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Notable Books | Four new novels inspired by Jane Austen

These Three Remain: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman

Plot: The third in a trilogy tracing Fitzwilliam Darcy's story, this volume picks up at the point in Pride and Prejudice when Darcy is visiting his aunt's estate and discovers Elizabeth is staying with Charlotte Collins.

Gist: Aidan takes many scenes verbatim from P&P. She plumps up others with scene extenders that do not improve upon the original. Often the new scenes ring false: Would Darcy get drunk and lose control because Elizabeth spurned his proposal? Aidan may have period details correct but she lacks Austen's insight into character.

Darcy and Elizabeth

Plot: In Berdoll's second sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Darcy arrives home after traveling to the Continent to rescue his sister and finds Elizabeth about ready to deliver twins. Beyond that, gentle reader, I couldn't read.

Gist: If Regency-period bodice-rippers are your cup of tea, perhaps you will find this erotic page-turner worthwhile. It has only the most surface connection to P&P: The characters and time period are the same, the understanding and sensibility vastly different.

Jane Austen in Boca

Plot: Three Jewish widows in Florida find friendship and love (or security) in an updated version of Pride and Prejudice.

Gist: Cohen does not replicate precisely the plot of P&P but shows her Austen-like ability to observe human foibles as she examines the social customs of a Florida retirement village. Her portrayal is both affectionate and funny: One enjoyable plot twist has the retirees enrolling in a class on Austen and developing great sympathy for Mrs. Bennet, who was just trying to get her five daughters wed.

Pride and Prescience

Plot: Caroline Bingley's engagement to an American leads to bizarre behavior and several murders. Newlyweds Darcy and Elizabeth interrupt their honeymoon plans to figure out what's going on.

Gist: Bebris continues the story of Darcy and Elizabeth, ingeniously weaving together their lives with the lives of characters from other Austen novels. They marry, have children, and solve mysteries, but Bebris transforms Darcy into a rationalist whose worldview is confounded by Elizabeth's paranormal insights, which always prove to be correct-and that's not something Austen would write.

Spotlight

his year appears to be the year for Jane Austen fans. A movie, Becoming Jane, which purports to tell the story of Jane Austen's own star-crossed first love, is due out in August. Masterpiece Theatre plans to inaugurate in November a Jane Austen Festival that will include new adaptations of Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion. In keeping with recent adaptations, the new ones will probably brim over with period detail and simmer with sexual tension. Less clear is whether they will convey Austen's wry social observations.

Readers can also enjoy the Austen craze. Those who view Austen primarily as a writer of Regency romances can read prequels or sequels to the novels (Pamela Aidan, Linda Berdoll). Those who imagine her as an independent woman might like mystery novels featuring Austen as a detective involved with a dashing British spy (see the series by Stephanie Barron). Chick-lit fans might enjoy the lightweight update of Persuasion, The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz. Paula Marantz Cohen cleverly updates the same book in Jane Austen in Scarsdale, which examines the high-pressure competition for college admissions in a wealthy suburb of New York.

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