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PEMBERLEY by Emma Tennant


by Emma Tennant

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-10793-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

Tennant (The Half-Mother, 1985) enters this fall's ``Jane Wars'' in which sequels to Austen's Pride and Prejudice vie—and is bested by Julia Barrett with her deft and entertaining Presumption (p. 948). It's Christmastime a year after Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy, and her joy in her new state is marred by her failure to conceive a child (a subject treated here with an openness that would horrify Austen—at one point, Elizabeth's mother, Mrs. Bennet, actually recommends, in mixed company, a vinegar douche as an aide to conceiving a boy). Apart from Elizabeth's personal disappointment, the fate of Pemberley is at stake: If a male heir is not born to Fitzwilliam Darcy, the estate will go to the nearest male relative, the obnoxious Thomas Roper. While Elizabeth is stewing about this, chance bits of evidence convince her that her adored husband is keeping a heavy secret from her: that a deceased Frenchwoman who once lived in the village near Pemberley was actually his mistress, and that the six-year-old boy Elizabeth once happened to glimpse in her husband's company is Fitzwilliam Darcy's illegitimate son by this woman. Meanwhile, her anxieties are aggravated by a disastrous snowbound holiday house-party during which her mother behaves with preposterous crudeness; her sister Jane gives birth; Lady Catherine de Bourgh constantly voices her august disapproval; and Darcy frigidly withdraws. By the time the story has lurched to its conclusion (the wrap-up is rushed, suggesting that the writer herself was eager to get it over with), the reader is likely to have lost sympathy with Elizabeth for entertaining such unworthy thoughts about Darcy and for showing so little sign of the intelligence, pluck, and humor for which she has been beloved in the original. Dyspeptic.