As the title suggests, the main plot line of this story revolves around who shall inherit Longbourn. The question is not as clear as Austen painted it, for with the death of Mrs. Bennet (and a bit of a makeover for Mr. Bennet), the possibility of a second marriage becomes quite probable, much to Mr. Collins' chagrin:
"But it is not only that," he said, "not only that at all. I gave myself the trouble of a journey to Longbourn only to find that your father, a grieving widower of less than a month's duration, had left there for Bath, of all frivolous localities, and that the house was actually in process of new decoration. There are to be new curtains, which I understand to be yellow, of all inappropriate shades, in the drawing-room, new paper in the room where Mrs. Bennet died - it was as though all memory of your mother were to be expunged. It was all too soon, Mrs Darcy, Miss Bennet. A year's deep mourning, in closed solitude at Longbourn, would have been suitable. But to be Gallivanting off to London, in all the present circumstances, is by no means the action of a person worthy of respect."Take that, you pompous windbag!
"I think you forget yourself," said Elizabeth angrily. "The memory of the mother of five daughters cannot possibly be expunged so long as those daughters are alive; and the changes at Longbourn have been under consideration for a long time. My mother wished to bring them about herseld and would have certainly done so. We thought it best to have them made while my father was away."
"But to come to Bath, Mrs Darcy, a place known for its thoughtless frivolities and which can offer him no opportunity for serious reflection on the permanence of the event which has recently overwhelmed him - who can have made such a decision?"
"In choosing Bath, Mr Collins," said Elizabeth coldly, "I though only of the benefit to my father's health and spirits. e live very quietly here."
"And very well," retorted Mr Collins. "I am astonished to think that the estate at Longborn can support the expense of such a residence as this."
Elizabeth was now too angry to speak, and did not do so. It was Catherine who said, and in a voice which Elizabe5th had never heard before: "You may be quite easy, Mr Collins. It is the estate at Pemberley that supports us here."
"And not content with coming to Bath," continued Mr Collins, in royal rage and as though Catherine had not spoken, "he must needs go jaunting off to London before he has been here a week. Pray, what is the reason for that?"
"The reason for that," said Elizabeth, with an edge to her voice which she made no attempt to conceal, "is that my father is urgently in need of some new clothes. The last person to die in his family was his father, some thirty years ago. He has gone to purchase his mourning which, as you have said yourself, is liable to last for a year. I presume you have no objection to that?"
"I should have thought it possible to purchase mourning a little nearer home," said Mr Collins sullenly. "At his age there can be no requirement to be at the height of the mode. But none of this alters the fact that at no time have I been consulted. As the heir to his estate it is my right to be closely consulted about everything that appertains to that estate. The changes in the house at Longbourn are costly and unnecessary. This visit to Bath is costly and unnecessary. I can hardly express my sense of outrage sufficiently."
Elizabeth stood up, and Catherine with her.
"You appear to be under some misapprehension, Mr Collins," she said very politely. "It is my mother who has died, not my father. Until that event occurs you have no right whatever to concern yourself in what goes on at Longbourn, unless my father specifically invites you to do so. He has been his own master for a great many years and he is most unlikely to require any assistance, or brook any interference, from you or from anyone else."
The Heir to Longbourn is not just a Pride and Prejudice continuation, also incorporating characters from Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and especially Mansfield Park, with Maria and Tom Bertram taking center stage. Like Maria of Birkthwaite by Judith Brocklehurst, this book seeks to redeem Maria and free her from her exiled state. I find Mr. Fleming's method of doing this far more believable than Ms. Brocklehurst's, but take issue with his handling of other characters from Mansfield, particularly Fanny Bertram nee Price. Though we never hear or see her directly, an insider's account of Fanny makes her appear as dour as possible. I will not turn this review into a defense of Fanny Price, but I do so wish lovers of Austen would be a bit more sympathetic towards this most maligned heroine. I find it particularly frustrating when she is disparaged while Mary Crawford is lauded, as occurs to a degree in this book. Why are these two characters the only ones that Janeites do not trust Austen to have rewarded and punished appropriately?
There are two more books in this series by Mr. Fleming: The Will of Lady Catherine and The Summer at Lyme. I imagine they will continue to combine the stories of Austen's other characters with those of Pride and Prejudice. Both are now in my Amazon shopping cart. I look forward to further enjoying Mr. Fleming's thoughtful and surprising imaginings of where fate might have led these beloved characters.