Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Obsessed: Pride and Prejudice

Confession—I tend to have an obsessive personality and my obsessions come in the form of addictions.  Fortunately for me, my addictions are relatively benign in nature. Instead of drugs or gambling, my addictions are to stories.  Maybe infatuation is a better word to describe what happens to me when a story takes a hold on me—when I don’t want to say good bye to its characters and I have an insatiable need for more information about their lives and their world. 

Exhibit A: In the summer months my infatuation tends towards True Blood (totally guilty pleasure). During week in between new episodes, I am compelled to read books from Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series that the show is based on—I can’t do without the characters for the painful seven days between episodes.  That’s just one example…there have been many more over the years including, Lost, West Wing, and Anne of Green Gables.

My current infatuation, which has grown to a full blown obsession, is for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  It began quietly over a year ago and has snowballed into what is arguably a sickness. Prior to my current obsession, I’d read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times (years ago) and I’d seen every movie/TV adaptions—but I was never this captivated.  

In spring of 2013 my friend, Anita lent me Austenland by Shannon Hale—that was the being.  It was an enjoyable, quick read, and when the movie adaptation came out in August 2013 I was excited to see it.  After seeing the movie, I was inspired to read original Pride and Prejudice again. This read—my third—had an entirely new effect on me.  I was hooked on Elizabeth and Darcy.  Not only was I sad to put the book down—I missed my new friends immediately—but I felt like Miss Austen left me hanging.  So much was left unsaid and I had two burning questions: 1) What happens next? And 2) what were Elizabeth and Darcy (especially Darcy) thinking and feeling? Miss Austen did not deeply explore the internal lives of her characters—at least not at level that I could find satisfying. I wanted to know more about their motivations, thoughts, and feelings. And furthermore, I could not help but notice the total lack of mention of physical contact between the characters. I know that is indicative of the time in which the novel was penned, but come on…not even an accidental touching of hands? It must have happened and isn’t it delicious to think about what that would have been like for Elizabeth and Darcy? It would have been positively electric I should think. At any rate, I had questions and I wanted more…

Since that fateful re-read 13 months ago I’ve read Pride and Prejudice a fourth time, watched the 1995 BBC adaptation countless times, and read approximately ninety works of P&P fan fiction. Yup, you read that right—ninety.  Not nine, not nineteen—nine zero.  My journey into fanfiction has taught me few things—the two most important being the growing availability self-publishing options means reading fanfiction can be dodgy, and when it comes to P&P fanfiction there are several varies out there.  The first variety is the sequel answering—usually in a spicy way— the burning question: what happens next? The second variety shifts the perspective and retells the story from the point of view of a character other than Elizabeth—usually Darcy—and answers the question: what were they thinking and feeling? The third variety is the “what if?” retelling, which answers the question I didn’t even know I had: what if one element of the story unfolded a differently than in the original?

I started my journey with a few sequels, which mostly turned out to be bodice rippers complete with all the clich├ęs—highwaymen, kidnapping, daring rescues, sword fights, uncomfortable euphemisms for body parts, and well…bodice ripping. All in all, not satisfying. Next I moved on to retellings from Darcy’s point of view.  I liked some of these more, but I still needed something further. Finally, I discovered the P&P “what if” stories, which have become my favorite.  They tend to do a good job of offering insight into the characters motivations while telling a new story and preventing boredom.

But, as I mentioned before, a lot of fanfiction is self-published and that means it is often not good. Many are poorly written and/or poorly edited.  I’m going to give you a list of the books and authors that I like so you can avoid all the rubbish. (Disclaimer—none of these books are great works of literature. Don’t expect anything more than a light, fun read) Here they are:

Books—
  1. Stronger Even Than Pride by Gail McEwen. In my opinion, this book is under rated by online reviewers.  Something happens in the story that many fans don’t like, but I think the story is romantic and sexy.
  2. The Subsequent Proposal: A Tale of Pride, Prejudice, and Persuasion by Joana Starnes. This book imagines a new story with both the characters from P&P and from one of Miss Austen’s other novels, Persuasion.  Personally, I think any book that has both Darcy and Captain Wentworth in it is a good book.
  3. Mr. Darcy’s Pursuit by Rose Lyons.  Ok, this is a little bit of a bodice ripper, but it’s fun read that takes Elizabeth and Darcy to India. I could not put this one down.
  4. The Confessions of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street. This is by far the best retelling from Darcy’s point of view. It’s insightful and romantic.

Authors—
  1. Abigail Reynolds. Ms. Reynolds is one of the most popular and well established P&P fanfiction writers out there—and with good reason. Her books can get a bit racy, but they are well written, inventive, and generally good fun. I just wish she’d stop using the word “minx.” I hate that word.  I would recommend her books Pemberley Medley (a collection of short stories) and The Darcy’s of Derbyshire