Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pride and Dreck

I finished a book last night called The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough.  The author is most famous for The Thorn Birds which I adore and I have also enjoyed several of her other novels over the years, mainly the historical Rome series.  But this one, a "sequel" to Pride and Prejudice, was beyond horrible.

In the last decade or so, P&P sequels, prequels, modern reimaginings, and "sideways" versions have been published.  Bridget Jones's Diary is probably the most famous of the reimaginings. It's a cottage industry and writers continue to churn them out at a fast clip. Pride, Prejudice & Zombies is one of the most recent. I have read several of them.  Most were harmless and usually written in a style imitative of Jane Austen's.

I therefore looked forward to Ms McCullough's take on the genre. Be forewarned: There be SPOILERS here...

To get us started, Darcy (referred to now as "Fitz" by all and sundry) and Elizabeth have had 20 years of a horrible marriage, brought on by his inability to tolerate her teasing ways (the thing that drew him to her in the original) and her horror of the realities of wedding night sex (described as "rape" in at least Darcy's thoughts).  Darcy is even more arrogant and prideful than ever and Elizabeth is rendered a frigid and shrewish wife.

Major characters are killed off --- the novel starts off with the death of Mrs. Bennet --- or murdered (Lydia). The facts of Jane Austen's original story are completely disregarded and turned completely around.  Darcy's father, always described as the best of men by dear Jane, is revealed as a criminal mastermind whom his son despises and fears. His affair with a prostitute produced a half-brother for Darcy who is a major character in this novel. We are not informed of the relationship until the end and during the novel we wonder if half-brother Ned loves Darcy with what McCullough refers to as Socratic love (opposite of Platonic, I guess, but I have not come across this euphemism for homosexuality before).

Ned murders on Darcy's behalf though without Darcy's knowledge or consent.  He murders drunken, widowed Lydia to rid the family of the embarrassment, after Lydia shows up and rails at Darcy with the F word AND the C word in front of his upper class guests.

Jane Bennet, who married Charles Bingley for love at the end of P&P, is worn down by more than 15 pregnancies and blithely recounts details of Charles' black mistress and his children with her while he visits his Caribbean plantations. Oh, and he's also a slaveholder!

Georgiana Darcy is described as "perfect" but we never actually get to see her in the novel to see for ourselves. Caroline Bingley is still around, even more acid and cruel than before despite "paying off every arrear of civility" to Elizabeth in P&P.

Mary becomes sensible and utterly beautiful and has men asking for her hand in marriage at the ripe old age of 38 (very unlikely in context of the times).  She is kidnapped by a deranged cult leader of children for a huge chunk of the story.  She is held in a cave located under the Derbyshire countryside.  We are told several times that, even though most characters assume she is dead, she MUST be held in a cave somewhere. Search parties search and thus is Mary saved and able to create orphanages with the gold the old cult leader squirreled away from --- you guessed it! --- Mr. Darcy's criminal father. Mary also gets married but has sex with her intended in a most wanton fashion before their wedding.

Why, you may be asking yourself, did I continue to read until the end? It was a train wreck and I had to see it out.  I am perfectly capable of stopping a book that is horrible.  I couldn't finish The Bridges of Madison County, The Celestine Prophecy, or The Lord of the Flies, crappy novels all, for example, and I am having a hard time considering picking up The Group again any time soon. But this sequel started out so vilely that I had to know the depths to which the author descended. We are talking Marianas Trench here.

I think this novel might have worked had Ms McCullough started from zero and created her own story. I love a 17th, 18th or 19th century potboiler as much as the next reader (Forever Amber or The Crimson Petal and the White come immediately to mind) but taking beloved, naive characters and making monsters of some of them, well, that's unforgivable.

I will dispose of this book as soon as possible. Don't read it. Reread Pride and Prejudice or even The Thorn Birds again. Hell, read the sequel to Gone With the Wind called Scarlett. While also terrible in its own way, it's a masterpiece compared to The Independence Of Miss Mary Bennet.


  1. But dang, you make it sound kinda fabulous!

    Welcome to the blogosphere, sister-wife! Yeah, don't worry too much about perfection - no one reads us anyway. hee! hee!

    love and xxxs from your besty

  2. Why be there so much fear of "wedding night sex?"