Tuesday 24 May 2016

Guest Post: Jean Burnett on her Pride and Prejudice spin-offs

TITLE: The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad
AUTHOR: Jean Burnett


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Having controversially run off with George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, Lydia is confronted with his untimely demise on the battlefield at Waterloo. Merry widow Lydia Wickham, née Bennet, is therefore in want of a rich husband.

Failing to find one in Europe, she embarks on a voyage to Brazil accompanied by her trusty maid, Adelaide, to join the exiled Portuguese Court in Rio de Janeiro. She soon catches the eye of the heir, Dom Pedro.

Staying out of trouble doesn’t come naturally to Lydia as she is captured by pirates, then makes a second disastrous marriage, and even finds ways to ruin the Darcys’ tranquil existence all over again. Will she return from the tropics with a cache of jewels? Could she ever succeed in her quest for ‘an agreeable husband with an estate and two matching footmen’, or must her taste for adventure lead her astray yet again?

Guest Post: Jean Burnett on her Pride and Prejudice spin-offs

Perhaps you were forced to read Jane Austen at school, found her dull and preferred to look out of the window thinking about what you might have for tea. You might not have given her another thought since then, but you’ve probably seen the films and drooled over Colin Firth as Mr Darcy or admired the willowy Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma.

If you have no knowledge of Miss Austen’s works, if you are an Austen free zone – you may need to be broken in gently! You might start by watching the film and TV adaptions to get the general outline of the stories. Pride and Prejudice is the most popular Austen novel. There is a whole industry of spinoffs of Jane’s works and especially of P and P. If imitation is really the sincerest form of flattery then she might feel pleased if she returned and found them. Of course, she might be horrified and bewildered to find her characters turned into vampires, aliens and sea monsters, or taken out of context and put into one of the other JA novels.

In my own books I have taken the character of Lydia Bennet, the youngest sister in Pride and Prejudice and given her an afterlife, if I can describe it that way. The book stands alone with new plots and adventures, but familiarity with the original novel and how the characters were viewed by their creator would make any spinoff novel more enjoyable.

I have tried not to take too many liberties with the JA’s characters but purists will still find my ideas appalling, I’m sure, but this is fiction after all. There are no aliens, vampires or sea monsters but Lydia does go to the bad rather spectacularly. Jane herself hints at this in the original novel. After eloping with Mr Wickham when she was barely sixteen this was inevitable.

In my version Mr Wickham is killed off at Waterloo and Lydia becomes a merry widow in every sense. Her adventures take her around Europe in the first book (Who Needs Mr Darcy?) and further afield to Brazil and India in the second (The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad). The disapproval of her family remains constant, especially when she reappears regularly at Pemberley, the home of her very wealthy brother-in-law, Mr Darcy. Lydia’s schemes have a habit of ending badly which adds to the readers’ enjoyment – I hope.

I wouldn’t recommend an Austen virgin (so to speak) to start by reading Mansfield Park. This is the novel that most people have problems with; finding the heroine unappealing and wimpish. In Austen’s own time readers had the same problem, but the book repays re-reading. Start with Pride and Prejudice and proceed to Emma and Sense and Sensibility and on to Northanger Abbey, that witty spoof on the Gothic genre that was so fashionable in Jane’s time. All things Gothic have an enduring appeal, but Jane found some of the books available in her day very silly and what we would call OTT.

Jane did not have the opportunity to travel to distant lands, or even to get to France, due to the Napoleonic Wars, lack of money - and the fact that she was a woman. Her life revolved around a small group of English people and she analysed them and wrote about them with forensic detail on her “inch of ivory.”

Lydia has the chance to travel after 1815 and to see places Jane might only have dreamed of. I hope that readers will enjoy the fictional trip.

The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad by Jean Burnett is published on 23rd May by Canelo, price £3.99 in eBook.

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