At the end of a bookstore rack, right where they put the impulse stuff in grocery stores, is a book with a lurid dust jacket screaming DARCY and ELIZABETH. To an old English major, that spells Jane Austen.
Only it isn't quite. When Austen had the poor marketing sense to die at age 41 in 1817 after writing just six books, she left a huge unfilled need out here in the 21st century. The market got even hotter after the success of the 2005 film version of "Pride and Prejudice" with Keira Knightley.
So now they've leapt into the breech caused by Austen's inconsiderate demise in order to feed the jonesing of Austen junkies. The book that caught my eye is "Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley (Pride & Prejudice Continues)" by Linda Berdoll, which is a sort of sequel to "Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife" by the same writer, which was a sequel to Austen's story.
Didn't you ever wonder what happens to the spunky Elizabeth after she blows off mean Lady Catherine and gets engaged to the reticent but passionate Darcy? Well, now you can find out (consumer warning: doing so requires you to wade through prose such as, "As plush a coach as it was, recent rains tried even its heavy springs ... " ).
There are two main themes in such sequels.
One is an extended happy ending involving plenty of money. The other, which you didn't find much of in the original, is sex. Berdoll has the spirited Elizabeth knocking boots with Darcy at the rip of a bodice, every chance they get.
And that's pretty much whenever they're not thwarting the machinations of the evil Lady de Bourgh or the dastardly Wickham.
Putting aside the obvious questions (Isn't all this like listening to a Beatles cover band instead of the real thing? Shouldn't writers make up their own characters?), we salute the Austen emulators. In fact, we envision what they might do with other great 19th century novels.
As whopping a whale as Moby Dick was, Ahab's recent harpooning tried even Moby's heavy hide.
Moby thrashes wildly as Ahab rams his mighty harpoon home.
"I'll get you," Ahab cries, "you damnable cetacean metaphor!"
Ishmael is watching all this from his floating coffin when another coffin floats up with Queequeg aboard. Amazingly, a third coffin surfaces, this one filled with doubloons.
Ishmael and Queequeg are rescued by the Rachel and return to New Bedford, where with their new riches they buy Peter Coffin's Spouter Inn.
Queequeg tells Ishmael they are "married," and the two pass their days counting their gold, worshipping Queequeg's idol, Yojo, and visiting their friend Moby, who miraculously survived Ahab and now lives in the marina where he amuses the tourists.
"Wanna share my pipe?" Queequeg says.
"C'mere, you big heathen," Ishmael says.
As big a delusion as Pip's infatuation with Estella was, recent events tried even its heavy wellsprings.
Pip's discovery of Estella's affair with Magwitch is almost the last straw. Then, one day when Estella has been out at the Thames pouring water on a drowning man, Jaggers bursts in with the news that Pip's art exhibit at the great estate of Manderley-Brambleburst is a triumph.
"I did it! I did it!" Pip cries, dancing around. "I am a wild success! I sold all my paintings. I'm rich! Isn't that what you wanted? Aren't we happy now?"
Pip buys Manderley-Brambleburst, hires Miss Havisham to cook and puts Bentley Drummel to work cleaning out the stables. He and Estella now enjoy 14 bedrooms and much bootknocking.
"I do love the way you dance," Estella says in a sexy purr.
"This," a smiling Pip says, "exceeds my expectations."
As sharp as the axe was, the old lady's skull had tried even its heavy edge.
Later, in the gulag, Sonya keeps insisting that "chopping up people is not nice" as Raskolnikov tries to sort out his feelings about her.
"I dunno," he says. "You're so — allegorical."
Porfiry Petrovich arrives with the news that there's been a terrible mistake. The old pawnbroker was a master criminal in disguise, and there was a huge reward on her head. With the money plus interest, Raskolnikov can now live like a Tsar. He buys a dacha at the Black Sea and puts Marmeladov in charge of the vodka distillery as he and Sonya set about making babies.
"We all make mistakes," he says. "The thing is not to dwell on it."