Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Weird Literary World of Pride and Prejudice Fan Fiction

Last week, I was browsing through a bunch of Kindle sale items, when I started seeing a strange pattern. Way more often than I expected, I'd see a book with "Darcy" or "Pemberley" or "Bennett" in the title. Yes, it looks like this month the Kindle sale was (maybe unintentionally) highlighting some of the best offerings of the Pride and Prejudice fan fiction world.

I found, in this sale collection alone, six different books that were overtly P&P fan fiction or adaptations. And those are only the ones I could identify by their title. So I figured I'd look at them one by one and see if any of them look like they'd be worth reading.

1. Letters From Pemberley: The First Year by Jane Dawkins

Synopsis: In this continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, one of the best-loved novels in the English language, Elizabeth Bennet finds herself in a very different league of wealth and privilege, now as Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy and mistress of Pemberley. Writing to her sister, Jane, she confides her uncertainty and anxieties, and describes the everyday of her new life. Her first year at Pemberley is sometimes bewildering, but Lizzy's spirited sense of humor and satirical eye never desert her. Incorporating Jane Austen's own words and characters from her other works, the book is a literary patchwork quilt piecing together the story of Lizzy's first eventful year as Mrs. Darcy.

Reader reaction: So far, 4/5 stars with 115 customer reviews. The most recent 5-star review says, "With Pride and prejudice I felt stuck at the end. This was good and filled the void." The most recent 1-star review says, "Ugh. Gag me with a spoon."

Looking inside: Elizabeth writes a letter to Jane about how Darcy is letting her decorate however she wants, probably because his friends think he married down and he thinks she'll be able to "hold her own in the face of any resentment" if she feels comfy. She's grateful for that but doesn't talk about it with him "it is yet too delicate a subject to embark upon." And then she talks about how much everyone loves Darcy.

Will I read it? Nope. Just because the author's name sounds vaguely like "Jane Austen" if you say it fast and slur it does not mean this will make any sense, and I'm also pretty sure from the first few pages that it is a lot of sitting around not communicating and just guessing what the other person thinks and feels, which, to be fair, is probably what Lizzie and Darcy would do, but that doesn't mean I want to read about it. Besides, I'm more vehemently opposed to sequels than prequels, pre-ending spinoffs, or modern-day reboots. Endings mean nothing if you then go on to have an entire story about what happened after them.

2. Plight of the Darcy Brothers: A tale of the Darcys & the Bingleys (The Pride & Prejudice Continues Book 2) by Marsha Altman

Synopsis: In this lively second installment, the Darcys and Bingleys are plunged into married life and its many accompanying challenges presented by family and friends.
With Jane and Elizabeth away, Darcy and Bingley take on the daunting task of managing their two-year- old children. Mary Bennet returns from the Continent pregnant by an Italian student promised to the church; Darcy and Elizabeth travel to find the father, and discover previously unknown—and shocking—Darcy relations. By the time Darcy
discovers that there's more than one sibling of questionable birth in the family, the ever-dastardly Wickham arrives on the scene to try to seize the Darcy fortune once and for all.

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars with 33 customer reviews. The most recent 5-star review says, "Is it completely true to regency era...I'm sure it's not...but it's close and it's a lovely fun story." The most recent 1-star review says, "It is a book like this that makes me bristle at extensions of classics to begin with."

Looking inside: The book starts with Darcy being super depressed for vague reasons and Georgiana trying to comfort him. We then learn that Elizabeth had one child and miscarried a lot, but I don't think that's what Darcy is melancholy about, as he goes in and thinks glumly at his son, "You have no idea, the burden on your shoulders someday." Then Georgiana tells him that their mother had trouble having children too, and then everybody walks around being sad for awhile, and THIS IS SO BORING.

Will I read it? This is not nearly the crazy exciting soap opera drama promised to me in the synopsis. This is a full chapter of Darcy moping. NOPE.

3. A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Synopsis: Surrounded by appalling exes and fawning students, the only thing keeping professor Katherine Roberts sane is Jane Austen and her personal secret love for racy Regency romance novels. She thinks the Jane Austen Addicts conference in the English countryside is the perfect opportunity to escape her chaotic life and finally relax...
But then she encounters a devilishly handsome man at the conference who seems determined to sweep her off her feet. Is he more fiction than fact? Or could he be the hero she didn't know she was looking for?

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars out of 70 reviews. I'm beginning to think star ratings may not be a reliable indication of a book's quality. The most recent 5-star review says, "Very enjoyable book" and then gives 10 sentences of synopsis. That's it. The most recent 1-star review says, "This 'author' writes men that act like women."

Looking inside: Katherine Roberts is an Oxford university lecturer, maybe something to do with literature, and spends most of the first few pages being ashamed that she likes to read trashy romances. A male student drops in and Super Flirts with her. Her ex shows up to yell at her about how she doesn't live in reality anymore, and the fact that she's going to some sort of Jane Austen Con is proof of that. Katherine mumbles about how she doesn't trust men who don't read. And she walks away feeling smug, and that's chapter one.

Will I read it? Well, to its credit, this looks like it's not ACTUALLY Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, it just happens to be about somebody who loves Jane Austen, and it is amusingly ridiculous in its first chapter. I could totally see me reading this to laugh at it if I got it for free... but, no, I wouldn't pay money for it.

4. Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange

Synopsis: The only place Darcy could share his innermost feelings was in the private pages of his diary...
Torn between his sense of duty to his family name and his growing passion for Elizabeth Bennet, all he can do is struggle not to fall in love.
Mr. Darcy's Diary presents the story of the unlikely courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Darcy's point of view. This graceful imagining and sequel to Pride and Prejudice explains Darcy's moodiness and the difficulties of his reluctant relationship as he struggles to avoid falling in love with Miss Bennet. Though seemingly stiff and stubborn at times, Darcy's words prove him also to be quite devoted and endearing - qualities that eventually win over Miss Bennet's heart. This continuation of a classic romantic novel is charming and elegant, much like Darcy himself.

Reader reaction: You guessed it, 4/5 stars, this time with 193 customer reviews, so it's the most-reviewed of them all so far. The most recent 5-star review says (in its entirety), "SO good. A super easy read as well." The most recent 1-star review says, "I didn't like this book at all. The way it was written was not like I love. Glad it's over."

Looking inside: Well, it jumps RIGHT in with, "Have I done the right thing in establishing Georgiana in London, I wonder? This summer is proving to be very hot, and when I visited her this morning, I found her lacking her usual energy. I think I will send her to the coast for a holiday." That is our entire first entry, and after that abrupt opening, it just gets boring, so I give up.

Will I read it? Nooooope. Fanfic that is basically the exact same story told in diary form from the other main character -- not even a side character who could have, you know, subplots going on -- sounds like the most boring thing in the world to me. It's one thing when multiple perspectives are interwoven into a story, it's completely different when it's like, "Oh, you like that story? How about THE EXACT SAME STORY but with a less likable protagonist?"

5. Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Synopsis: When the smoke has cleared from the battlefields and the civil war has finally ended, fervent Union supporter Beth Bennet reluctantly moves with her family from their home in Meryton, Ohio, to the windswept plains of Rosings, Texas. Handsome, haughty Will Darcy, a Confederate officer back from the war, owns half the land around Rosings, and his even haughtier cousin, Cate Burroughs, owns the other half.
In a town as small as Rosings, Beth and Will inevitably cross paths. But as Will becomes enchanted with the fiery Yankee, Beth won't allow herself to warm to the man who represents the one thing she hates most: the army that killed her only brother.
But when carpetbagger George Whitehead arrives in Rosings, all that Beth thought to be true is turned on its head, and the only man who can save her home is the one she swore she'd never trust...

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars out of 49 customer reviews. The most recent 5-star review says, "You could tell Mr. Caldwell knew what he was talking about and just 'knew his stuff.'" The most recent 1-star review says, "For Mr. Darcy & Miss Elizabeth to continually speak as though they knew nothing of the good King's English is an atrocity."

Looking inside: A good chunk of the "looking inside" section is a map of Pemberley Ranch and then an extensive list of characters. But then we get into the action, during a battle, where Darcy is wounded and meets Bingley, who is an army doctor. We then flash to the Bennet house, where we learned that the oldest Bennet, the only boy, has been killed in the war, which is a kind of interesting take on it, and Elizabeth vows revenge on the rebels.

Will I read it?: Actually, I'm kind of intrigued by this one. I'd much rather read a creative retelling of a story than a continuation, and this is an interesting setting for it. The opening pages read well, too. This one is still on sale for $1.99 as I write this, and I just might have to check it out.

6. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud

Synopsis: Fast music, powerful beats, and wild reputations-on and off stage-have made virtuoso guitarist Fitzwilliam Darcy's band into rock's newest bad boys. But they've lost their latest opening act, and their red-hot summer tour is on the fast track to disaster. Now Darcy and bandmates Charles Bingley and Richard Fitzwilliam are about to meet their match...
Enter Elizabeth Bennet, fiercely independent star of girl-band Long Borne Suffering. Elizabeth, her sister Jane, and friend Charlotte Lucas have talent to spare and jump at the opening band slot. Elizabeth is sure she's seen the worst the music industry has to offer. But as the days and nights heat up, it becomes clear that everyone is in for a summer to remember.

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars, with 78 customer reviews. So basically if you write Pride and Prejudice fan fiction and it doesn't get 4/5 stars, you must've done something wrong. The most recent 5-star review says... well, I'm going to have to share most of this one: "This is a good book. It's about 2 bands. It was good from the begin to the end. It a long , good book. Didn't want to put the book down. Too, bad Lizzy and Will didn't have the babies at the end. But it was a good good ending," The most recent 1-star review says, "It started out with promise, but suddenly it seemed that it was a draft that was printed."

Looking inside: The prologue is a transcript of a documentary about Darcy and Bingley's band which includes the fantastic prompt "Photo of Darcy, looking broody." It is, however, THE LONGEST PROLOGUE IN THE WORLD and I skimmed it. And then it switches to everybody at a concert. The other two people in Darcy's band fall in love with the other two people in Elizabeth's band, and then DarcyBand invites LizzieBand to go on tour with them, much to Darcy and Elizabeth's annoyance.

Will I read it? Nope. As entertaining as the premise is, the writing is pretty sloppy, and the characters are pretty annoying, so this is not great.

Which one of these (if any) would you read? What's your favorite retelling of a Jane Austen story -- Pride and Prejudice or otherwise?

1 comment:

  1. I've never read any of these, but I am a fan of P&P spin offs, usually. I really enjoyed "Longbourn" by Jo Baker. Pamela Aidan's three-part telling of the story from Darcy's point of view was fascinating - it dove into all the segments of the original where he and Elizabeth were apart and filled in the details. It starts with "An Assembly Such as This" and held my attention through all three books. Otherwise, Shannon Hale's "Austenland" was fun, "Midnight in Austenland" less so.