Rarely do I feel the need to slam another writer’s book. Generally, I consider that approach to criticism very rude. There is almost always something redeeming, just as there is almost always something to criticize. No work of art is perfect.
But Sharon Lathan’s novel, Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, is not a work of art. It is a commercial endeavor that borrows the credibility of someone else’s art, and then distorts it. Even so, this criticism, while harsh, will not be a complete slam.
First, I will readily admit, that I usually get drawn to classics after seeing a contemporary interpretation of the story. In that light, I watched Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in Pride and Prejudice, fell in love with the story, and then read Jane Austen’s book!
By her own account in the foreword, which was not made clear in the Amazon product description, Sharon Lathan wrote her self-described “fan fiction” novel based on the movie; while she has since “read the novel and seen a few of the previous adaptations,” her loyalty remained with the movie that captured her interest.
But even so, her loyalty is something to be questioned. In depicting her characters, Lathan followed the plot points from the movie, having her characters relive memories of those scenes in her novel. But the Lizzy and Mr. Darcy Lathan describes do not behave as the characters in the movie; they certainly do not behave as the characters created by Jane Austen would have done. Instead, Lathan’s greatest loyalty seems to be to her own lust and she modified the characters to suit her own desires.
If Lathan had taken the trouble to create her own characters to people the sexy, “trashy” romance novel she wanted to write, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But she didn’t. She markets her novel with these words: “Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice continues…” The title of her first book is Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. So, she profits from Jane Austen’s name, claims the names of her characters as her own, but deviates from the characters Jane Austen created so dramatically that they are unrecognizable.
Now, I’ll readily admit the book is well-written, at least in the sense that it achieves the purpose of titillating readers. Had it been advertised as an independent work and marketed in the same vein as a Harlequin novel, then I’d have no problem with it. I also wouldn’t have wasted my money on it, as I have no interest in pornographic novels. I prefer novels with plot; this novel had none. I prefer novels that rely on character development to show us something profound; the most profound thing about this novel was the insight it could offer to the peculiar sexual fantasies of a select group of women.
But the book’s ability to titillate readers in cheap fashion is hardly redeeming, considering the book is marketed as something quite different. Jane Austen’s work was romantic, not pornographic. Jane Austen had a point, commenting on British culture in a particular time-period. Lathan used the name of Jane Austen and she used Austen’s characters, and then she betrayed Austen and her characters by cheapened the very real drama Austen created with lusty, shallow copies. This is, in my opinion, the worst kind of plagiarism, though it is entirely legal; Lathan stole from the work of a better artist, and then dishonestly and perversely re-envisioned what she stole without loyalty or consideration for the original work of art. She even dared to use Ms. Austen’s name to market her book. This makes it commercialism of the worst possible form.
Sharon Lathan could have written a pornographic novel, using the movie as her inspiration without actually stealing from it, and left it at that. Instead, she used something held in high esteem, something that has stood the test of time, and she tainted it for personal gratification and profit. By claiming Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Sharon Lathan has made a disgusting farce of Austen’s work.