Letters From Pemberley by Jane Dawkins:

a review by Geoff Chapman

© Copyright 1999

The full title of this work explains its scope very neatly: Letters From Pemberley: the first year; a continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

It is a well-designed paperback of 200 pages, ISBN 1-893337-00-6 and is published by Chicken Soup Press of Circleville, NY 10919 (fax (914) 692-7574, email poet@warwick.net) at a RRP of $US12.00 plus $US5.00 P&P ($US4.00 P&P if ordered within the USA).

Any author writing a continuation of a JA novel inevitably invites comparison with the original author. A well-informed lay reader will look for wit, irony, an intricately-crafted plot, perhaps even a moral perspective. Jane Dawkins, the author, has not attempted to provide these things. Instead, she indicates in her introduction "...this book's only purpose is to entertain." In this, I feel, she succeeds.

Jane Dawkins lays out her reason for writing a series of letters from Elizabeth Darcy to Jane Bingley. "My own particular wondering has always been about Elizabeth's first days at Pemberley, her bewilderment perhaps, her anxieties -- the every-day of a new life as wife and mistress of Pemberley. Although she is a gentleman's daughter ... she suddenly finds herself in a different league of wealth and privilege altogether, mistress of a large house, and surely aware that many will consider that Mr. Darcy has married beneath himself." Such being the case, Elizabeth corresponds often with her beloved sister Jane.

This is a light and charming work. The letters are well-researched and there is a good flow of description, self-awareness and sisterly love. The author peoples the neighbourhood of Pemberley with other characters from JA's six completed novels, changing the names but not their attributes. This is an unusual device that works well, but sometimes one wishes that Elizabeth would write to Jane of the interactions of these characters. One would like to see what Jane Dawkins would make of a dispute between say, Anne Elliot and Mr. Elton.

The author has gone to a great deal of trouble in two main directions: Elizabeth's gowns and the gardens of Pemberley. She lists her sources in a neat but adequate bibliography. One hesitates to cavil, but this reader would have liked some emphasis on the round of gentry country pursuits: the quarter-days, market-days, hunts, visits to Lambton or Derby, even a Public Day at Pemberton. One misses, too, Elizabeth's reactions to living in another county: the local accent difficulty, the different cuts of meat, even the differing favourite specifics and nostrums for colds, chilblains and bed-bugs.

While the author has indicated that she wants to portray how Elizabeth manages with the people of Pemberley, this reader found her detailing of Georgiana uninspiring and the author's way of handling Elizabeth's attitude to the housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, and the steward (un-named) rather pedestrian. Jane Dawkins makes both these two lynch-pins of domestic Pemberley into paragons. I, for one, would have liked to see the intelligent, mentally-agile Elizabeth bring a new broom to bear on the traditionally awkward relations of housekeeping and the home farm.

In summary, though, I found this a light, cheerful and undemanding account of many readers' favourite heroine settling into Pemberley.

Geoff Chapman.

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