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Pride and Prejudice and Popular Culture (Part One)

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of one of English literature’s most celebrated works, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Over the course of this week we’ll be celebrating the anniversary with a number of articles that examine the book, its legacy and its enduring appeal. There will be many truths universally acknowledged. There will be drooling over Mr Darcy. There will be arguments about which is the best adaptation. There will be zombies.

To start us off, Kirndeep S. takes us on a tour of the staggering amount of literature that Austen’s book has inspired over the past two centuries.

queen Elizabeth

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Mr. Darcy can make anyone swoon. For 200 years the world has celebrated Pride and Prejudice, and its world and characters only continue to grow in popularity. Austen’s legions of fans have earned themselves the moniker ‘Janeites’, while there’s a blossoming industry surrounding Pride and Prejudice that churns out everything from movies to stamps to t-shirts to literary adaptations of the novel with a pornographic twist. Porn! The very thought of it…

Such is the book’s impact on popular culture that we’ve had to split this feature into two parts. In part two we’ll look at what we’re helpfully calling ‘everything else’, but here in part one we’re focusing on the long and not-so-glorious history of Pride and Prejudice sequels, prequels. tributes, adaptations, rip-offs, alternate histories and genre-twisting tales.

Pride and Prejudice cover

When Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813, Jane Austen labelled it as her ‘own darling child.’ It was a novel she truly treasured even before it became world renowned. Tom Lefroy, a law student from Ireland and Jane’s supposed first love, was perhaps the inspiration behind this wonderful and most popular of the six novels she wrote.

In her letters to her sister Cassandra, she mentions Tom Lefroy and their encounters at a ball but it never goes as far as to say they were deeply in love, but whatever emotions she was feeling at the time of writing Pride and Prejudice, we cannot thank her enough.

For 200 years, readers have been swept away by the novel’s use of irony, humour and never ending wit. Although she is described by Darcy as, “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me,” on first sighting, this was the first time a heroine was more than just a pretty face. Elizabeth Bennet was, as clichéd as it sounds, a breath of fresh air. She wasn’t as strikingly beautiful as her sister Jane but was considered to be the most intelligent of her five sisters, outspoken and fiercely independent.

And Darcy was, well, Dashing Darcy. He is the prototype for all the heroes of the future. His brooding, mysterious, quiet nature raised the bar for so many women, and that’s only one of the reasons why the novel continues to shine. Darcy is unapologetically, an unforgettable man.

First among Sequels

Over a hundred years later, the world would lay their hands on the first ‘sequel’ to our beloved Pride and Prejudice. In 1914, Old friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton was published, taking place three and a half years after the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy. This version, along with a melodramatic version published in 1922 and written by Lily Adams Beck, both received mixed reviews. Second Impressions (2011) by Ava Farmer took almost 26 years to research and once published, received positive reviews, as some said the sequel ‘sparkled’ and ‘dazzled’ the reader.

Second impressions by Ava Farmer

Although the story in and of itself was and still is unbelievably popular, the character of Darcy seems to be the main attraction for most women. Hearing his name or seeing his face [or is it just Colin Firth’s face that the ladies love? – Bitter and Jealous Ed] is enough to have some of us buckle at the knees. And it’s not just his roguish handsome looks that cause a stir. No siree. It’s his whole persona in the book. He is essentially a man of very few words but when he does speak… Sigh.

It’s no surprise that women have decided to pen his story in their own way. Darcy’s silent, brooding manner enables easy access to more dialogue and an entry point into his silent, brooding thoughts. Various novels have allowed women to swoon further, with The Diary of Henry Fitzwilliam Darcy (1998), by Marjorie Fasman, My Dearest Mr. Darcy: An Amazing Journey into Love Everlasting (2010) written by Sharon Lathanand and Mr. Darcy’s Secrets (2011) by Jane Odive, to name but a few.

However, it isn’t just the main protagonists that have captured the hearts of thousands of readers. Darcy’s younger sister Georgiana Darcy was given her own stories in Presumption (1995), written by Julia Barrette, and two other novels by C. Allyn Pierson entitled Desire and Duty (2006) and Mr Darcy’s Little Sister (2010) have both received recognition.

lust try harder

And now we move on to x-rated versions of Pride and Prejudice. If this doesn’t have Jane Austen squirming in her grave, I don’t know what will. Who’d-a-thought-it?

Well, actually, I did.

The book is nothing BUT Passion and reserved sex, so is it so wrong for women to pen their own versions of what they thought went on behind the curtains? Arielle Eckstut and Dennis Ashton didn’t think so, and so they published Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen (2008). The title says it all, really (although it is pretty funny).

A year later, Enid Wilson published Really Angelic: Pride and Prejudice with a Paranormal Twist and in 2010, Fire and Cross: Pride and Prejudice with a Mysterious Twist. Ann Herendeen went so far as to write about the characters’ bisexual desires in Pride/Prejudice: A Novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet and their forbidden lovers (2010).

pandp

Now that, I did not see coming.

And then, of course, there’s E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey (2012). An extreme revamp of the book, using other classics as inspiration as well as Pride and Prejudice, 50 Shades of Grey has taken Mr. Darcy’s silent, smouldering persona and turned him into a Sex God. And to accompany this, Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy (2012), a parody novel written by William Codpiece Thwackery, introduces riding crops and other toys to Elizabeth’s world, a world she had never imagined. Probably.

bite entertainment

And from steamy erotic fiction we travel to an Austen world inhabited by zombies and vampires. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) by Seth Grahame Smith really did wonders for dear Jane when he added an undead twist. To be fair, he actually made it work. Once this was released to the world, Ben H. Winters and Steve Hockensmith released two more sequels entitled, Dawn of the Dreadfuls (2010) and Dreadfully Ever After (2011). All three novels were very successful and movie rights have been optioned. Will Colin Firth make an appearance as a zombie slayer? Here’s hoping not.

pride and prejudice and zombies book

Darcy has even been turned into a Vampire thanks to the Twilight Series for creating a rise in that particular theme, with Regina Jeffer’s Vampire Darcy’s Desire (2009) and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre (2009), by Amanda George. And – obviously – aliens have come into play, in Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens (2011) by Jonathan Pinnock.

On a slightly more sober note, a ‘whodunnit?’ version of the novel was published in 1932, written by T.H. White and called Darkness at Pemberly. The next mystery series was written by Stephanie BarronJane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery,  which was part of a Pride and Prescience series, and finally in 2013, celebrated crime writer P.D James released Death comes to Pemberly, which received outstanding reviews from the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Americans love Jane Austen, as anyone who has visited the city of Bath during the summer months will attest to.

Keeping up with the Bridget Jones’

Why have people decided to experiment and produce mash ups of Pride and Prejudice? Because it is a little book of wonder in how it attracts a reader and then clings onto them, possessing them forever, never letting go. It has a little bit of everything in it, from humour, romance (the staring-across-the-room kind), drama and now, horror and gore and violence. Just what it needed, don’t you think?

Austen’s work has allowed the rest of us to experiment with her ‘own darling child’ because it is such an open and honest book with strong, unforgettable characters that can easily be moulded into any shape or form. And because the book has been around for 200 years, it has such a widespread audience and it is so well known, by experimenting with it you’re guaranteed to attract attention.

Perhaps the most famous of the modern reworkings is Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary (1996). And then there was Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason in 1999. And now Helen fielding has shared the exciting news of a THIRD Bridget Jones novel. Mark Darcy will be back, ladies and gents! After the huge success of these witty and hilarious novels using Pride and Prejudice as obvious inspiration, so began the era of modern retellings. From Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin (2001) by Mellissa Nathan, to Me and Mr. Darcy (2007) by Alexandra Potter and the most recent retelling by Linda Wells, Perfect Fit: A Modern Tale of Pride and Prejudice, it seems to me that chick lit with Mr. Darcy as the protagonist will be around for a long, long time.

Bridget Jones's Diary book

It’s not just the printed word where Austen’s characters are being kept alive. There are myriad websites and blogs dedicated to her works and the retelling of them, from Austenblog.com, Jane Austen’s World, Austenprose and fanfiction sites such as enidwilson.com, which has erotic versions of Pride and Prejudice to Mrs. Darcy’s Story Site. Experimenting, challenging and changing the way we look at Pride and Prejudice will continue for years to come, especially with social media gaining more power than ever before.

And just why do retellings and experiments of Pride and Prejudice work so well?

Because the book is filled with passion. It may be a repressed passion of course, but it is most definitely present there in the corsets, the breeches and the brooding looks from across the room. Swoon.

Article by Kirndeep S.

Head here to read all of our content that celebrates Pride and Prejudice’s 200th anniversary.

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