteries featuring Beau Brummell as the sleuth, along with the very first Siamese cat in
– Chakri – a gift from a Eastern potentate. They are witty as well as
historically accurate, and are guaranteed to make you laugh!
A contemporary series that really has little connection to our Jane, other than a similarity of name is by Laura Levine. The female sleuth is a writer, Jaine Austen by name, and the books are very contemporary. Fun, though.
As to the romance side of things—we could spend a day here, and probably not get to them all, but you can make a good start on things by looking for the Darcy series here:
I can’t always get this site to cooperate, but you may have better luck. (If any of the links here don't work, please try to cut and paste the entire link into your browser.) This publisher also reissues older books by Joan Aiken Hodge and will soon have perhaps the best sequel of all, Pemberley Shades by D. A. Bonavia-Hunt.
We won’t even think about vampires and were-wolves and other such things. We’ll stay on the main road to Pemberley!
Finally, in honor of the occasion, there are multiple sites offering free downloads of Pride and Prejudice in e-book format. Considering the choices here, you have no excuse for not owning this book!
Happy Regency! and Happy Reading --
Hetty St James (aka Kelly Ferjutz)