Review by Allison T.
The unpolluted golden shades of Pemberley surround familiar and new characters in The Women of Pemberley, volume 2 in The Pemberley Chronicles, a work that is “devised and compiled” by the pseudonymous Rebecca Ann Collins. Here, readers who can’t get enough of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy can explore the fates of the various children and even grandchildren of the principal characters of P&P: Emma (Jane’s daughter) who is caught in a bad marriage; Cassandra Darcy, who is courted by her cousin Richard Gardiner; Emily Gardiner, seeking a second husband after her first dies of TB; Robert Gardiner, who finds himself smitten by Rose Fitzwilliam (daughter of the colonel, who we are happy to see has made a satisfactory marriage); Isabella Fitzwilliam, who is the heroine of a mine collapse; Josie Tate (oh, dear, I forget how the Tates figure into things; perhaps Josie’s mother is a Collins daughter?); and Jonathan Bingley, who ends up with a Collins girl. Lizzie & Darcy make fleeting appearances, sometimes acting as deii ex machina; sometimes reacting with anguish and sorrow at the train of events.
It is difficult to write a family saga—just ask Messrs. Trollope and Galsworthy, Mrs. Thirkell and Miss Thane. Where to foreshadow, how to weave in the back-story of a newly-introduced character, how to nestle one story inside another, how to jump from one cliff-hanger to the next—it is a challenging art and one arguably best performed by Le Mâitre, P.G. Wodehouse, in his Bertie & Jeeves stories. (Yes, yes, I know they aren’t really a family saga, per se, but his characters live full and busy lives in between and throughout the books and stories.)
While Miss Collins takes characters up to the American Civil War, occasionally interpolating political facts or mentions of the Brontës or Florence Nightengale, The Women of Pemberley is not, to my mind, a real family saga: it is a string of stories, rather like beads on a chain. Each protagonist in turn is presented with a problem—a vile husband, a sick child—and the problem is solved within a few pages and we move on to the next protagonist and her problem. I suspect that these stories were written over a period of time as stand-alone tales, and then somewhat woven together after-the-fact, not a good recipe for a sustained serial. The glamour (and I use this word in the Tolkein sense to mean “enchantment” or “spell”) of Pemberley hangs over all the tales, and most of the characters end up living on or near the estate. This glamour also causes most of them to follow Mr. Darcy’s lead in becoming a social reformer, building libraries and hospitals and refusing to enclose his commons. Commendable, but not all that believable, alas.
While Miss Collins has some interesting ideas—in particular, her examination of the upper middle class of the 1830s-1860s—she would have benefited by a tough editor who would have made her cut out some of the lengthy re-tellings (something happens; someone relates it to Elizabeth; Elizabeth relates it to Darcy, who reacts; Elizabeth relates it to Jane, who reacts; Elizabeth relays all these reactions to the original informant, etc.) and who would have urged greater melding of the separate stories into one, thereby enhancing the dramatic tension. Because each individual tale can cover varying numbers of years, we also jump back and forth in time, an exhausting effort, especially because it is so difficult to keep track of the characters, none of whom, I confess, I cared that deeply about. No, not even Lizzie.
The Women of Pemberley has some interesting aspects to it, but Miss Collins is an author whom I would like to see write more about her own characters in her own voice.