Austen-based literature, especially based on Pride and Prejudice, is surprisingly common. I suppose a lot of that is due to the 1995 BBC adaptation and the 2005 movie. It’s all essentially Austen fan-fiction, and some of it is quite good. There are sequels, there are prequels, there are stories that focus on one of the more minor characters, and there are stories about people who, for whatever reason, relive one of the stories. Bridget Jones’s Diary, which is based on Pride and Prejudice, and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which is based on Persuasion, are probably the most famous of these. Austenland and another book that I read last year called Me and Mr Darcy are both about women who go on vacation in order to actually relive Pride and Prejudice.
These books have a lot in common. They’re both perfectly fine books that are quite entertaining and they are more than just simple retreadings of the Pride and Prejudice plot. Another thing they have in common is something incredibly annoying: their heroines, in spite of claiming to be obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, have absolutely no memory of the first, oh, two-thirds of the book. Both of them complain about the man with whom they have a tense verbal relationship and say things like, “If only he could be more like Mr Darcy!”
Do they not remember the book? Elizabeth hates Darcy for the first part of the book. When he proposes she is genuinely surprised because she thinks that he hates her just as much. They banter, they insult each other, they misunderstand each other both deliberately and inadvertently. How can people who claim to be so obsessed with P&P look at a bantering relationship – especially one that uses almost exactly the same words as P&P – and NOT see it as a Darcy relationship? Honestly, if the main character is that clueless about the book and story that has been touted as her favourite, it makes me trust and like her a little bit less.
There are good moments in Austenland: Jane has a believably hard time letting go of her modern self and following the ‘rules’ of Regency England – something I think a lot of time travellers underestimate is the difficulty of letting go of the modern assumptions that make us who we are. And I had to laugh at the piano playing scene:
With professional suavity, Jane arranged her skirt, spread out the music, poised her fingers, and then with one hand played the black keys, singing along with the notes, “Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her, put her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her very well.”
She rose and curtsied to the room. (p.111)
I think that showed great poise and humour and, as a pianist myself, I appreciated it.