"Follies Past does what many Pride and Prejudice spinoffs cannot do well. It fills in the blanks, while being original, and stays true to the characters in the novel.
This was sent to me for free in Kindle format by the publishers for the purpose of review, and I was happy to receive it. Released in October 2013, Follies Past by Melanie Kerr ISBN-13: 9780992131012 has seen some pretty good reviews online, and I’m happy to now add a pretty positive review to that stable.
Firstly, I have to share my excitement at the cover, above. When I was sharing emails with the publicist about the book, I expressed my happiness that author Kerr and the team behind her hadn’t decided to go down the typical romantic cover path. Having read the book, I now think this is even more of a wise decision – it has some of the techniques of a typical romance, but this isn’t your straightforward Regency era love story and doesn’t fall back on too many of the irritating plot devices that us Regency-readers are way too familiar with.
While the novel does bring in new characters, such as Clare, Lord Ashwell and Lady Sofia, it does so without it seeming contrived. It peers behind the cover of other characters, such as Anne de Bourgh and Georgiana, and explains to us just why they are the way they are in Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately, it does leave us wondering why Jane Austen ignored them in her original novel – which explains how close it goes to providing a believable early alternative.
This is Kerr’s first book, and her background studying linguistics, English and theatre at the University of British Columbia and law at the University of Alberta has no doubt helped her with this debut into novel writing (as has her Jane Austen Society of North America attendance).
We start this Pride and Prejudice prequel about a year before Jane Austen’s version of events begins, and this matches up perfectly with the ages and events to take place as per the information given by Jane Austen, such as Georgiana’s age. I have seen far too many a prequel ignore the clues we are given by Austen as to the circumstances prior to the novel, and Kerr does not fall into this trap.
It was a nice touch to see Caroline Bingley and George Wickham almost paired together (and to actually feel a lot of sympathy for Caroline throughout the book). It’s an intriguing extra connection and it explains to me one of the inconsistences, if you can call it that, of the novel itself. By that I mean that the quote below always struck me as odd. Surely, she’d want Elizabeth to show as much interest in Wickham as possible, so that she could keep Darcy to herself?
“Let me recommend you, however, as a friend, not to give implicit confidence to all his assertions: for as to Mr. Darcy’s using him ill, it is perfectly false; for, on the contrary, he has been always remarkably kind to him, though George Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner. I do not know the particulars, but I know very well that Mr. Darcy is not in the least to blame, that he cannot bear to hear George Wickham mentioned, and that though my brother thought he could not well avoid including him in his invitation to the officers, he was excessively glad to find that he had taken himself out of the way. His coming into the country at all is a most insolent thing, indeed, and I wonder how he could presume to do it. I pity you, Miss Eliza, for this discovery of your favourite’s guilt; but really considering his descent, one could not expect much better.”
In light of some sort of romance between Wickham and Caroline it makes sense that she would be sensitive to any other match from him, even if it goes against her aims for Mr Darcy. They are actually also well-suited to each other, so this makes boundless amounts of sense
At first I was concerned that Clare would bore me as one of the new major characters. She’s very righteous and perfect, reminding me a little of Fanny Price, with her one flaw seeming to be a penchant for “racy” (if you can call them that) romance novels, that she does everything possible to steer clear of anyway. It’s nice to see her become a little more fearless in the face of Georgiana and Wickham’s elopement and become the true heroine of the novel – shaking off her class and background. There’s also the suggestion at the end of the novel, that reminds me of the close of Emma and the way we’re told Knightley and herself balance each other out, that she will be a little less strict with herself going forward.
Pride and Prejudice lovers will already know the name Mrs Younge as the woman who conspires to allow the “almost elopement” of Georgiana and Wickham. I absolutely loved the unpacking of her character, and the strength of her control over Wickham. Presenting the underclass, but with a smart woman who easily gets what she wants, it’s a quick reminder of the sordid side of Regency society. It’s interesting to see how far name-dropping, a good recommendation and the knowledge of others’ fallibilities can get unworthy characters in the book – and, of course, in real life sadly.
There are a number of similarities between the Clare/Lord Ashwell romance and the Elizabeth/Darcy storyline, not in the least the misunderstandings, another Collins-like character, and the gentleman’s generosity in doing something towards their love interest that comes under the guise of being from someone else. One minor criticism I do have (and spoiler alert) is that if Darcy saw the happiness of the relationship between lower-class Clare and upperclass Ashwell, and eventually dealt with it… surely he’d be more inclined to be more flexible to this type of a relationship – such as with Jane and Bingley – by the time Pride and Prejudice appears a year later?
I loved the concept of these unwritten characters that drove the storyline to where it is when Pride and Prejudice opens, and Kerr really does this flawlessly. I did feel the loss of Lizzy in the storyline keenly – which she has written a great character with Clare, and has done well, I always miss my favourite character in prequels that omit her.