A Continuation of Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Becton
published independently, 2010 | 256 pp
For any lover of Pride and Prejudice, this is a delight. Its is constantly pointing in the direction of its inspiration, but it does not suffer for that. It is it's own creature, blossoming from a cutting, as it were, of the original novel - similar, but laying down its own roots - its movement independent of the original.
The story begins some seven years following the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins has died (in a manner suiting his folly) and Charlotte must find her independent way in the world. She will not do so alone, however, for her younger sister Maria seizes on this opportunity to make Charlotte her chaperone as she finds her way through society and attempts to secure a husband of her own. In Jennifer Becton's hands, their tiny world of Kent becomes much larger, and Austen's characters blossom into leading players.
For many readers, Charlotte and Maria are thankless supporting characters to the Bennet sisters' plot, so seeing them so fully fledged here brings a kind of comfort. Becton's ancillary characters create a new part of the world that is remarkably detailed and bears the sort of witty appraisals one might expect from Austen's own pen (were it not for some of this author's indulgences in 19th century American exoticism and a slightly more passionate portrayal of emotion in general - both common traits in this brand of writing). It is a credit to both Austen and Becton that Charlotte and Maria (and Lady Catherine) have a strength of their own and have no need to stray far from there inherent characterization in this newer continuation. They are all very much the same people, but it is the new story that allows us to see them in full form.
Charlotte Collins is a real tribute to Jane Austen, with shades of her other novels - most particularly, I found, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility; but it bears the mark of its home world most of all. I have not found, in my reading of Austen offshoot fiction, a work focusing on a minor character to do so as successfully as Jennifer Becton has managed here. And while I can't recommend this book to someone looking for a fresh or modern Austenesque novel, I think that anyone who loves reading Austen in its original form could give it a go and be the better for it.