Author Jane Austen produced a timeless masterpiece in her novel Pride and Prejudice. Initially titled First Impressions, the novel set in Georgian Era England depicts the courtships, manners and concerns of the landed gentry through the romantic developments between protagonists Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Through their exciting repartee and their dealings with other characters, the readers see the development of their feelings for each other to overcome their differences and get the happily-ever-after ending of marital bliss.
As with all fiction that truly engages with their audience, Pride and Prejudice inspired works from its fans that expands upon the original. One such fan is Abigail Reynolds, a Massachussetts-based physician who started writing P&P fan fiction, posting her work in Jane Austen fan sites and later expanding her reach through self-publishing. Her works explore different plot elements that deviate from the course of Jane Austen’s original, the “what-ifs” that builds upon the situations and motivations of the protagonists, but will inevitably conclude with a happily-ever-after ending of Elizabeth and Darcy getting married. She even adapts some of P&P’s popular lines to new situations. She later titled this series as Pemberley Variations.
Most of the elements that readers love about P&P remain: the Elizabeth’s initial dislike of Mr. Darcy, his reticence misconstrued as arrogance by Elizabeth and the Meryton folks, his termagant of an aunt in Lady Catherine DeBourgh and the role played by Elizabeth’s relatives, the Gardiners, in bringing them together.
The combinations of familiar and new elements make the Variations, as a whole, very compelling reads.
To Conquer Mr. Darcy (republished from Impulse and Initiative)
What if, instead of disappearing from her life after his disastrous proposal, Darcy was persuaded to return to Hertfordshire and change her mind about him?
This novel introduced me to the Pemberley Variations and got me hooked to the series. After a short period wallowing in misery in his London home, Darcy was talked by his cousin Richard into going back to Longbourn, assist in Charles Bingley’s courtship of Elizabeth’s sister Jane, and basically show Elizabeth that he is worthy of love.
I found the unfolding of their love story irresistible and Elizabeth’s awakening at Darcy’s touch quite steamy. My misgiving about this book is the Pemberley staff’s overly solicitous management of Darcy’s reaction to a “certain happy event.” It may illustrate how beloved a master Darcy is but it comes across as babying him.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in The World(republished from The Last Man in the World)
What if Darcy, the man Elizabeth thought is the last man in the world she could be prevailed upon to marry is her husband?
Forced to accept his proposal because she was caught in a compromising situation with him, Elizabeth did not have the benefit of knowing the kind of man he really was. Darcy found himself wondering where his dutiful wife’s arch humor and feistiness had gone until the time came when her bottled-up resentments were revealed.
This book is my favorite among the Variations; it got me teary-eyed a more than couple of times. Elizabeth and Darcy’s reunion in the end is made all the sweeter by the all the suffering caused by their earlier misunderstandings.
What if Elizabeth was even more unsuitable for Mr. Darcy?
Elizabeth and her sisters are left in dire straits by the untimely death of her father. Darcy can’t still get memories of her out of his mind even years after his unsuccessful proposal. When he encounters her again, he finds himself constantly seeking her out.
In this novel, we see Elizabeth in surroundings unfamiliar to us: her uncle and aunt’s abode in Gracechurch Street (near Cheapside), in London. We also see more of Darcy’s relations aside from the ones introduced in Austen’s original: he has a snotty earl uncle, a reprobate cousin and a termagant aunt who all figure into his romance with Elizabeth.
I found this novel an entertaining read, although Georgiana Darcy’s backstory in this book is a bit out of character.
What Would Mr. Darcy Do? (republished from From Lambton to Longbourn)
What if instead of parting ways at the brink of the scandal involving Elizabeth’s sister, she and Darcy were able to reveal their feelings for each other?
At the Lambton inn just after Elizabeth received the news that Lydia has run off with Wickham, Darcy expressed his continued feelings for her. Thus began an ardent courtship which also involved Elizabeth’s growing closeness with Darcy’s sister Georgiana.
This novel is a straightforward read with few, if any, bumps in the plot. The pranks and teasing that Darcy endured from Elizabeth and Georgiana as the two women exchanged letters from Lambton and Derbyshire were quite entertaining.
What if Elizabeth chose not to read Darcy’s letter after she refused his proposal?
Since Elizabeth didn’t find out about Wickham’s misdeeds against his family, and her view of the two men remain unchanged, she put herself and Darcy in danger of falling into Wickham’s schemes.
The story elements in this novel are a bit more outlandish which include Darcy fighting a duel with Wickham and his solution to finding Lydia a husband. Still, it’s a good way to while away some time reading.
What if Elizabeth’s reputation is in jeopardy because she is forced to spend time alone with Mr. Darcy?
In this version of events, Elizabeth is forced into close quarters with Mr. Darcy by the flooding that isolates them from other people. Forced to work and live together, they discover new facets about each other that allow their feelings to develop. That is, until the world intrudes on them again.
In contrast to the other novels in the series, this one explores pairing Elizabeth’s sister Jane with someone else. I found the dynamics of the new couple, and how their love story wove in to Elizabeth and Darcy’s, quite an absorbing read.
What if when Mr. Darcy returns to Hertfordshire he is faced with a true rival for Elizabeth’s affections?
This book, also among my favorites in the series, explores how Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s romance would have developed had Elizabeth already accepted the proposal of a childhood friend prior to Darcy’s return. Darcy sets about changing Elizabeth’s negative perception of him without the hope that he will be able to win her.
I found the change in circumstance between Darcy and Elizabeth intriguing, how their attraction, sense of mutual respect and shared humor continued to develop despite Elizabeth’s engagement. Darcy decided to leave to escape the pain of seeing Elizabeth marry another man but, upon his return, gains hope in the knowledge that she broke off her engagement.
What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy find themselves away from Meryton and mingling with the denizens of the ton in a posh house party? What if Darcy’s cousin makes a bet that he can seduce Elizabeth during their stay?
This book’s plot is quite hard to follow – with the various twists and turns and inconsistencies – that frankly, I just tuned out. This is probably the weakest among the books in the series.
What if Elizabeth and an injured Mr. Darcy are stranded in an isolated cottage by a snowstorm?
Similar to Mr. Darcy’s Refuge, the protagonists are secluded together by an act of nature, this time by a snowstorm. Here, they iron out their differences while wrestling with the possibility that Elizabeth’s reputation may be tainted by their unchaperoned seclusion.
Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Bennett, played a more active role in hindering the two lovers; his motivations is still unclear to me. The objections of Darcy’s snootier connections also come into play.
What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy find themselves in the middle of Luddite revolts, with his colorful noble relations, the Fitzwilliams, added to the fray?
Fresh from her disappointment over the transfer of Wickham’s attentions to another woman, Elizabeth journeys to London to escape the Meryton gossip and be with her sister, Jane. There, she encounters Mr. Darcy and overhears him insulting her family.
The couple finds themselves traveling to northern England with bickering Fitzwilliams. The breakout character in this novel is Lady Matlock, the Fitzwilliam matriarch, who proves to have quite progressive views as well as leadership skills that help resolve the conflicts that surround their group.
What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have to contend with, not just the Meryton gossips and the rules of the ton, but the French occupation of England as well?
The unthinkable has happened: England is under French rule. Aside from objections to his seeming arrogance and pride, Mr. Darcy is considered a traitor to England, since he appears to be consorting with the hated French officials and still has his wealth. At first, Elizabeth joins in on the near-universal disdain towards him. However, Mr. Darcy hides a secret that holds the key to England’s liberation.
This is the most ambitious of Reynolds’ Variations to date: applying an alternate history to P&P and showing how these new circumstances bring out the characters’ traits and motivations. The ending is a bit anti-climactic, but props to the author for a truly unusual retelling.
The Pemberley Variations series is an astounding feat for Ms. Reynolds. She was able to reimagine the characters in new situations yet still, for the most part, keep to the heart of the original. While some of her later works fell short of the bar set by her earlier novels, I’m hopeful that she will be able to regain her momentum and keep producing new twists to Elizabeth and Darcy’s story that her readers will enjoy unraveling.
For more details on her books and other projects, visit Abigail Reynolds website, where you can also download some P&P variation novellas for free as a sampling of her work.
Check out my other blog posts on my favorite books:
- Gabriel’s Inferno Series by Sylvain Reynard
- Pharaoh’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews
- The Legend of Sheba – Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee
- Jewel of Persia by Roseanna M. White
- Esther – Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt
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Check out P&P’s movie and TV adaptations:
- The 1940 film which stars Greer Garson and Sir Laurence Olivier
- The 1995 BBC drama series which stars Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth
- The 2005 film which stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen