The battle for the soul of Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice II: A story of Passion], Recrimination], Book sales]: Starring Emma Tennant, British author of 'Pemberley' and Julia Barrett, American author of 'Presumption'

Currently gripping the literary world is this question: would Mrs Bennet, of Pride and Prejudice, ever discuss vinegar douches as a means of determining the sex of one's child at the dining table? 'Of course she would,' says Emma Tennant, author of Pemberley, the 'sequel' to Pride and Prejudice, published by Hodder and Stoughton this week. 'At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen says that Mrs Bennet went on being very vulgar and silly. If the subject being discussed at the table was childbirth, and whether or not an heir would be produced, this is exactly what Mrs Bennet would do.'

'Jane Austen would never write about people discussing douches at the dinner table, that's certain,' says Gabrielle Donnelly, co-author of Presumption, another sequel to Pride and Prejudice, published in America this month. 'That sort of nonsense would never have entered Jane's mind,' agrees the Austen scholar Deirdre le Faye, author of the latest Austen biography. 'It's like the proposed film of Pride and Prejudice with nude scenes - a silly idea.'

Readers can now pick and choose about what happens to Mrs Bennet, with or without douches. In Pride and Prejudice II (UK), she is widowed, happy to be a grandmother and vulgar; in Pride and Prejudice II (USA), she is married, unsure about being a grandmother, and still vulgar. Tennant's Pemberley, subtitled 'A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice', deals with the trials of Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennet) as she attempts to produce an heir. Presumption is written jointly under the pseudonym of Julia Barrett by Donnelly and Julia Kessler. Subtitled 'An Entertainment', it focuses on the trials of Elizabeth's sister-in-law, Georgiana Darcy, in her attempts to get a husband.

It's all very confusing. The book jackets of both seem to represent artist's impressions of Chatsworth House. Jane Austen's key figures roam through both novels: apart from the fact that Emma Tennent has killed off Mr Bennet before her version starts, most of the old favourites are in, and have the same recognisable traits. Mary Bennet is still nauseatingly bookish; Lady Catherine de Bourgh a repellent snob; Mr and Mrs Gardiner kind and thoughtful, Mrs Bennet ghastly, and so on.

The neat tying up of ends by Austen at the end of the original has been quite unravelled. The Bennett / Darcy mob go through both new books falling down stairs, giving birth, going to gambling houses in Mayfair, ending up in prison, and so on. The results have had a somewhat dubious reception. The American edition of The Publisher's Weekly calls Tennant's version 'a soap opera'; Barrett's simply has 'little to commend it'.

So why do it? 'Jane Austen's novels cry out for sequels,' argues Tennant. 'Elizabeth and Mr Darcy are inspired creations; we want to know what happens to them after marriage. I believe these great romantic figures really belong in the public domain; indeed, we know from her letters that they lived on in Jane Austen's mind.'

The Barrett duo, who are based in Los Angeles, simply wanted to 'create Jane Austen in the same spirit as we enjoyed her'. Julia Kessler has been longing to re-do Jane Austen 'all my life. But I knew I could never do it without working with an English novelist.' Four years ago, she was introduced to Gabrielle Donnelly, an English writer living in California and the two of them got to work.

To achieve the true P'n'P touch, the pair read and re-read all Austen's novels, letters, and the previous attempts at sequels (a popular pursuit in the 19th century). They pored over 18th- and 19th-century diaries, spent hours in the libraries of UCLA researching period housekeeping, and went on fact-finding missions to England. As the jacket attests, this was all in the name of giving 'a delightful revel for any reader who has ever longed to spend just a few more hours in the company of Jane Austen's engaging people . . .'

At least the American camp has kept near the blueprint. But, as far as some Janeites are concerned, Tennant's portrayal of Elizabeth and Darcy in the midst of a difficult marriage is something approaching heresy. 'It's absolutely appalling,' says Jean Bowden, caretaker of Jane Austen's house at Chawton. 'Humourless, coarse and vulgar. The worst thing is that she alters the character of Elizabeth from being cheerful, to miserable and depressed. The whole thing gives the impression that she read the original book years ago and has never picked it up since.'

Tennant admits quite freely that she only read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times before creating her sequel. 'I based Pemberley on my own childhood. In thinking how Elizabeth Bennet would deal with being married to Mr Darcy, I remembered how we used to live for months and months in an isolated house in Scotland. My mother's parents would come to stay, and be snubbed by my father's relations, meal after meal. Then my elder brother would come in and break old 78 records over people's heads. And my mother would just sit there, having to cope with it all. My parents were devoted to one another, but they had to deal with how to live happily ever after; it's the same for Elizabeth and Darcy.'

The strange occurence of both sequels, however different, arriving in practically the same week is not easily explained. 'We took four years to write ours,' says Kessler, on a conference call with Donnelly from Los Angeles. 'How long did Emma Tennant take to write hers? Three months, I think. The timing is certainly surprising. And I don't think her subject matter is correct. Jane Austen would never have dealt with unhappiness in marriage.' Tennant, who says she has been working on Pemberley for more than two years, is equally dismissive. 'I don't mind that they've written a version. They haven't found a publisher over here, and I have no particular plans to go to America; so it doesn't matter. I won't say the more the merrier, but these characters are public property. Maybe it's great; I doubt it. I'm probably a bit prejudiced against it]'

'The Jane Austen Society has no stand against either book,' says Brian Southam, President. 'It's a good idea - let people have a try. I've read the Emma Tennant one, and l think it is a good story, and quite funny. The American version? I've seen it being waved in the air. Would I ever consider writing one? Good heavens, no.'

Meanwhile, in Chawton, where Jane Austen sat and 'lopped and crossed' Pride and Prejudice before sending it off for publication in 1813, Jean Bowden remains stalwart. 'I refuse to stock Emma Tennant's book in the bookshop. I shall exert my own censorship. The other day, I listened to the unabridged cassette version of Pride and Prejudice. I felt Jane was sitting there with me, and I felt that she enjoyed it.'

AFTER AUSTEN: TWO WAYS TO OPEN A CAN OF WORMS

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

'My dear Mr Bennet,' said his lady to him one day, 'have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?' '

Opening paragraphs of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

'If, as the prevailing wisdom has had it these many years, a young man in possession of a good fortune is always in want of a wife, then surely the reverse may prove true as well: any well-favored lady of means must incline, indeed yearn, to improve her situation by seeking a husband.

Yet our heroine found herself in the singular position of contesting this complacent assurance. Miss Georgina Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, although beautiful, accomplished, and, moreover, an heiress of a considerable fortune, remained nevertheless, at the age of 17 years, markedly disinclined to secure her fortune upon any one. Georgina had reason.'

Opening paragraphs of Presumption, by Julia Barrett

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a son and heir.

So at least are the sentiments of all those related on both sides of the family; and there are others, besides, who might do better to keep their tongues from wagging on the fecundity or otherwise of a match.

'My dear Mrs Bennet,' said Mrs Long one day to her friend, who was newly removed from Longbourn since the death of her husband, 'do not you have a happy event to look forward to? I expect daily to hear news of your daughter Elizabeth and the charming Mr Darcy. I am most surprised to have heard nothing yet.'

Mrs Bennet replied that she was not accustomed to hear from her daughter every day of the week.'

Opening paragraphs of Pemberley by Emma Tennant

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?