For those of us who have long admired the verbally adept, socially constrained, interactions between Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and their mountain-twisty road toward love, there is a natural curiosity to want to peek in at the windows at Pemberley to see how it all turned out. Many authors have tried to continue their story (just google ‘Pemberley’ and be amazed); the almost unanimous vitriol they received in Amazon reviews alone made me glad that I resisted the temptation to investigate. Also, beyond my own mental constructions from Austen’s book, my imagination doesn’t have musical accompaniment and I wanted to preserve the image of Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy, walking across the foggy moor at dawn, his shirt uncharacteristically open at the neck, long dark coat lifting away from him as he walks purposefully toward Elizabeth, the joyous notes of Dario Marianelli’s beautiful piano score rising around him. I am pleased to report that the image remains intact. This is P. D. James, after all; rather than attempt to create extended biographies for Austen’s popular characters, in Death Comes To Pemberley, she provides a more oblique view of their relationship by putting them in the path of a murder investigation, all the more interesting because it is Wickham on the block.
At first, I experienced a twinge of disappointment that their witty exchanges were not continued (except for a brief bit at the end) but, on reflection, I understand just how clever Miss James has been. The novel is set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage and there are actually very few scenes in which they are even in the same room. However—there are two boys in the Pemberley nursery, Jane and Mr. Bingley and their children are comfortably situated nearby in a house called Highmarten, and all the familiar and familial relationships are in place. In the course of working within the legal parameters of the time, Darcy’s position in the community is made clear, as is Elizabeth’s. We learn about the Darcy family, the history of Pemberley and its importance to the area. We find out what Wickham and Lydia have been up to and many additional details about how their marriage was brought about and at what cost. Miss James manages to preserve the integrity of the original novel while delivering all this information in the background of what is really a very good mystery: Who killed Major Denny in the Pemberley woods? Sometimes it’s best to leave things well enough alone. Thank you, Miss James. Well done.
For a good look at the model for Pemberley used in the movie version I mention, please check out Round About Chatsworth by Deborah, The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. Her life is an amazing story on its own and I have long admired her efforts to bring Chatsworth into the present century. I can also recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith because it, too, preserves the basic spirit of the original though superimposed with zombies, which is always a good idea. Learn more about P. D. James on her official website.