“It is a truth universally accepted...”
The renowned lady of letters, Charlotte Brontë, once
carped of Jane Austen, “…she ruffles her reader by
nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound:
the Passions are perfectly unknown to her…what
throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood
rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and
the sentient target of death—this Miss Austen
Beg to differ.
Jane Austen wrote of what she knew. She never
married. Hence, one must presume she went to her
great reward virgo intactus.
As befitting a maiden’s sensibilities, her novels
all end with the wedding ceremony. That did not mean
that her novels were passionless – quite the
opposite. Therefore, Darcy and Elizabeth story left
us with a severe case of literary
fascination – nay – obsession with all
things Austen began inauspiciously enough.
To quote Mr. Darcy, “I was in the middle
before I knew I had begun.”
“It is a truth universally accepted...”
I never imagined the A&E Pride & Prejudice
mini-series could have moved me so
profoundly. Although it renewed my interest
in all of Jane Austen’s novels, it was Darcy
& Elizabeth who sent me headlong into an
obsession that has not yet run its course.
Granted, my interest might not have been so
keen had the role of Mr. Darcy not been so
After the series was over, I dug out my
hardback copy of P&P and read and re-read
it. Admittedly, Austen’s stunning economy
and skillful plotting took a backseat to
Colin Firth’s incomparable portrayal of the
smoldering Mr. Darcy.
P&P is considered near perfection. In some
opinions, it has but a single fault. This
comes about because Jane Austen never
married. (Hence, one must presume she went
to her great reward virgo intactus.) She
dutifully followed strictures placed on her
As befitting a maiden’s sensibilities,
Austen’s novels all end with the wedding
ceremony. (She did not presume to know what
conversations passed between husband and
wife.) That did not mean that her novels
were passionless – quite the contrary. But
in ending Pride & Prejudice so abruptly,
many of us were left with a severe case of
literary coitus interruptus
Jane Austen was not, however, some
humourless spinster. Her Juvenilia announced
her cunning early on. In one story her
heroine warns a friend prone to histrionics,
decrying fainting fits – “Run mad if you
must, but do not swoon.”
Her letters to her sister Cassandra were
filled with local bits of news, some related
with more than a little irreverence. In one
letter to her sister, Jane tells about a
pregnant neighbor taken to the straw.
“Mrs. Hall was brought to bed yesterday of a
dead child some weeks before she expected,
owing to a fright,” writes Jane. “I suppose
she happened unawares to look upon her
Who would have guessed Miss Austen was that
But my thoughts always returned to the
Darcys. I spent so much time daydreaming
about Darcy & Elizabeth, my rhapsodizing
became quite explicit. I wanted, nay, needed
to know (really, really needed to know) what
might have become of them.
As Miss Austen was long past completing
their story, I stopped mooning and began to
write a book.
Understanding the unlikelihood that my book
would ever see the light of day, was
Once I had decided to take the characters
where Jane could not, I simply wove the
historical fabric into the storyline in
order to see how our characters might be
affected by the upheaval during the
The first scene I wrote was the Darcys’
wedding night; the second was the last page.
Although I wrote and rewrote the rest of the
book a dozen times, those pages remained
largely untouched. To me, what came to pass
on Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding night
reflected what their relationship would come
to be and that was the foundation of Mr.
Darcy Takes a Wife.
I knew that somehow Wickham would live – and
commit sins of a Shakespearean nature.
It was my husband who insisted that I
publish the book. I would never have done it
without his encouragement. Indeed, I called
one agent and got one rather snotty refusal.
Not taking rejection well, I was ready to
gather up my books and trot all the way
home. In 1999 the publishing industry was a
different world – eBooks were not part of
the vernacular and to publish one had to
commit a substantial amount of time and
money to the project.
Regardless, we went to a local printer and
self-published (as The Bar Sinister - a
title that I thought as brilliant at the
time) and began selling them one by one out
of our garage. Had it not been for the
Internet I doubt we would have sold many
books at all.
Putting it on Amazon was the ultimate test.
We knew there would be those who would be
horrified, not just at a P&P sequel, but the
explicitness of The Bar Sinister. I knew
some might believe was heresy. It very
nearly became a lark – pages locked in a
drawer to one day embarrass my children.
I truly did not want to rattle anyone’s
cage. In fact, I did everything possible to
fly under the radar, going so far as posting
an advisory against the faint of heart from
purchasing it. (I could point out here that
like Mrs. Bennet some enjoy their fits and
nerves more than any other occupation, but I
won’t.) I would have liked to sell only from
my own website to avoid a semi-public
thrashing. But, alas, once I decided to sell
TBS on Amazon, all that changed.
The minute it went up, the hue and cry could
be heard on several continents. Many took my
book as nothing less than a defilement of
poor Miss Austen (and thus their) good name.
The level of vitriol was quite off-putting.
There seemed to be no middle ground –
readers either loved TBS or despised it.
And I came to understand that amongst Jane
Austen followers there is an element that
could only be described as “lunatic fringe.”
Although I received no outright death
threats, some were ominous enough to
consider checking the ignition of my car for
Another lady carped that men didn’t have sex
outside of marriage during the Regency Era.
(Ha) Another inquiring mind leapt in another
direction. She was incensed that I had never
employed the same euphemism twice for Mr.
Darcy’s manly instrument. Actually, this was
a private joke of mine. I had collected
pages of euphemisms that men have concocted
to call their dearest member over the years.
I was awestruck that this reader had gone to
the trouble to note that I hadn’t – However,
I was lost to find the insult in doing so.
Given the chance, I explained that I didn’t
have the guts (or the talent) to replicate
Jane Austen either in wit or dialog, so I
wrote my book with a wink and a sense of fun
(I mean, really, does anyone employ the term
“purple-helmeted-warrior of love”
seriously?). Fortunately, more seemed to
“get it” than not. I have come to understand
that some of the naysayers simply didn’t
know what to make of the book. Time has even
allowed a few converts.
We would still be peddling them one or two
at a time had I not received a call from Deb
Werksman of Sourcebooks inquiring if the
rights to TBS were available. I replied
(forefinger to chin), “er, Maybe.”
With more good sense than I usually display,
I accepted their offer. That gave us a
chance to correct the editing and resurrect
the working title Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife.
Their initial run, however, was a tentative
7,500 copies. MDTAW (2004) and Darcy &
Elizabeth (2006) the Ruling Passion (2011)
and New Pleasures (2016) have now sold
nearly a half a million copies and been
published in four languages.
This also allowed legitimate reviewers a
chance to weigh in on the subject. Most of
them were surprisingly generous. Booklist,
Library Journal –even the Chicago Tribune
all gave good notices. While One Canadian
newspaper reviewer generally liked the book,
she suggested that Mr. Darcy’s penis was
actually another character in the book! (I
had to laugh because it’s so true.)
I say now is as I said then: If you believe
that Jane Austen sequels are inherently
wrong, I respect your position. However, I
am quite annoyed by those who insist that I
shouldn’t have written my books because my
interpretation of the characters does not
agree with theirs. 5000 sequels (most in
e-book form) of far-ranging storylines
conjuring vampires and the like, proves that
there are readers enough for us all.
When called to address the groundswell of
vituperation I once received, I am reminded
of the man who was tarred and feathered and
run out of town on a rail. --When asked how
he felt. He replied, “If it wasn’t for the
honor of the thing I’d just as soon walked.”