Review by Allison T.
A criticism that used to be applied to the works of Jane Austen were that, with a few exceptions (like why the militia are stationed at Meryton or the references to war in Persuasion), she incorporated very few of the stirring events of her own time in her works; she focused, as she said she preferred to, on the lives of two or three families in a small village.
In The Pemberley Chronicles, volume 1 of a ten-volume series, Rebecca Ann Collins (a pseudonym for an as yet unrevealed author) continues the stories of the Darcys and the Bingleys, drawing in numerous historical events and trends that Austen would have probably ignored. A good master and a careful landlord, Mr. Darcy is a paragon of modern, enlightened social welfare. When Caroline Bingley persuades her brother to invest in the newly-burgeoning textile mills of the north, Darcy and Elizabeth discover that the mills thrive on the sweated labor of children, whereupon they convince Bingley to invest in land instead. The Darcys are deeply disturbed to find that landowners in Wales are mining for coal under the Darcy properties there, doubtless leading to poisoning of streams and wells. Unlike most of his fellow land-owners, Darcy is a vocal antagonist of the newly authorized system of enclosure, by which wealthy landowners fenced in land that was formerly commons, thereby causing misery to the poor who relied on it for pasturage and firewood. Darcy, Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam join in a commercial trade partnership with Mr. Gardiner, to the mutual benefit of all and the prospering of organic free trade shade-grown coffee. No—strike that last phrase. Got a little carried away. There is very little humor in this book, and I dearly love to laugh.
This ambitious sequel does something that I don’t believe any other sequel, prequel or continuation has attempted, which is to provide the historical context of post-Regency England as it affects familiar characters. We read about the Peterloo riots, the deaths of George IV and his brother and the ascension of Victoria, and hints of unrest in India and the Colonies. As an historian, I applaud this attempt to provide context, but it also opens the author up to some quibbles. For example, while some landowners might have recognized in 1820 that the world was changing, I don’t believe that anyone in that period was aware that they were going through the Industrial Revolution per se—that is a word coined in later times. Similarly, the word “recession,” used frequently in the book is, I think a term first used in the 1930s; prior to that we had bank failures and hard times. However, these are minor points.
The Pemberley Chronicles take us from the marriages that conclude the original work through to 1847, with the births of many children, the marriages of some, and a few deaths. In fact, the number of children, and the vast sweep of time, makes the story a little confusing: some readers have apparently felt compelled to draw up family trees.
Miss Collins writes well in general, although there are long sections of exposition and too many times in which an event occurs and Lizzie reacts; Lizzie explains the event to Mr. Darcy and he reacts; Lizzie explains the event and Mr. Darcy’s reaction to Aunt Gardiner and she reacts; and then Lizzie regales it all again to Jane, who passes back Mr. Bingley’s reaction. Another challenge of the work is that there is no plot; there is no central drama creating emotional tension to be released at the conclusion. The Pemberley Chronicles is indeed a linear chronicle of the lives of Austen’s characters, and should please fans who want to find out “what happened next.”