Linda Berdoll says: 

“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 ignores.”

 

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 coitus interruptus.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

My 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 well cast.

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 by society.

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 husband.”

Who would have guessed Miss Austen was that cheeky?

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 wonderfully freeing.

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 Napoleonic wars.

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 incendiary devices.

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.”

Linda Berdoll

 

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