By Jayne Bamber, Author of Happier in Her Friends Than Relations
I have been reading Jane Austen fan fiction for years – as much of it as I can get my hands on, and I’m glad this genre doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Yet despite there being an abundance of wonderfully written and delightfully imaginative Austen continuations and adaptations, the overwhelming majority focus on Pride & Prejudice. Of course, who doesn’t want to be like Lizzy Bennet, and tame their own Mr. Darcy?
There are a few JAFF novels that focus on the characters of Austen’s less popular works, and even fewer that widen their scope to more than one at once. We are left to wonder what might be if the Bennets, Darcys, Elliots, Dashwoods, Bertrams, and all the other characters we love inhabited the same world. Could they all be friends or even relations?
This notion has always captivated me. I’ve long wondered how Austen’s heroines might have gotten on together, and whether they might have found a better match on the pages of another novel. Aside from heroes and heroines, her entire repertoire of minor characters to me represents a community that needs to be reunited – imagine Miss Bates gossiping with Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Jennings, or Mr. Collins discussing sermons with Mr. Elton or Henry Tilney! Might Georgiana Darcy and Marianne Dashwood bond over their love of music? Are Harriet Smith’s true parents perhaps people we know already? (Spoiler alert: yes to both!)
My debut novel, Happier in Her Friends Than Relations is the first book in a series that will bring a great many of Austen’s beloved characters together. The story begins, as most good Austen fan fiction, with Lizzy and Darcy, and I can promise you a happy ending for them, but beyond that, very little will play out the same way.
Marianne and Elinor cross paths with Elizabeth Bennet on her path to HEA, and both of Lizzy’s new friends have stories that go a little differently than how one might imagine. Mrs. Jennings, in addition to becoming fast friends with Mrs. Bennet, is eventually revealed to be Mr. Darcy’s aunt on his father’s side, making Lady Middleton and Charlotte Palmer his and Georgiana’s cousins. Subsequently, this makes Mrs. Jennings and Lady Catherine sisters by marriage, and one can surely guess what that relationship is like.
Mr. Darcy isn’t the only one to acquire some surprising relations in Happier. In addition to the Ferrarses becoming her neighbors by renting Netherfield when Bingley does not, Elizabeth eventually meets a distant cousin from Surrey, Mr. Robert Martin of Abbey Mill Farm, who travels to London with Mr. Knightley.
Colonel Fitzwilliam is elevated to the station of a viscount, and given several new relations: a sweet, stoic younger brother and a very spicy younger sister, as well as cousins by the name of Woodhouse, and a romantic interest who will keep him on his toes!
Though Happier in Her Friends Than Relations focuses largely on Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, characters from Emma, Mansfield Park, and Austen’s unfinished work Sanditon make an appearance throughout the story.
I’m currently working on Book 2 of the Friends and Relations series, in which characters from Pride & Prejudice such as Georgiana Darcy and Mary Bennet will play a role, and readers can expect Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine de Bourgh to provide some surprises along the way. There are characters from Mansfield Park and Emma who come into the end of Book 1, and even more characters from those books will be at the forefront of the story in Book 2, including Emma herself.
As in Book 1, Book 2 will tell the stories of several characters, weaving together the lives of familiar old friends from across the Austen realm. Further into the series, I intend to write some interesting twists for Anne Elliot and Catherine Morland and all the characters that accompany those heroines as well and am hoping that at some point we will get a glimpse of Sanditon itself.
I don’t yet have an anticipated release date for Book 2, but Book 1, Happier in Her Friends Than Relations is available now on Amazon/Kindle, and for those of you have not yet read it, I’d like to share a little excerpt of the book, in which we see Marianne, Lizzy, and the Parker sisters of Sanditon. Leave a comment telling me what you think of this crossover of Austen’s works!
This grand event, though a fortnight distant, was much discussed at dinner that evening. To Elizabeth’s chagrin, Marianne smiled at Mrs. Jennings, affecting all innocence as she said, “I recall how famously you got on with Lady Rebecca at the Netherfield ball, perhaps we may include her in the invitations?”
“Oh, yes, of course! What say you, Charlotte, my dear? You remember Darcy’s Fitzwilliam cousins, do you not? Very genteel people and Lady Rebecca is very fond of my young companions.”
Mrs. Palmer happily agreed, and her husband went on to add his own recollection of Lady Rebecca, had who imbibed more than most of the men at his wedding breakfast.
Mrs. Jennings laughed heartily as she called her son-in-law an infamous scoundrel for impugning the honor of her favorite nephew’s cousins, prompting Marianne to suggest that perhaps the aforementioned nephew might also be included in the invitation.
Elizabeth began to feel very anxious. Though Marianne had promised to keep her secret, it seemed Mrs. Jennings required very little coaxing to take part in Marianne’s scheming. The question was, would he come? Her apology to Rebecca had already been dispatched, but beyond an apology for her behavior towards all of Rebecca’s family, no mention of Darcy had been made. What she wished to say to her friend must take place in person, though Elizabeth had not anticipated such a reunion taking place so soon. She had wished to hear from Rebecca the current state of Mr. Darcy’s feelings for her—had his regard truly been so deep, and had she destroyed it, or was there still reason to hope? If Mr. Darcy did join his cousin in coming to Cleveland, she would have very little opportunity to prepare for meeting him again.
It was all too much to think about at such a time, and as Marianne fixed her with a devilish look that would have done Rebecca very proud, Elizabeth endeavored turn the conversation to other subjects; she asked Mrs. Palmer after their time in Bath.
“It is such a pity you did not all come with us, for if you had, we might have extended our stay several more days. There is always so much more to do in a place like Bath.”
“Such as leave,” observed Mr. Palmer.
Mrs. Palmer laughed. “My poor husband could not wait to be away. How he worried for our dear girls here, all alone! I think he was vastly frightened that Miss Marianne would take sick again. Oh! Speaking of—who do you think we saw in Bath? Willoughby!”
Marianne blanched, and Elizabeth observed her warily. From all that she had heard of Mr. Willoughby, his presence in the area could not bode well for her friend’s equanimity, and she was astonished that Mrs. Palmer, who was clearly aware of their history, would mention it at all.
Oblivious to Marianne’s discomfort, Mrs. Palmer chatted on happily. “Oh yes, I suppose he must be on the hunt for a new Mrs. Willoughby, for his late wife has been gone since Easter. Mamma, you did always say that his marriage was not a love match, and I daresay you are quite right, for he was in such fine spirits! But what do you think, Miss Marianne? It is quite a coincidence, is it not, that you should both be unmarried once again.… I thought to invite him back with us directly, but Mamma said we better not, and so I told Mr. Willoughby that perhaps we would meet him another time, for you are to be with us a month complete. He is to return to Combe Magna in a couple of weeks—before the ball, in fact. Mamma did not wish me to mention it to you, but I know how very fond you once were of him.”
Mrs. Jennings scolded her daughter, and gave Marianne a gentle pat on the shoulder, whispering too softly for Elizabeth to hear. The Misses Parker shared Elizabeth’s alarm, though their indolent brother seemed more concerned with his meal. Miss Susan began to fuss over her a great deal, observing that if she was likely to swoon, smelling salts and a small sip of brandy were highly recommended.
Miss Parker interposed, and began to squabble with her younger sister over the value of certain tonics various doctors had recommended to her, and for a minute Marianne merely gawped at them in silence as the valetudinarian sisters gave an overly detailed account of all their own personal maladies, and the many remedies they had attempted.
“Get Mrs. Brandon another glass of wine,” Miss Parker urged.
“No indeed,” argued her sister. “You must recall Dr. Flynn saying that spirits are not to be administered to one who has received a great shock. She must lie very still, perhaps even take a cold bath.…”
“A cold bath? My dear sister, you are thinking of dyspepsia. It is my opinion that Mrs. Brandon has some great tendency towards melancholia, and I recommend a robust diet and plenty of exercise.”
“Upon my word, I am certain that walking out of doors should be the death of her, at such a time!”
“Come, come,” Mrs. Palmer interjected, “Mrs. Brandon hardly looks as though she is at death’s door.”
“That is what makes her situation so precarious,” Miss Parker insisted.
Marianne attempted to protest, but was met with sympathetic tuts from both of the invalid sisters. “Indeed, I know what you suffer, my dear,” Miss Parker commiserated. “When I am feeling unwell, the last thing I would wish is to give anyone else any trouble, and yet your natural modesty will not do you any favors at such a time. To resist any curatives will only prolong your suffering.”
Marianne’s patience seemed at an end. “I beg your pardon, but the only thing that has prolonged my suffering is this manner of conversation.” Her face flashing with annoyance, she abruptly fled from the room.
Miss Parker nodded knowingly. “Irritability, definitely a symptom of melancholia, mark my words.”
“Poor creature,” Miss Susan sighed. “To be so afflicted, in the bloom of her youth.”
Mr. Arthur Parker glanced nervously at his sisters, observing that he should like a second helping of the venison.
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Photo Credit: Pride and Prejudice (2005) – Focus Features; Mansfield Park (1999) – Miramax Films; Emma (2009) – BBC; Sense and Sensibility (1995) – Columbia Pictures ; Northanger Abbey (2007) – ITV; Pride and Prejudice (1995) – BBC.
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