Monday, February 02, 2015

Spending Time at Pemberley

I traveled all the way to Pemberley last week – twice, in fact.

The first time was in reading Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice. And the second visit came through P.D. James’ murder-mystery involving the same characters and settings. That novel is Death Comes to Pemberley written in 2011.

Both were very entertaining reads.  Jane Austen and P.D. James are both talented, insightful writers of the first rank.  But though the scenes and characters in these two books are supposed to be the same, the tone and goal of each are quite different.  That should hardly be a surprise.  Austen’s mastery is the novel of manners. Her genius is in conversation, the turn of phrase, the complexities of human nature and social relationships.  James specializes in plot; in creating a tense, page-turning adventure which invites the reader to join in the detective process.  Two different styles.  Two different purposes.  And books which were written 200 years apart.

Yet, one of the things that stands out from reading these two novels together is how carefully and respectfully James attempts to complement Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  And how well she brings it off.   Yes, there were times during the reading of Death Comes to Pemberley when I thought James was going over old ground or making too much over the connections to Austen’s novel and thus neglecting the finer points of her own story.  But, by the time I climbed into the chaise and bid my goodbyes to Pemberley, I recognized that I had thoroughly enjoyed both the mystery James had created and the skillful weaving of her own style and that of Miss Austen.

Therefore, I recommend both books. But I think there are special benefits from reading them both (Austen then James) in quick succession in order to best appreciate the novels' intermingled effects.

(The top photograph is of Chatsworth House, believed by many to be the house on which Austen based the lovely and rambling estate of Pemberley.)