Murder most foul enters Austen's world
What happens when one of contemporary crime fiction's most celebrated authors takes on one of the most beloved classics of all time? Find out in Death Comes to Pemberley, wherein celebrated writer P.D. James lays a mystery at the Darcys' doorstep. We asked the British author a few questions about her latest project—and whether there might be more adventures in Austen in store.
Was it difficult to write about murder while preserving an Austen-esque narrative tone?
After finishing my last detective novel, The Private Patient, I had at the back of my mind the idea of combining my two lifelong enthusiasms, for writing detective fiction and for the novels of Jane Austen, by writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice which would examine the success of the Darcy’s marriage and also be a credible mystery. I am so steeped in the language of Jane Austen that it was not difficult to reproduce her narrative tone, although in my novel this is less apparent in the second part when I am dealing with violent events, which she, of course, never included in her work.
How did working with another author's already established characters differ from creating your own characters?
For me the creation of character is the chief satisfaction of writing a novel, and I have never previously either used or wanted to use the character of another writer. The main difference with Death Comes to Pemberley is that I was developing my own understanding of Jane Austen’s characters and providing some explanation for events in the original novel which I found perplexing, including the reason why Darcy placed a shy 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, who had lost her mother, in the sole care of a woman like Mrs Younge.
What do you think that crime novels and novels about social mores like Austen’s have in common?
The crime novel should to some extent be a novel about social mores and we often learn more from crime fiction about the age and mores in which it is set then we do from more prestigious literature. For example, if we really want to know what it was like to work in an office in London between the two world wars, we read Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, which tells us more than many social histories would.
Have you read any of the other sequels to Jane Austen’s novels or watched any of the film adaptations? If so, do you have a favorite?
I have not ready any sequels to Jane Austen’s novels. I have watched film and television adaptations of her books and my favourite is the BBC’s serialization of Pride and Prejudice, which I thought was brilliantly done.
Who do you think would make a better husband: Darcy or Bingley?
Darcy for Elizabeth, Bingley for Jane.
Why do you think Austen’s novels have such resonance with readers today? What do you most admire about her work?
Her style, her wit, her humour, her humanity, her ability to create character and to bring to life a small community of generally civilized people in rural England in the early 19th century.
Would you consider writing other Austen sequels? Might death come to Emma's Highbury or Sense and Sensibility's Barton Cottage?
No. Writing Death Comes to Pemberley gave me great pleasure which, it seems, many readers are sharing, but I have no intention of writing a further sequel, either to another of Austen’s books or to any other novel.