I suppose one way to measure the popularity of a Classic is to count the number of spin-offs it’s spawned. Gauging by that measure, I’d have to say that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice surpasses “popular” and rings in at “obsession;” a quick bookstore-search turned up more than 50 novels based on Austen’s golden oldie. And what a selection!–the Darcy/Bennet gang are recast in sequels, family sagas (including an account of Mary Bennet written by a Catholic nun), re-tellings from different points of view, spin-offs based on minor characters, modern settings, mysteries, bodice-rippers, even vampire and zombie novels. While I’m not quite ready to entertain the idea of “Mr. Darcy, Vampyre,” I’ll ‘fess up to a deep enough enjoyment of Austen’s original that I’m open to the knock-offs… IF they actually give me more of what I so enjoyed in the first place.
Not all of them do. Take, as a dreadful example, Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. Or, as a fellow blogger ironically observed, “Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: in the bath, in the carriage, on the dressing table…” I don’t have any aversion to steamy scenes in and of themselves, but for heck’s sake serve them up with some Plot! (Ruminations on the discomforts of a long carriage-ride after a long sex-session aren’t a satisfactory substitute for actual storyline…)
In the middle of the spectrum are some of the have-fun-with it tales like Carrie Bebris’s Suspense and Sensibility, which combines characters from two of Austen’s novels and adds a touch of supernatural mystery. What I enjoy about this one is the fact that Bebris carries forward the wit and humor of the verbal exchanges between Elizabeth and Darcy, so although the plot is decidedly un-Austen, the characters remain themselves.
Which leads me to my favorite, the Top-Notch Knock-Off: Pamela Aidan’s trilogy, told from Darcy’s point of view. (Icing on the cake for me: Aidan is an Idaho Author, woot!) The opening novel, An Assembly Such as This, encompasses all of my favorite scenes and banter from Austen’s original, and adds more in the same vein. My interest, ultimately, in reading a spin-off stems from my wish that Austen had written more of it–and Aiden supplies just that. Elizabeth Bennet is her saucy self, Darcy confounded and frustrated that he can’t seem to gain the upper hand in their verbal sparring, Caroline Bingley as wickedly catty as ever, and still scheming to draw Darcy to herself… Add to the cast a few new characters, most notably Darcy’s valet, Fletcher; perpetually proper and unruffled, though not above a little “orchestrating” of events from the behind-the-scenes vantage point of the servants’ quarters, Fletcher occasionally risks his master’s ire by dropping advice and hints hidden in quotes from Shakespeare. The entire trilogy makes for an engaging read–one that I think Austen herself would have enjoyed, which is about the highest compliment I can think of to pay it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling an urge to pop in my well-worn disc of the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice. I imagine Austen would approve of Colin Firth as well. :)