Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Reading with Liz: A Summer of Austen Adaptations

Attention Alabama collegiettes—summer is almost here! Only a few finals stand between you and a summer full of possibility. If you’re looking for a fun read this summer, look no further than these Jane Austen adaptations, like Death Comes to Pemberley.

Let me just put this out there: I’m an English major, with a concentration in British Literature no less. Perhaps that is why I have indulged in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice more than once. If you haven’t read it, you should—or at least see the movies. No one should go through this life without experiencing the sexy, brooding Mr. Darcy or the obnoxious and hilarious Mrs. Bennet. Pride and Prejudice is the original romantic comedy. Its storyline has been adapted many times since Austen penned it in the 19th century. For some, it’s Austen’s most memorable novel and definitely the most famous. Its beauty lies in Austen’s ability to expose the drama and hilarity behind everyday occurrences. Her perception of the human condition is unrivaled.

With that being said, do you understand the difficulty of trying to produce a sequel or spin-off for such a timeless work of art? Yet it has happened many times. I haven’t spent much time reading spin-offs of Austen’s work, but their popularity makes them hard to avoid. Pride, Prejudice and Zombies is a popular adaptation that not so subtly weaves a battle against the walking dead into the love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. It’s great for a quick, entertaining read. But it’s definitely not a great piece of literature. However, it did bring the story of Pride and Prejudice to an audience that hadn’t experienced Austen before.

You probably know another popular adaptation of Pride and Prejudice…but you may not realize it. Remember Bridget Jones’s Diary? This modern adaptation earned notoriety in the printed world and on the big screen, gaining fans all over the world. A less popular big screen Bollywood adaptation called Bride and Prejudice is just as humorous despite being wildly less popular. It successfully sets the storyline of Austen’s classic in modern day India.

It’s hard to do Jane Austen’s novel justice in a sequel or spinoff. It’s difficult to match her prose style, subtle humor and character development, which have made her novels timeless. But when P.D. James released Death Comes to Pemberley last year, I couldn’t wait to read it.

P.D. James is a beloved British mystery author. She has been steadily producing work since the 60s. While I’m no expert on her work, I do enjoy a good mystery novel and have read her A Taste for Death. Some critics think it’s her best piece. It’s full of twists and turns as star detective and James’s most famous character Adam Dalgliesh follows a trail of countless motives to uncover the source of the murders of the town drunk and former Minster of the Crown. Adam Dalgliesh is a provocative character. He’s handsome and somewhat troubled – not unlike Mr. Darcy.

Because of her background with mystery novels, many were surprised when James decided to tackle creating a sequel to Austen’s iconic Pride and Prejudice. However, I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with the characters.

[ pagebreak ]

The opening pages of James’s Death Comes to Pemberley are dedicated to a swift overview of the complicated romance between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.  In this book, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years and are the proud parents of two sons. They live at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s lavish estate. Jane (Elizabeth’s sister) and her husband, the modest and charming Mr. Bingley, have settled down as well. All seems calm now that everyone is married. All of Mrs. Bennet’s dreams from Pride and Prejudice have come true. However, it doesn’t stay that way for long. The story quickly turns into a mystery when a murder takes place on Pemberley’s grounds.

Mr. Wickham, a notorious character from the original Austen work, is found in the woods of Pemberley next to the murdered body of his best friend. This adds a new dimension to the world Austen created. In Pride and Prejudice, all the characters’ worries were completely social. This sequel plunges the story into a classic who-done-it tale, complete with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham at the helm.

The difficult part of writing any spinoff, sequel, or prequel is keeping the characters compelling. The characters and their personalities are already known from the original work, so the sequel, should stay true to them but still allow for some growth. This task is demanding one, especially when you’re dealing with some of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters.

James does struggle to recapture the relationship dynamics we came to love in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. However, she does a wonderful job recreating some characters, like Lydia, the youngest Bennet daughter. James also adds completely new people to the bunch, including the detective on the case, Sir Selwin Hardcastle. In my opinion, he is the most fascinating character in the novel!

The mystery in Death Comes to Pemberley builds upon itself with the use of gothic images like ghosts and curses. With this, James turns Pemberley on its head. Austen fans see the dark side of Pemberley, which Austen wasn’t concerned with. The darker nature that’s exposed definitely plays a part of the ending—an ending that’s a twist but still satisfies the reader.

Death Comes to Pemberley is a bold attempt by P.D. James to weave a mystery into the lives of a well-known community of beloved characters. While recreating this world has plenty of challenges, Death Comes to Pemberley is my favorite of the Pride and Prejudice adaptations. It’s entertaining and definitely worth reading: for die-hard fans or Austen newcomers. 

Similar Reads👯‍♀️