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Jane Austen, P.D. James, and–Well, Some of That’s For Later

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So here’s the thing.

Right now, I’m supposed to be in the other room, correcting papers.

It’s midterms, and that means I have literally hordes of panicked students convinced that their midterm grade is going to be an F because they haven’t handed in–well, a lot of stuff, actually.

Because they’re always late with stuff.

But just as I was about to get up from the computer after getting some work done and answering the more important of my e-mail, I found that I just couldn’t do it. 

I couldn’t face going out there and wading through yet more examples of –well, I’d say you’d really have to see this stuff, except I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

So, just a couple of notes here, until I can write something coherent.

One of the things I have read over the last week has been the newest P.D. James, Death Comes To Pemberley.

It is supposed to be a sequel of sorts to Pride and Prejudice, in which Lydia Bennet’s husband is accused of the murder of his friend.

I won’t put in a lot of spoilers here, because other people also like P.D. James, and I don’t think the paperback is even out yet.

But I will say this:

1) It’s a good book, as a book.  It’s P.D. James.  Of course it’s a good book as a book.  I wish I could write this well.  I hope I’ll be able to write at all when I get to her age. I hope I get to  her age with my mind that thoroughly intact.

2) It is not a particularly good mystery.  The ending is too abrupt and too mechanistic, and the solution is not arrived at by detection.  Which is odd, because if there is anything beside great prose that James is good at, it’s the detection.

3) It is not Jane Austen. 

I’m not saying, by that, that the book is bad.  And James is very good at not inserting anachromisms into the story, like liberated women or characters with twenty first century ideas about things like gay rights or the oppression of subject peoples.

But although I’m thoroughly convinced that James is as much a lover of Austen as I am, the sensibility is just wrong.

Part of the problem–which isn’t a problem, if you’re not trying to read this as Austen reborn–is that the book is written with the emphasis overwhelmingly on the  male characters. 

I don’t think I’d ever noticed it before, but Austen herself puts the weight of action, point of view and ideas on her female characters almost always. 

And that is especially true of Pride and Prejudice, where the focus is on the Bennet girls and especially on Elizabeth.

Perhaps that was deliberate, but for me it felt as if the book wasn’t a sequel at all, but something entirely separate–and, I don’t know, not quite nineteenth century.


I enjoyed reading it, and you will probably enjoy reading it too, but it’s not really the sequel it was designed to be.

And now, if I don’t go and do those papers, I’m going to still be doing them when we get to dinnertime.

And I’m going to be a very unhappy person.


Written by janeh

October 21st, 2012 at 10:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Jane Austen, P.D. James, and–Well, Some of That’s For Later'

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  1. Looked over DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY and came to the same conclusion: in the end it was James and not Austen. It always is.

    The definitive test, I think was POODLE SPRINGS. If Robert Parker, who wrote his dissertation on Raymond Chandler, couldn’t write a Chandler novel, it couldn’t be done.

    We shouldn’t be surprised. If listeners who pay attention can distinguish the “fist” of Morse code transmitters sending encrypted messages, then I think we have to accept that each author is unique. You can perhaps surpass an original, but not be indistinguishable from it.

    All of which said, “Lorelei of the Red Mist” is known to have been written partly by Leigh Brackett and partly by Ray Bradbury, and I defy anyone to tell me which parts.


    21 Oct 12 at 7:21 pm

  2. I read “Death Comes To Pemberley” when it was first released in the UK. (I make a point of buying British books directly from the UK, and American books directly from the US. This usually avoids the depredations of publishers’ ham-fisted “translations” into their own idiom, something which annoys me almost as much as anachronisms.)

    I love P.D. James and re-read Jane Austen every year, so I was more than just curious. I plan to read James’s book before long, too, in case I missed something on the first go round, but my impression after the first read was one of mild disappointment. I thought at the time that whatever James tried to do, be it to write in Austen’s style, or to write a period mystery in a “known” locale and social milieu, she just missed.

    I might add that James’s book is the only such Austen imitatory book that I have, or ever would, consider reading, and that only because I think James is the only author of such a book who is even vaguely in the same class as Austen.

    I might reconsider that if a certain American author of our acquaintance were to have a go. :-)


    21 Oct 12 at 7:34 pm

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