Letters From Pemberley was one of the earliest pieces of Austen fan fiction I read, and I continue to return to it to pursue its peaceful pages again and again. Ms. Dawkins' books are my favorite Pride and Prejudice continuations available, as they provide those desperately wanted glimpses of Darcy and Elizabeth's lives at Pemberley (it chronicles the first year of their marriage) without including anything untoward like over the top drama and gushy sex scenes. The epistolary form works very well towards this end. As Elizabeth is our letter writer (Jane is the recipient), Ms. Dawkins is freed from the burden of trying to capture Austen's voice, saving her energy for creating a years worth of activity upon nothing more than those few teasing words at the end of Pride and Prejudice, indicating what the future holds in store for our happily married couples.
More Letters from Pemberley is also excellent, though perhaps not quite as fulfilling as it's predecessor. Here we learn about the next five years of married life, rendering this book more speculative than the first, and the picture is broadened by including Elizabeth's correspondence with several parties: Jane, Aunt Gardiner, Georgianna, Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Charlotte, Darcy himself, several new acquaintances (some bearing a striking resemblance to characters from Austen's other novels), and even Mr. Humphrey Repton! In one carefully worded letter to Lady Catherine, Ms. Dawkins demonstrates her excellent grasp of Elizabeth's voice and character while playing with some of the advantages the epistolary form allows:
I am also deeply obliged to you for your words of advice; it was most kind of you to take so much of your valuable time to impart your own experience , and I intend to make careful study of your words, particularly since you mention that my dear friend, Mrs. Collins (whose good sense I value highly) has benefited so greatly from the. Your Ladyship may rest assured that I am resolved to be a good Mother to my Children, to pray for the, to set them good examples, to give them good advice, to be careful of their souls and bodies, and to watch over their tender minds. Since (as you say) my Children will have all the advantage of wealth and position, I am sure you will agree that as their Parents, Mr. Darcy and I will be obliged to remind them how priviledged they are, and instill in them the qualities of good character, modesty, integrity and compassion for others, without which wealth and position are meaningless.Now, we never read the letter to which this was written in response, just as we never hear Lady Catherine's reply, but the epistolary format allows us to infer what both might have looked like. Knowing Lady Catherine as we do, the high handed condescension (or is it honesty and frankness?) doled out in the former is easy to envision, as is her vocal response (perhaps "Obstinate, headstrong girl!") upon reading the above. And isn't it just like Lizzy to choose her words so carefully, so as to claim agreement while simultaneously undermining the sentiment expressed? Lady Catherine's outrage, though never witnessed, is palpable: therein lies the beauty of an epistolatory narrative.
As I consider the novels of both Ms. Dawkins and Ms. Austen-Leigh some of the very best JAFF available, I hope that more sincere Janeites will follow their example by adopting this somewhat archaic format. Its use both honors Austen's literary foundations and encourages her style of witticism, all while providing an excellent vehicle for capturing her tone without besmirching her subject matter with our modernism.