As I write my next P&P variation, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I like in my Jane Austen variations – and, naturally, what I don’t like.
One of the things I look for in all my books is passion, emotion, true feelings. In life it might not be realistic to believe that two people must be together to be happy, but I love to see that premise in my novels. So, I look for these extremes of emotion in my Austen variations as well. If the characters aren’t feeling like this is one of the most important moments in their lives, why should I care?
However, in order to have extreme emotions (or an interesting plot), you need conflict; bad things need to happen to your protagonists. They can’t be happy – particularly at the beginning. I’ve read P&P sequels (taking place after the original book) in which Darcy and Elizabeth are happy most of the time. They have sex, they go to the beach, they laugh. I would love to be those people. I do not want to read about them. It’s boring.
Another thing I look for in my P&P variations is being true to the characters. I love to see variations which put the characters I recognize and love into new and interesting situations. That’s my idea of a great book – even if the situation is a bit farfetched.
Now, of course, my idea of true to the characters might not be someone else’s. I don’t mind me some sex scenes. I believe Darcy and Elizabeth would have a passionate relationship. I believe they might anticipate their marriage vows (there’s evidence lots of people did back then – particularly when engaged) under certain circumstances.
However, I can’t see Miss Bingley slipping into Darcy’s bed in the hopes of seducing or compromising him. She’s a harpy, but that’s not her style. She’s as interested in preserving her virtue and reputation as any other well-bred woman. I can’t picture Colonel Fitzwilliam becoming a letch who Darcy has to protect Elizabeth from. There’s nothing to suggest that interpretation of the character in the original text. I have a hard time imagining Jane becoming the protective head of the household after her father dies and defending a fragile Elizabeth. When did they both have a personality transplant? Mr. Collins may be a vain idiot, but would he become an evil villain? It doesn’t seem to be in his nature – plus he’s a dim bulb.
Now, maybe some readers can overlook these things. There are some improbabilities I don’t mind if they’re explained well. But for me this kind of radical reinterpretation of the characters makes it hard for me to stay in the world of the novel and enjoy it.
There are, of course, other things I like and don’t like about variations. But that’s enough for now. I’d love to hear others’ opinions. What are your favorite things about Austen variations?