Writing a sequel to an iconic book like Pride and Prejudice was intimidating. All my insecurities, self-doubts, and uncertainties rose to the surface. The voice of the inner critic rang in my ears louder than usual when I first began writing The Pursuit of Mary Bennet. “You’re trying to be Jane Austen? Are you crazy?” “So you think you can write a story as beloved as Pride and Prejudice? Good luck with that!”
One fact that made the writing a little less daunting was that so many had gone before me. A simple Google search will tell you that there are Austen sequels to please every reader, as well as some that might offend. From the erotic to the undead, the completely re-imagined tales, and the more traditional stories, they’re there for the taking. Feel like something fanciful? Try Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. How about sexy? Check out one of Linda Berdoll’s sequels. More traditional? Pamela Aidan’s trilogy featuring Fitzwilliam Darcy might be just the thing. For a contemporary romance variation, check out Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos.
When I began writing, one of the first decisions I had to make related to language. Did I want The Pursuit of Mary Bennet to sound just like Jane Austen? I quickly decided that I didn’t. For starters, I knew I could never replicate her style. Modern ears are accustomed to more dialogue and less narration. Then too, I thought if my primary concern was language, character and story would suffer. So I decided to go with a slightly more formal, British-English sounding narration, making sure to use words Austen would have used. There’s a wonderful resource on the internet called “The Jane Austen Thesaurus,” and I frequently checked it to find out if she used certain words. If the thesaurus said she hadn’t, I tried not to either. Jane Austen wrote in third person point-of-view, and so do most of the sequel writers. Usually when I’m starting a book, I experiment with different POVs, and I did this time as well. To be more Austenesque, I really wanted to use third person. But ultimately, I didn’t think Mary’s story as I wanted to tell it worked with that POV. I switched to first person and immediately heard Mary’s voice. It seemed more true and natural.
I wanted to get close to Mary, to her heart. In my mind, she was someone who’d been wounded. She was the middle daughter, born between two pairs of sisters, two elder and two younger. Jane and Elizabeth, alike in so many ways, were extremely close. And the same could be said about Kitty and Lydia, the two younger sisters. That left Mary rather isolated. In Pride and Prejudice, she’s portrayed, for the most part, as a foolish girl who speaks before she thinks and isn’t treated kindly by her family. Given this situation, she had great potential to be the subject of a sequel. What Mary was, and what she could become, provided an organic tension in the story
What would a Pride and Prejudice sequel be without a romance? Of course there had to be a love interest for Mary. Finding herself attracted to someone, unsure about his feelings as well as her own, presented an important opportunity for her to continue on her path to self-discovery. This tension between the old and new Mary is at the heart of my sequel. The story is as much about Mary’s pursuit of a new identity as it is a lover’s pursuit of her affections.