It is well acknowledged that every author determined to continue, elaborate on, or simply meddle with Jane Austen's novels must be highly tempted to include a pithy universal truth, in the manner of the lady herself, which establishes the theme of the story. It's almost like a religious ritual, an epic invocation: we call for the great authoress to inspire (and forgive) the games we play with her texts. After all, this is hallowed ground on which we tread. So may I ask you, Miss Austen, to please excuse what I am about to do to your tale of Elizabeth and Darcy. I offer this story in homage to your sense of playfulness, not in some mistaken belief that my pen could ever duplicate yours. You gave each character his or her original essence and to them I will endeavor to be true. I promise to try and not to offend your delicate sensibilities with the vulgarity of our modern age though I must assume, in spite of my best intentions, that something here will offend. How can it not? The real question is, Jane, do I have your permission to proceed anyway? If only the dead could speak! Perhaps then I would not commit the following atrocity.
By the time I wrote Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes, while I was still a bit trepidatious, time had dulled much of my awe. I chose to frame the story as a letter addressed to Jane Austen, a far more familiar approach than I had dared take with First Impressions. The result reflects my sense of having a place amongst a community of Austenesque writers:
How easy it is to trespass upon the dead! You have no ability to defend yourself, and here I am posed to turn this convenient state of affairs to good measure. I will not repeat my previous justifications, offered with sincere humility and good intentions at the time, for now such words would stink of hypocrisy. Dare I apologize for that which I do with great intention and for little reason more than my own personal amusement? No. I cannot find the gall.Were you with us still, Darcy, Elizabeth, and all who attend them could rest safely in your own, motherly hands, instead of being tossed about so unceremoniously by those of us who pen such works as this. The situation is most unfair, but we must have more Bennets and Bingleys, more Collinses and de Bourghs, and all that we who truly love you can do to mitigate our transgressions is to try and honor your memory, even as we infringe upon it. You see, we are selfish and simply cannot help ourselves, and as “there is no hope for a cure”, to utilize your own words, you must forgive us.
I wrote the introduction to Holidays at Pemberley: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes during NaNoWriMo last year, when I completed a very rough first draft of the novel. As I rewrite, I'm coming to think it is the best of the books (it seems each thing I write I like better than the last, which is a great thing), but the beginning is almost surly, my tone has become so comparatively irreverent. I stuck to the letter notion, but this time I addressed it to someone other than my muse:
I offer no apologies or attempts to rationalize what I have done. I composed the following for no other reason than my own gratification: to settle the fate of a character or two, lest they feel neglected. If Jane’s spirit continues to influence this undertaking , nonetheless, may it appear in the joy of her characters.
Merry Christmas, Mr. & Mrs. Darcy. Merry Christmas, Charlotte Lucas. May the following meet with your approval.
Quite a change, don't you think? I can't concede that this is any reflection on my love of Jane Austen's novels, but I will admit that my relationship to those books has been greatly influenced by the feedback I have received from readers. Despite my profession to write only for myself, I am increasingly aware of a responsibility to write for them. In many ways, this has freed me from the burden of reverence.
If any of you should be so kind as to lament the end of the series, please be assured that I only stop here in order to pursue new takes on Pride & Prejudice. I plan to write the rough draft of my fifth novel during this year's NaNoWriMo. It will be another "What if?", this time set in the Victorian Era. If all goes well, I'll be pounding it out while hyping Holidays at Pemberley (I might rename it Pemberley Holidays - what do you think?), which I hope to release no later than November. The story focuses on Charlotte Lucas and spans the events of both First Impressions and Second Glances. Right now, it is my entire dream world.
Still haven't gotten your hands on Second Glances? Be sure to stop by vvb32 Reads this week for Tea at Pemberley. There will be a free copy up for international grabs.