Since reading the Pride & Prejudice script to the 2005 movie, I’ve read three sequels and three coquels, all critically acclaimed. Coquel is a term that I invented to describe a book based on the characters in an earlier book, but the subsequent book is not a sequel (something that occurs later) or a prequel (something that occurs earlier), but rather occurs at the same time, but from another person’s perspective.
The three coquels, written by Pamela Aidan, are part of The Fitzwilliam Darcy trilogy – An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain. As suggested by the title, they depict the time and events of Pride & Prejudice from the perspective of Darcy.
- An Assembly Such as This: First published in 2003, the first novel focuses on Darcy’s initial visit to Hertfordshire, ending with the Netherfield ball.
- Duty and Desire: Originally published in 2004, the second novel focuses on the period of time when Darcy is absent from Pride and Prejudice following his departure from Hertfordshire and before he reappears at Rosings Park.
- These Three Remain first published in 2005, the final novel in the trilogy focuses on Darcy after he reappears at Rosings Park.
I loved the first and third books because they expand on events that Austen referred to, but failed to describe fully because her perspective was essentially Elizabeth’s and the Bennet’s, not Darcy’s or Bingley’s. And the writing is so good that it often brought me to tears. The middle book didn’t interest me much because it was unrelated to Pride & Prejudice other than to guess how Darcy occupied himself for those months when he tried to move on from the unforgettable country girl Elizabeth who he had met at Netherfield.
Two of the sequels that I have read, by Emma Tennant, are titled “Pemberley, or Pride and Prejudice Continued” (1993) and “An Unequal Marriage, or Pride and Prejudice Twenty Years Later” (1994). Obviously the subtitles were designed to attract readers who can’t get enough of Pride and Prejudice, and I am one of those.
Both Tennant sequels are excellent. The first, Pemberley, revolves around Elizabeth, as the new mistress of Darcy’s Pemberley estate, attempting to coordinate a grand Christmas party for her and Darcy’s extended families. This responsibility gives Elizabeth a new appreciation for her mother’s oft-stressed nerves.
As the NY Times has suggested, “Ms. Tennant’s narrative is made… compelling by her utter mastery of Austen’s style. In its pace and sensibility, the text virtually breathes Jane Austen.” Just as important to me, however, is the fact that Elizabeth and Darcy have evolved just as I would have expected them to evolve after one year of marriage.
The second book, An Unequal Marriage, is more challenging because it occurs after 20 years of marriage. It revolves around the marriage at Pemberley of one of Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s best friends, Col. Fitzwilliam. Its title refers to a comment from Mr. Bennet near the end of Pride & Prejudice to the effect that Elizabeth couldn’t be happy in “an unequal marriage,” and there is some question regarding whether Darcy was becoming too dominant in theirs.
Both books deal with some lingering pride from Darcy and prejudice from Elizabeth. Both books also remain consistent with the Pride and Prejudice categorization Wikipedia as a “novels of manners.” But much more important than the manners of that time is the connection that readers feel for Elizabeth and Darcy and for their relationship.
The third sequel, which I just finished, is titled Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. This 2011 novel, which is set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage, was so well received that it was made into an acclaimed BBC miniseries. I loved this book because, as compared to the Tennant sequels that seemed designed to throw up challenges and conflict in the magical Elizabeth and Darcy relationship, it concerns a crime mystery that showcases the loving relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. A glowing NY Times review provides two keys:
- 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.
- The greatest pleasure of this novel is its unforced, effortless, effective voice. James hasn’t written in florid cod-Regency whorls, the overblown language other mimics so often employ. Not infrequently, while reading “Death Comes to Pemberley,” one succumbs to the impression that it is Austen herself at the keyboard.
I’m almost tempted to re-read the novel and catalogue all the wonderful phrases that Austen might have written. I am certainly looking forward to watch the BBC miniseries as soon as I can get the DVDs.