Writing a book which takes the story of Elizabeth and Darcy forward, the jumping off place must be the final chapter of Pride and Prejudice. The trouble is that I have the suspicion this chapter was written almost as an afterthought. The loose ends are tied up so neatly as to defy belief! Let’s have a look at it …
I’ll start – as Jane Austen does – with Mrs Bennet. It appears that the marriage of three of her daughters failed to make her ‘sensible, amiable and well-informed’. Indeed she continued to be ‘occasionally nervous and invariably silly’ so-much-so that ‘vicinity to her mother was not desirable even to his (Bingley’s) easy temper or her (Jane’s) affectionate heart’. Thus Jane and Bingley moved from Netherfield to Derbyshire to get away from the woman!
Now, my problem is that if Mrs Bennet was so obnoxious that even the ever-obliging Bingley was persuaded to move one hundred and thirty miles to be rid of her, then Darcy would almost certainly manage things to ensure she never came to visit Pemberley.
This I explain in my book as follows: ‘The reality was that Darcy had difficulty being in the same room as Elizabeth’s mother, finding her conversation shrill and superficial and her wit notable by its absence. As he told Elizabeth on several occasions, whilst he might, for her sake, endure Mrs Bennet’s stupidity, he was loath to inflict it on his other guests. Mindful of Darcy’s antipathy, Elizabeth issued no invitation to her father and mother to visit Pemberley.’
Aha, you might protest, but didn’t Jane Austen go on to say that Mr Bennet ‘delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected’. This to my mind seems perverse. If Mr Bennet visited Pemberley than presumably he would be accompanied by wife, whose company Darcy detested. And, as I say, Pemberley is over a hundred miles from Longbourn – a three-day journey by coach – not a journey to be undertaken to spring a surprise visit. My suspicion is that Jane Austen liked Mr Bennet and wanted him to be happy in her post P&P world even if it meant being a little economical with her logic.
And then we come to Elizabeth’s other sisters. Removed from Lydia’s influence and spending ‘the chief of her time with her two elder sisters’ we learn that Kitty’s ‘improvement was great’. Other than this her post-P&P future is vague and not being a great fan of the character she barely features in ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’. As for Mary, she is the only daughter to remain at home, ‘submitting to this change without much reluctance’. For my part I always thought Mary a very interesting character so she’s given an important role in my story.
The other sister is, of course, Lydia, who, Jane Austen informs us, despite a lack of money, ‘retained all the claims to reputation that marriage had given her’. I find it amazing that the vain, impetuous, idle and decidedly addle-headed flibbertigibbet that was Lydia Wickham would settle for a life of impoverished respectability. As she announces in my story: ‘poverty makes virtue redundant’!
Finally there is Lady Catherine de Bourgh to whom Elizabeth and Darcy are finally reconciled and who condescends to wait on them at Pemberley. Again, this I find unconvincing, judging Lady Catherine to be the type of woman to take a grudge to the grave. That is how I have portrayed her.
The upshot is I’ve played a little fast-and-loose with Jane Austen’s too-neat conclusion. As my narrator might say:
Miss Jane Austen was a woman of rare delicacy and it was this that moved her to append the final chapter to her great work ‘Pride and Prejudice’. In this she attempted to persuade her readers that the future lives of her characters would be all calmness and felicity but I must advise you that they were not. In the year 1802 dark forces were at work which threatened to destroy England and all the English people held dear. It was Fitzwilliam Darcy and his new bride, Miss Elizabeth Bennet – the woman who was to become celebrated as ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ ‒ who stood foursquare and resolute against this avalanche of wickedness and treachery. Herewith I present for your edification the truth of these events but beware, this is a frank and unvarnished record of the base iniquity then abroad in the world. Understand then that truth sits as an ill-met companion to sensibility and squeamishness. You have been warned.