Don’t mess with our heritage
I congratulate P.D. James on what is a brave attempt to sequel the novel widely accepted as the pinnacle of Jane Austen’s literary works. However, I cannot award a more positive adjective than ‘brave’, as Death Comes to Pemberley attempts to incorporate a second-rate murder mystery into Austen’s world, which falls far short of, and appears frankly bizarre in relation to, Pride and Prejudice.
Although James evokes the Darcys’ and their contemporaries’ nineteenth century quotidian lifestyle through a light spattering of cultural references, such delicate nuances are heavily outweighed by an abundance of spectacularly clumsy similes in the latter half of the novel. Not only do such unnecessary attempts at a more interesting narrative style utterly reject the traditional English heritage around which Pride and Prejudice revolves, but add a weight of irrelevancy and poor penmanship which betrays James’ literary inferiority, and blemishing the overall outcome of the sequel.
What with a scandal of illegitimate children, an unlikely criminal and far-from-original use of Wickham as a target for prejudice, the plot of Death Comes to Pemberley appears a far more fitting companion piece to the recent hyperbolic film adaptation, as opposed to Austen’s complex commentary on Regency society. Even James’ phrasing reflects more that of Emma Thompson and Deborah Moggach in the 2005 film adaptation, rather than the original words in the 1813 novel.
Another of P.D. James’ failings is the narrative style, and in particular, the controversial neglect of Austen’s best-loved protagonist Elizabeth Bennet. James disregards the stylistically limited omniscience narration employed by Austen, which complemented so well contemporary nineteenth century male and female social etiquette. Consequently, her subject matter is exclusively male-oriented and therefore largely excludes the lady of Pemberley. What with entire scenes within her novel comprising solely of male characters, the reader is left (unsurprisingly) dissatisfied, and this bizarre choice eventually fractures the sequence of the entire story.
If James’ intention was to continue Austen’s Pride and Prejudice on a similar level, I’m afraid she has fallen short. However, she offers Austen fans a light read and possible conclusion for the Bennet sisters, so perhaps they will be somewhat content. But do not be disillusioned; despite being a brave attempt, it lacks the talent necessary to continue one of the greatest novels in the English language. It is but another rather trashy sequel which Austen would likely find ridiculous, if not offensive.
Photograph: Delaney Chambers