Pride and Prejudice is one of the best-known and best-loved English novels of all time. More than 200 years after it was first published, it is still eminently readable, even for modern audiences. (My sister did say that she thought the sisters were nuts for sitting around waiting around for a man to propose…)
Pride and Prejudice is so popular (and also so far past the expiration of its copyright) that many modern authors have put their own stamp on this classic romance. For many years I resented this – Pride and Prejudice has been one of my favourite stories since I was about 12 years old, and the story is so special to me that I take a very dim view of people messing with it.
Even now I am very picky about reading adaptions and retellings. Here’s my thoughts on the ones I have read. Note: The following refers only to novels based on Pride and Prejudice, and does not include any film or television adaptions (although the BBC miniseries from the mid-nineties is, I believe, the best and most faithful to the original novel).
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The original and the best. As Mary Poppins would say, it’s ‘practically perfect in every way.’ If you don’t know the story…where have you been? Go read it, right now, then come back and read the rest of this post (you can download the e-book for free, or if your local library doesn’t have it, you need to find a new library to go to!) There are spoilers in the following mini-reviews, so don’t read any further if you haven’t read this one!!!
Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice through his eyes by Regina Jeffers
I was skeptical when I first saw this on the shelf at my local library, but I decided to give it a go. I’m really glad I did. A large proportion of the novel is devoted to scenes from the original, written from Darcy’s point of view, but it also explores his relationships with Bingley and Georgiana, and continues on from the wedding to the family’s first New Year’s Eve celebrations at Pemberley. It really tugs on the feels, and I was a little disappointed when it ended.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
There was a lot of hype about this one when it first came out, but personally, it’s one of the books in this post I liked least. It’s set in the same time period as Pride and Prejudice, but focuses on the lives of the servants at Longbourn. The events upstairs only appear when they affect the servants. (For example, at one point Sarah – the housemaid – consults Mr Collins for spiritual advice during his stay.) Like Darcy’s Passions, the story continues into the first few months of Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage.
While the depiction of regency life, particularly life below stairs, is (to the best of my knowledge) fantastically accurate, I felt like some of the plot lines stripped the story of its innocence. Elizabeth Bennet was also depicted as a little more selfish and thoughtless in her treatment of servants than in the original.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James
Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy are living happily ever after on their estate at Pemberley – until Lydia Wickham decides that she wants to attend an upcoming ball on the estate and insists that her husband should bring her to visit. I had to like this one, because it’s written by one of my favourite mystery writers.
You can read my full review here
Being Elizabeth Bennet by Emma Campbell Webster
A choose your own adventure story, where your goal is to marry both for love and money. Based on Pride and Prejudice, it also includes elements from Jane Austen’s other novels, and her real life. I really wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I read this the first time. I wasn’t in the mood for the complicated scoring system (your character gains and loses skills and abilities in a similar way to Dungeons and Dragons – a notebook and pen need to be your constant companions while you’re reading this). I was also horrified by the liberties taken with the storyline.
A little older and wiser now, I recently read this again. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but I did find a contradiction: In order to ‘win’ you need to be thoroughly familiar with the Jane Austen canon and the society in which the books were set, and yet the text is often over-simplified (in my opinion) perhaps to avoid alienating readers who don’t know the books as well. All of the major plot points are there, but very little of the detail. On the plus side, it can be read in an afternoon, and the multiple potential endings mean that you could have a different experience each time you read it.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
I was excited to read this, because I loved Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters (by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters). As I mentioned before, I am quite nit-picky about adaptions of Pride and Prejudice, and sadly, in this one there were nits to be picked. Some of my favourite pieces of dialogue were cut or altered – either to accommodate the ‘unmentionables’ or to make their meaning clearer for modern audiences. The depiction of Elizabeth and her sisters as ass-kicking warriors was a step towards female emancipation that I think Austen would probably have approved of, but the dirty jokes? Seriously? I think perhaps that was a step too far.