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
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
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.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?