Death Comes to Pemberley, By PD James

 

Jane Jakeman
Friday 04 November 2011 01:00
Comments
Austen remixed and re-mastered: PD James
Austen remixed and re-mastered: PD James

This "dream team" of crime fiction, Jane Austen and PD James, combines James's meticulous plotting with Austen's sharp-eyed characterisation. The novel begins some years after the ending of Pride and Prejudice. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy have settled down with two small children, happily residing in their great mansion. Mr Darcy is something of a radical: Pemberley now possesses a water-closet and its master is in favour of women's rights.

The scene is set for the great annual ball, the Bingleys have come to stay, and Elizabeth and Jane are busy supervising preparations. But who is this arriving in a state of screaming hysteria, curls tossing, bonnet awry, in a carriage that comes tearing up the drive? Who but Lydia Wickham, formerly Bennet, whose husband, that handsome betrayer who was persuaded to make a respectable woman of her by fiduciary inducement, is found covered in blood and must be either assailant or victim. Eventually, the body of his great friend, Captain Denny, is discovered bearing horrible injuries. Wickham is charged with murder.

Pemberley, that temple to classical enlightenment, holds some dark secrets. Darcy's grandfather was something of a "wild man of the woods", living as a hermit accompanied by his faithful hound. A family of old retainers guard their knowledge of what went on between stairs.

This Gothic element is, of course, dangerous ground, the kind of mystery which Jane Austen mocked so effectively in Northanger Abbey, but James handles it with a delicate touch. There is another departure: this novel must sometimes venture outside Austen's feminine world into the masculine arenas of inquest and trial, and some minor male characters from the canon play larger roles for the purposes of the murder plot. James makes a plausible account of them, giving us into the bargain an interesting male viewpoint of past events, where Darcy explains his strange behaviour at Longbourn.

Stylistically, the modern contributor does not overwork the dry, understated manner of her co-author, and I relished her pastiche of a letter from Lady Catherine de Bourgh: an absolute gem. Austen buffs will; have great fun spotting references which roam freely in the Austenian landscape: we learn that Mr and Mrs Knightley are well established at Donwell Abbey and that Wickham has behaved scurrilously in the household of Sir Walter Elliot.

James modestly comments that Jane Austen would have said that, had she wanted, she might have written this story herself and done it better. On the contrary, she would surely have applied to it her own description of the novel, where "the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language". It's a great joint achievement, and a joyous read.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in