In many respects Jane Austen is just better left alone. She’s a quite iconic writer and women all over the world connect with her sparse collection of works, each believing themselves to obviously be an Elizabeth Bennet and definitely not a Fanny Price (because she’s boring and poor, and has a ridiculous name, likely.) And that’s great. Who doesn’t love Mr. Darcy? No one, that’s who.
The problem arises when people try to cash on Austen’s wild and enduring appeal and we get ridiculous spin-offs. And while the concept of A Death at Pemberly is intriguing, the writing style isn’t the same, and though I haven’t read it myself, I have it upon very good (and nerdy authority) that it’s a bit disappointing. So was The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, mostly because there was crap character development, as interesting as that concept was (a 40ish woman trying to see if she could make an Austen-like “match” – marry up the social strata, at an older age. She couldn’t.). The Jane Austen Book Club was a bit exhausting as well. I’m enraptured with Captain Wentworth as much as the next girl – and probably more so – but even I wanted to shout at the characters that there are other books on the planet and it wouldn’t hurt you to read a different genre.
The obvious exceptions are of course Clueless, a modern day retelling of Emma, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (I’ve yet to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters). These spin-offs where highly entertaining, but likely because they weren’t trying to be Austen-like, they were trying to be anti-Austens, really. In any case, these sort of successes are rare, and are best not to be mimicked. Just leave well enough alone.
I’m curious to see if the same applies to Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, both series starting as popular literary fiction, and both sprouting a number of spin-offs. I’ll do some research and report back.