There exists an unspoken contract between reader and author, throughout Pride and Prejudice variations, that guarantees requited love between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. The obstacles may alter, the timelines adjust, the supernatural might occur, but it a truth universally acknowledged that the reader must have their happy union.
In February 2021, I read 25 Pride and Prejudice variations – and Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice – and this is what I discovered.
For me, the most enchanting variations are those that reimagine the romance between Lizzy and Darcy in the Regency period. KaraLynne Mackrory’s Haunting Mr. Darcy – A Spirited Courtship, as well as developing a humorous and delightful camaraderie between the ghostly Elizabeth and half-mad Darcy, aches with romantic longing. If you want more page-time with Elizabeth and Darcy’s early romance Speechless by Jessie Lewis is another delight. Cut off from family and friends by a snowstorm, Elizabeth nurses the already smitten Mr. Darcy following a horrific accident that leaves him unable to speak. And amongst the hundreds of variations on offer, I also enjoyed The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Bennet, where a recently rejected and heart-broken Darcy seeks to rescue our kidnapped heroine, and Ardently, in which a widowed Darcy rediscovers his passion for Elizabeth after a chance meeting in Bath many years after his first, rejected proposal.
A Regency multiverse
Combining regency romance and fantasy tropes enthrals in many Pride and Prejudice variations. Perfect companion pieces are magical Mr. Darcy in Kara Pleasant’s Disenchanted, the vampiric Mr. Darcy in Tempt Me by Julie Cooper, and the zombie-assassin Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In all these Darcy fights evil to save his family, friends and, you guessed it, Elizabeth. Then there is Darcy and Elizabeth as quarrelling dragon-masters in Maria Grace’s light-hearted trilogy of Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon, Longbourn: Dragon Entail, and Netherfield: Rogue Dragon.
Such generosity exists in the Pride and Prejudice multiverse that every sister must have her day. In Jean Burnett’s slight Who Needs Mr. Darcy?, the merry widow Lydia romps through Regency London, Brighton, Bath, and beyond, frolicking with friends, royals, and rogues, always only one step from ruin. In The Other Bennet Sister, Janice Hadlow depicts plain and forgotten middle-sister Mary’s patient examination and resolution of her own awkward character, and thus grants her a love that will both suit and satisfy her. As well as a delightful romance, the emerging portrait of a truly menacing Charlotte Collins, particularly alongside Hadlow’s masterly redrawing of Mr. Collins as a flawed yet genial husband, chills. Even Kitty gets her moment as she matures and, of course, finds love in Carrie Kablean’s What Kitty Did Next.
Crime and Prejudice
If you seek romance, the sequels are naturally less satisfying. Darcy and Elizabeth are wed, often parents, and spend much time discussing the servants. Here then, in Death Comes To Pemberley by P. D. James and Pride & Prescience by Carrie Bebris, is a little murder, adultery, and black magic to add sparkle to the staid days of marriage. If you want to retain the romance with your crime, Mr. Darcy and the Murder at Rosings by Lin Mei Wei is a more recognisable variation with love blossoming between Darcy and Elizabeth as they join to combat Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s murderous servants.
I haven’t discovered a great gay or transgender variation, but it must be out there! Jennifer Duke’s Back to the Bonnet – which could have been even more wonderfully queer if the relationship between Mary and Charlotte had developed where I was convinced it was going – is a quirky tale of time-travelling Mary, who uses her magical bonnet to eavesdrop and meddle until we have the Darcy-Bennetts-Bingley double wedding. A less fantastical variation, Lin Mei Wei’s Mr. Darcy’s Vice is written from Darcy’s perspective as he falls for the Bennet brother, Elias Bennet. but I missed the The faithfulness to the original story limits Elias and Darcy’s romance, but living Darcy’s response to Elias’ taunts and proposal rejection provides a fresh fun insights .
50 shades of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam
You cannot be a Pride and Prejudice variations completist without entering the world of erotic fiction. These range from the tired inclusion of furtive hard-ons and deflowering in the original text (See Amy Armstrong), through steamy novels such as Emma East’s Stealing Lizzy to the truly outrageous and bonkers, exemplified by Spank Me, Mr. Darcy, in which Elizabeth quits Charlotte Lucas to become Darcy’s submissive in the S&M dungeon of Netherfield Hall. Trust me when I say that everyone fucks, pretty much, everyone else. And that includes Mr. Collins. You may never be able to unimagine some of this sex, so approach with care.
A modern affair?
I struggle with the modern-day variations. Of course, there is Bridget Jones’ Diary, but in most modern adaptations, I miss the Austin-esque language, and the pleasures of a passion repressed by good manners. Somehow it is only acceptable to yearn for the taciturn, dominating, and insolent Mr. Darcy when he is buttoned up in the early 1800s. Having said that, the reality-TV setting of Dating Mr. Darcy by Kate O’Keeffe is great fun and is the first in a modern Pride and Prejudice variation trilogy.
Can I leave you with my very favourite variation? It challenges the conventions of the classic Pride and Prejudice variation, but Longbourn by Jo Baker is an evocative and haunting romance, set amongst the servants of Longbourn. Elizabeth muddies her petticoats without a care for who must clean them, Wickham pursues the younger maid, but when the brooding Sarah meets John, a tortured army deserter, theirs is a bewitching story of devotion and tenacity.
I planned to wrap up #fanfictionfebruary with the original Pride and Prejudice but rereading Austen and all these variations has been such a joy that I may never stop.