"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
221 years ago, in August of 1797, Jane Austen completed her first manuscript, titled First Impressions, but it would be 15 more years before that the book was finally published. We know it today as Pride and Prejudice.
I think of that book with something akin to reverence. Her wit and determination as a writer have inspired me throughout my life, and I am drawn to the story and characters. It truly doesn't matter how many times I've seen the movie or read the book, I'm ready for more. Always. I love it like my mother and grandmother loved it before me, and it's part of who I am as much as any memory of my own. That's why I keep reading Pride and Prejudice fiction, why I keep going back for more.
And since this month is significant for P&P fans and I just finished reading yet another Pride and Prejudice retelling, I am providing you with my list of favorite P&P fiction with the hope that you'll get as much enjoyment out of it as I have. But while I consider myself to be a pretty fair and trustworthy critic when it comes to books, I should warn you- I have enjoyed almost every book of Pride & Prejudice fiction that I have ever read, even if the writing itself is actually subpar. I can't help it! I never want the story to be over and I miss the characters like old friends.
“Confession: I have read Pride and Prejudice two hundred times. I get lost in the language, words like: Thither. Mischance. Felicity. I am always in agony over whether Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are really going to get together. Read it! I know you’ll love it.” -Kathleen Kelly, You've Got Mail
Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise
What if Mr. Bennet died before Elizabeth ever went to Pemberley with her aunt and uncle Gardiner? That's the angle of Only Mr. Darcy Will Do, and it does provide for very interesting speculation. But of all the Pride and Prejudice retellings that I have read, this was probably the most poorly written. The author didn't even attempt to match Jane Austen's voice and her storyline was painfully predictable. And while I usually wish I could stay with Darcy and Elizabeth just a bit longer and see how their lives go on after Wickham and Longbourne and their I do's with Jane and Bingley, this book had me ready for the story to end well before it finally did. And yet, in spite of all of that, I loved it.
This isn't a book you'll find easily, but you can borrow my copy or get a used one cheap online. And if you still want to read it despite my honest and harsh review, I think you and I are made of the same stuff :)
Other Pride & Prejudice Sequels, Spin-offs and Retellings
I've created a Pride and Prejudice fiction bookshelf with a list of other titles you might consider, but here are my top three:
Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston | Retelling. Perhaps my favorite new Pride and Prejudice novel. I happened upon it in that article titled "The Very Best Pride & Prejudice Books: Spinoffs, Sequels, and Retellings." Of all the recommended books, this one caught my eye. The very idea of getting to see Darcy and Elizabeth court and change and fall in love is exactly what I missed so much in the classic original. Pride and Prejudice is by far the superior novel, but this retelling made the girl in me who grew up with P&P just giddy.
The story veers from the classic at Darcy's first proposal- What if Elizabeth had been so shocked by his feelings, that she immediately began to question all of their interactions and her judgments of him? If you can accept that Lizzy would have been able to suppress her passionate outburst that followed Darcy's condescending proposal, the rest of the story offers an alternative in which we see the characters go through some serious self-reflection. I especially love how metacognitive the author's portrayal is. From the perspective of the characters, we see their thought processes, their paradigm shifts, and their realizations. We see their concessions and their hopes and fears and motivations. We see them fall in love, and it's perfect.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James | Sequel. I've read a lot of P&P fiction- This one was a fun variation because it was a murder mystery. I thought the author was very true to the original story and to Jane Austen's style of writing... BUT the story wasn't very captivating. It was interesting to gain perspective on how trials were handled during that time period and to see more of the etiquette and propriety expected as well. I enjoyed how the lives of our friends at Pemberley briefly and unexpectedly intertwined with the Elliots from Persuasion and the Knightleys from Emma. I was glad to catch up with all the original characters, but wasn't very intrigued by the murder mystery. I do love the Masterpiece Classics miniseries of the same title (available on Netflix!).
Austenland by Shannon Hale | Spin-off. Chick lit for modern Jane Austen fans. A woman obsessed with Mr. Darcy has a once in a lifetime opportunity at an immersive Jane Austen resort. She gets to live in the big house, wear the empire waisted gowns, and the whole experience will end with a ball. And we get to live vicariously through her, because what P&P fan hasn't dreamed of living the life of a regency heroine?
And you have to love the author's dedication: "For Colin Firth. You're a great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends." :)
The Houseguest: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary by Elizabeth Adams | Retelling. What if Georgiana Darcy had met Darcy at Netherfield and befriended Elizabeth Bennet early on? Elizabeth Adams shows how this one small change could have changed much of the storyline for Elizabeth and Darcy. The story started out slow, as if it took the author a while to find her voice or get her momentum going. But once the retelling started to stand on its own feet, it really became a fun read! Perspective changes between characters, allowing insight into Elizabeth, Darcy, and even Caroline Bingley's point of view. The ending and epilogue are just the closure P&P fans are looking for. Loved it, and finished with a smile on my face!
And if you like these types of books, may I just recommend Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson? It was both a little bit cheesy and often predictable, but it's the perfect book if you're looking for an easy regency romance with a happily ever after (no P&P strings attached).
P&P Baby Books
And just because it's never too early...