Monday, July 5, 2010

Prologues, Parodies, and Presentations: a continuation!

As opposed to Epilogues, I am quite a fan of Prologues. Perhaps it is vaguely reminiscent of my personality, but prologues allow you to barge in on the story with a certain savoir-faire. Two or three pages of set-up do me quite nicely. Just enough to introduce the characters, get everyone in place, and then off you go to the meat of the matter.

As opposed to the epilogue in the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I have yet to read a prologue that warrants specific address. Sorry, that isn’t what this blog is about!

Just before school let out for the summer I read a very good book called Rebecca and Rowena, by William Makepeace Thackeray. He is most famous for Vanity Fair (published in 1847), a satire on wealthy members of British society in the 19th century.

One review of Rebecca and Rowena calls it the “burlesque sequel to Ivanhoe.” Published in 1850, it is a continuation of Thackeray’s tongue in cheek parody on western civilization. He writes passionately about the tragedy of a book coming to an end when the romance is in full bloom, the villain captured, or the mystery solved. He makes very witty remarks about how a woman of “five and thirty loses all interest to society, especially once her waistline begins to expand.” He writes a healthy argument for continuing to read the hero’s story to see if the hero in fact is a hero or just a one hit wonder.

Thackeray mocks the whims of the time (and because he doesn’t like the story as written) he ups the ante quite a bit with Rebecca and Rowena taking off where Ivanhoe ends. Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, in a nutshell, is the more political, less romantic version of Robin Hood, set in the year 1194. The original storyline is barely detectable after Thackeray is finished with it. While it didn’t go on to receive quite the favor that Vanity Fair did, it has become a highly referenced book in literature and feminism courses.

However, this is not what the blog is about! The blog is really about the on-going obsession readers across the world have with Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.

I have read the book a time or two; watched the 6 hour BBC version starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth at least ten times, have seen the 2005 version around 4 times, and have even seen the 1938 version! That’s a lot of Pride and Prejudice.

Recently I was wandering around the local book store in the “literature” department, just browsing and reading titles. I think I had made it to the “C” section when actual shock overtook me after observing how many books linked themselves to Jane Austen or to Pride and Prejudice. So, me being me, I made a bit of a project comparing how many books referred to P&P versus Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion or Northanger Abbey. While I couldn’t actually keep tallying the numbers, there’s only so much you can write on the back of a paper napkin, I can answer without any hesitation, there are a whole lot more books borrowing upon P&P than any of the others. (How’s that for scientific research?)

I gathered up a pile of books, hunkered down into a chair, and read the descriptions of 42 books. I decided to bring home Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride, A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Helen Halstead. As I write this, it is hard for me to decide which direction to go. Do I talk about how flabbergasted I was to find out that Helen Halstead had the courage to call the book an actual sequel? Do I talk about the fact that there were more than 42 books? Do I just talk about the book?

Much has been written about Jane Austen and her unconventional life; she chose to not marry and instead lived in her family home until her death. Most of her time was spent at what would have been conventional tasks, those very much like Elizabeth Bennets pursuits; reading, practicing the pianoforte, sewing, visiting acquaintances, and dancing!

It turns out that Helen Halstead has a bit of William Makepeace Thackeray in her. Not that her book is a parody, but that it seeks to follow the storyline beyond “romance in full bloom.” The story follows what would have more likely been Elizabeth Darcy’s reality; trying to win the favor of “society” after being ostracized by them as a result of Lady Catherine de Bergh’s influence, and its effect on her relationship with Mr. Darcy. Helen Halstead also does a remarkable job carrying the Bennet and Bingley families forward as well.

I’m not really writing a book review, so much as again appreciating the desire to imagine what more there could be to the story. I truly sit in awe at Thackeray and Halstead’s dedication in creating the ‘more’ they wanted to know. The beauty in writing a book is that you never really wonder what will become of your characters; you finish telling their story, but they continue to live in your imagination and their future is only limited in your desire to write a sequel. I find myself wondering what Jane Austen would make of Helen Halstead’s attempt at furthering Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s story. Much is written about Sir Walter Scotts reaction to William Makepeace Thackeray’s parody – for the most part it was unappreciated!

I think for entertainment purposes, my next blog will be an attempt at continuing the story line of a famous book and seeing what you think of the outcome. I will post a poll and you’ll be able to let me know whether I did it justice. If you have a suggestion to make as to which book, please feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for reading.