Rebecca Ann Collins
The Pemberley Chronicles Series
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How It All Began
In 2000, I was invited to contribute to an interesting compendium of views published by the Jane Austen Society of Australia. Following is an edited extract of my article on the Pemberley Series - Jane Austen would undoubtedly have been amused by the ironic circumstances that led to the appearance of Rebecca Ann Collins.
Whether she would have approved I cannot presume to say, but she would certainly have found it ”excessively diverting.”
I first read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility at the age of twelve. I did not simply fall in love with the characters, I read everything I could lay my hands on about Jane Austen and her life and times. But, not until forty years later, did I read a sequel. I most certainly had never contemplated writing one myself.
How I came to write The Pemberley Chronicles makes an interesting tale.
The BBC’s magnificent TV production of Pride and Prejudice had just concluded in 1996 , Having read the book many times, I enjoyed seeing Miss Austen’s witty masterpiece brought stunningly alive, perfect in every detail. That Christmas, a well meaning niece presented me with two books- sequels to Pride and Prejudice titled- “Pemberley” and “An Unequal Marriage”
To my huge disappointment, I found that in these “sequels” Jane Austen’s beloved Elizabeth and her Mr Darcy had been transformed into players in a soap opera- set in Regency England!
Shallow, self-indulgent and often downright silly, they were quite unrecognisable. Their superficiality, lack of judgement and total disconnection from Miss Austen’s original characters so appalled me that I sent off an irate letter to the publisher, who challenged me to write one myself.
With the encouragement of a literary friend whose judgement I respected, I began work on The Pemberley Chronicles , which I saw as a means of extending the lives of Jane Austen’s own characters into the wider environment of nineteenth century England. I wanted to place them in the context of that most dynamic and interesting period of English history and observe them as they dealt with events in their own lives and the consequences of profound social, political and economic change. A sort of- “Life after Meryton” exercise- if you will.
I could not accept that educated and intelligent men and women- as Darcy and Elizabeth are shown to be, would spend all their waking moments absorbed by the most superficial matters of fashion, romantic intrigue and gossip- before falling into bed again!
Yet, that is exactly how they appear in a rash of “sequels “ which have come thick and fast . Indeed, in some parts of the world sequel writing appears to have reached epidemic proportions- with no accounting for quality.
More recently, there have been bizarre distortions of character and improbable sexual adventures- to “spice-up” Miss Austen’s characters- revealing an ignorance of the complex values that underpin the world view of Jane Austen.
Hers was not the world of Tom Jones or Vanity Fair; rather, her main characters in whom she invested a great deal of integrity reflect the best of eighteenth century social values. They were no less passionate or emotional for being imbued with a sense of dignity and decorum. Like Jane Austen, they valued reason, wit, and sound judgement in both public and private life. Those that did not- like Lydia and George Wickham were shown up for what they were. Jane Austen is quite pitiless in exposing them to censure and ridicule.
In The Pemberley Chronicles the main characters are mature adults. They are involved in social, political and cultural life as was normal among men and women of their time. They remain recognisably Jane Austen’s characters- for I sincerely believe that I am “borrowing “ them and can only justify doing so, if I remain true to her concept of who they were in the original novel. It is important to me that they remain credible in their relationships with each other and with any new characters I may introduce for the purpose of the narrative.
They mature and age and may be changed by circumstances and events in their lives, but I believe I do not have the right to distort their essential personalities. That would be a betrayal of Jane Austen and a fraud upon the reader.
I make no attempt to imitate Jane Austen’s literary style; that would indeed have been presumption of a high order. I do not pretend to be another Jane Austen- I merely use a recognisably “period style” to suit the context of the stories I tell- which range over a fifty year period of the 19th century.
So, as you see, The Pemberley Chronicles was a sequel which resulted from a reaction against another, earlier sequel . Almost one might say, an Austenian irony of circumstance- but to judge by the response of my readers- a happy one.
The subsequent novels- were the result of my own and my readers’ interest in the lives of other minor characters from the original novel- Colonel Fitzwilliam or Charlotte Lucas among others- or the next generation of characters I have introduced- such as Jonathan Bingley, Richard Gardiner and Cassy Darcy.
Though they began life as members of a supporting cast, they are now as precious to me as Elizabeth Bennet and
Elinor Dashwood were to Miss Austen.
I have greatly enjoyed creating the Pemberley Series and hope that our readers will appreciate the authentic social background and the framework of values represented by the characters that Jane Austen loved so dearly.
Edited extract from – “ Jane Austen – some Antipodean views “ edited by Susannah Fullerton and Anne Harbers
for The Jane Austen Society of Australia. Sydney 2001.
Rebecca Ann's Notebook
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
DISCOVERING MR DARCY
FIRST IMPRESSIONS - READER'S VIEWS
WHY REVISIT NETHERFIELD