"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

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Summary: The characters and basic plot of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are transported to antebellum Texas. 

I have read so many bad adaptations, sequels and "inspired by" books of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that I didn't expect much of Pemberley Ranch, but it was surprisingly good.

The book was enhanced by my knowledge and love of Jane Austen's novels, but people looking for a post-Civil War fiction novel would appreciate the story, even without the background.

Instead of Lizzie Bennet, we have Beth Bennet. The Bennets sell their farm in Ohio and move to Texas after the Civil War and the death of the oldest Bennet child, Samuel. (Samuel was never a character in P&P.) Will Darcy was an officer in the Confederate Army and is now a rancher in Texas. Instead of Mr. Wickham, we have George Whitehead. Now a carpetbagger, Whitehead violated basic rules of war and oversaw Union war camps, where Confederate prisoners died of dysentery and starvation. I never got the sense from the original P&P that Wickham was truly evil, perhaps just malicious and selfish, but Whitehead is despicable. He's at the center of a convoluted plot to drive free blacks off their own land and profit from a new railroad line coming into town.

The main characters - Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mrs Bennet- are all there, with slightly different motivations.  Collins is the bank manager, and the bank will get the Bennet farm in foreclosure. He's also called Billy Collins, which is the name of a modern famous poet. Lady Catherine is Kate Burroughs and Mrs. Bennet is concerned about the lack of good quality men in Rosings, Texas. In addition to calling Fitzwilliam Darcy Will Darcy, there is also a character named Fitzwilliam. Wha, what? I know. The love story between Darcy and Beth/Lizzie develops along the same line, and that's what made this story work.

Several things bothered me though - The author used characters from other Austen books as characters in Pemberley Ranch: Elton, Mr. Knightly, etc. Instead of Darcy writing a letter to explain his hatred for Whitehead, he gets drunk and rants to Beth and Anne. The slurring and writing in this scene seemed forced. In fact, a lot of the Southern talk/writing seemed cliched and fake. Keeping to the emotions of the original P&P during similar scenes always worked best. You will be surprised about what happens to Lily/Kitty. It's worse than you think.

A line on the back cover reads: "Frankly, Mr. Darcy, I don't give a damn." Any reference or homage to Gone with the Wind is strictly accidental.

Despite the fact that P&P didn't end with a shoot-out, this was a pleasant read, if slow at times. I kept putting this down and picking it up when I thought about it, but it wasn't a book I had to stay up late finishing.

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