In 'Pemberley,' James Picks Up Where Austen Left Off

Play associated audio

British mystery writer P.D. James is best known for her creation Adam Dalgliesh — a pensive, private Scotland Yard detective shaped by his own personal tragedy. Dalgliesh populates many of James' stories, but not her latest. In her new book, Death Comes to Pemberley, P.D. James inhabits the world of Jane Austen — specifically, Pride and Prejudice.

"I had this idea at the back of my mind that I'd like to combine my two great enthusiasms," James tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "One is for the novels of Jane Austen and the second is for writing detective fiction."

Pemberley picks up with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy settled into Darcy's ancestral home. It's been six years since their marriage, and they have two healthy, handsome little boys. At first, life is peaceful and prosperous, but as the novel's name suggests, it's not quite happily ever after — "a rather ghastly murder" is discovered in the Pemberley woodlands, James says.

There's no shortage of Austen-inspired sequels out there: from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. But those sequels didn't inspire James to take up the Austen plotline. "I didn't even know they existed," James admits with a laugh.

James, who is 91, explains how she began her Austen sequel: "When I started, I said to my PA, 'We should look on the Internet!' ... she does all these clever things which I don't do — and see how many other people had written sequels. And we were amazed, absolutely amazed."

Unlike some of the sequels they found, James says she's tried to stay true to Austen's characters and writing style. Elizabeth, for one, remains a strong, spicy character. At times, she seems to acknowledge that perhaps she had been fairly calculating about her attraction to Darcy: "Elizabeth knew she was not formed for the sad contrivances of poverty," James writes.

"I don't think she married for money," James explains. "I think she did love Darcy and she grew to love him more. But she was not a woman who would allow herself to fall in love with a man who was totally penniless, because she felt she had responsibilities to her family. I think her aunt, her very wise Aunt Gardiner, said, 'Your father expects you to behave sensibly.' And that simply meant to make a satisfactory marriage."

In Death Comes to Pemberley, James dwells on the limited choices for women in the early 19th century. "Women were expected to marry, and if they didn't marry, that was regarded as a failure," James says. The only job they could hold was that of a governess — "a horrible job because you were neither a servant nor were you the family." (James' favorite Austen novel, Emma, explores that dreaded occupation.) Marriage and money were "tremendously important" to Austen, James says.

As for whether James will carry on in this vein — Death Comes to Donwell Abbey or Death at Delaford -- she's not going to keep her readers in suspense: "I think like most readers of Jane Austen, I often wonder what happens afterwards because they're so real to us. But no, this will be very much the one-off."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Filmmaker Andrea Arnold On 'American Honey' And Preserving Mystery In Film

Arnold's latest film, which won the Jury Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of a group of abandoned teenagers who travel together selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door.
NPR

Our Robot Overlords Are Now Delivering Pizza, And Cooking It On The Go

A Silicon Valley start-up wants to use technology to solve the pizza paradox. It's a food that's meant to be delivered, but never tastes quite as good upon arrival.
WAMU 88.5

Rating The United States On Child Care

A majority of parents in the U.S. work outside the home. That means about 12 million children across the country require care. A new report ranks states on cost, quality and availability of child care - and says nobody is getting it right.

NPR

Our Robot Overlords Are Now Delivering Pizza, And Cooking It On The Go

A Silicon Valley start-up wants to use technology to solve the pizza paradox. It's a food that's meant to be delivered, but never tastes quite as good upon arrival.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.