Last weekend, I had the privilege of seeing a dear friend's son play Mr. Darcy in his high school production of Pride and Prejudice (P&P). What fun! I had never seen it performed as a play; I watched with great joy as the young actors and actresses delivered Austen's words with feeling. It was a lovely night of theater.
I have been a fan of P&P for many years now. In addition to owning different editions of the book, my daughter and I seek to own all of the film versions. I find it fascinating that each generation seems to have its Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson; Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle; and Matthew McFadden and Keira Knightley have all paired up as the famous couple. I know there are others, so please let me know about them. Chris tells me that I have to see the Bollywood musical version, Bride and Prejudice. Each has its charms, but most charming of all to me is the endurance of this story.
A young college student I know tells me that she is taking a movie class, and they are discussing why Jane Austen, particularly through P&P, remains so popular and why each generation seems to choose it for its own. Her professor is of the opinion that it's just good marketing--I think it's much more than that. You can market a lousy story all you want, it just isn't going to resonate with people. My particular belief is that it is all about the story. In the case of P&P, I believe that it's not that women wish their men were Mr. Darcy, but rather they see Mr. Darcy in their men. If men knew that, they may like P&P more.
I also noticed something else almost by accident. I seem to have acquired almost an entire bookshelf of P&P spinoffs. This appears to be a recent phenomenon and one I didn't initially seek out. But they've sort of crept up on me. Why so many spinoffs now? One of the authors actually thanks Jane Austen for being out of copyright. I'm sure that is a factor, but that is not a recent enough occurrence to account for all of these Austen-inspired books. Something more must be at work here. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Here are the P&P products I've read in the past year (and many other remain to be discovered):
By far and away, my favorite re-telling of a tale. Janet Aylmer does an amazing job of telling us P&P from Mr. Darcy's point of view. Darcy is absent for much of P&P--this book tells you what was happening to him through all of this. It made me heart Mr. Darcy even more. (I realize that not all women heart Mr. Darcy--I'd love to hear where you fall in this debate)
Me and Mr. Darcy
Alexandra Potter sets this tale in modern day; the heroine has suffered through a series of unsatisfying relationships. After her latest breakup, her roommate begs her to forget her woes in a margarita-induced haze in sunny Mexico. Instead she decide quite spur of the moment to take a Jane Austen tour of England. She turns out to the be youngest person on the tour by many years, and she thinks she's made a huge mistake. Then the strangest things start happening--she keeps running into this man who seems so familiar to her. He seems to be from another time...you get the idea. It's a lovely bit of fluff-n-trash--I enjoyed it.
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife
As my mother said after she read it, "...and takes and takes and takes!" In other words, this is a bawdy tale. But fun in the extreme. This book picks up where Jane Austen left of in P&P. True Austenites might be appalled. We see a lot more of Mr. Darcy, and we get a lot more romance. I'll also admit that I ended up flagging more than 20 words that I had never heard before--that doesn't happen often, so hats off to Linda Berdoll for writing what is essentially a high-brow bodice ripper. Fluff-n-Trash at its best.
Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley
Berdoll continues the story in this sequel to the spinoff. I particularly like how the nasty characters in P&P get a chance to be even nastier. Lady Catherine is at her conniving, arrogant best. Lydia and Wickham prove time and again why they deserve each other--their selfishness knows no bounds.
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
Chris gave me this book for my birthday. It was great fun because it's written as a novel that reads like one of Austen's own books. The family tree at the beginning was fascinating to me. The similarities between this book and Becoming Jane are considerable. I didn't read that one, but enjoyed Anne Hathaway as Austen in the movie.
The Jane Austen Book Club
This is my least favorite of the bunch. While I liked the idea of a rather disparate group of women (and one man) getting together to read the works of Austen, I was disappointed in the lack of follow through. To me, it seemed as if it were set up so that each character would encounter some Austen-inspired plot twist in their own lives and find inspiration from the books. But that wasn't it--they read each of the books and they lived their lives. Big whoop! I was not thrilled to hear that they were making a movie of it, but I wasn't surprised. Darn this power of mine--it's a blessing and a curse! Good cast notwithstanding, I don't think there's enough story there to save it.
Lost in Austen
I bought this for my daughter, and we both have had fun with it. It's labeled by author Emma Campbell Webster as a Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure. You read until you come to a point where you have to make a decision, and based on your choice, you turn to specified pages. This book dumps all of Jane Austen's plots into one big soup pot, stirs it up, and lets you decide whether you have something palatable or not. My daughter didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but she was being diligent about keeping track of her points earned; I just read it, made my choices, and wandered where the book would lead me, so I had fun with it. I do confess to backtracking to see what would have happened if I had chosen the road less traveled.
To sum up, I’m not sure why Jane Austen’s works, particularly P&P seems to be hitting a new stride with today’s audiences, but I’m happy that they are. You know that when there is a Jane Austen for Dummies and an action figure that you are alive and well in the 21st century!