Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Laura Gunderson and Margot Melcon

One of my last books scheduled for 2018 was a chapbook entitled Let Them Eat Cake by Ginger Lukas, published by the teeny tiny do-it-yourself Adjunct Press. Though I appreciate what the press is trying to do, I found the writing mediocre and the content mundane — simple sentences, usually, all without metaphor, imagery, or personal reflection. So, instead of reviewing Lukas’s chapbook, I’m going to review Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon.

The play opens by reminding us what kind of woman Elizabeth Darcy is. At a time when Christmas trees were only a German tradition, Lizzy has one set up in Pemberley, causing everyone to think her odd and ill-mannered. Gunderson and Melcon immediately remind us that Lizzy is unconventional when she defends the tree to Mr. Darcy:

LIZZY: Because it is a Christmas tree. A popular German custom. An evergreen reminds us of life even in the deep midwinter. Isn’t that wonderful?

DARCY: It would be were we suddenly German.

LIZZY: I’m attempting a new tradition at Pemberley.

DARCY: Which entails cutting down perfectly healthy trees and humiliating them in the drawing room.

The banter is on point right away between Mr. Darcy and Lizzy, sending readers (or viewers, if you see the play) right back into Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice (or, if you’re like me, right back to the Colin Firth BBC mini-series).

Soon, guests arrive. The whole Bennet family is coming to Pemberley, as is Arthur de Bourgh, a distant relative of Mr. Darcy, a nerdy, bookish gent who just inherited an estate after that grump Lady Catherine dies. Guess who this love story is about.

Mary Bennet & Arthur de Bourgh

Jane and Mr. Bingley arrive first, and we find Jane seven months pregnant. She’s still the top dame in the Bennet sister pecking order, demonstrated by her maturity and trek toward glowing motherhood that outshines Lizzy. Lydia comes solo; her wretched husband is not invited, and we learn that he’s barely around anyway. Lydia is like a puppy; left alone too long, once she’s let out of her domestic cage and into Pemberley, she gets into trouble. Namely, by flirting shamelessly with awkward Arthur de Bourgh. Thus, the characters all feel true to their original selves, and fans of Austen will enjoy this continuation in the world of Pride and Prejudice two years after.

Mary has changed, though. No longer depicted as an insufferably serious drain on warmth and love, she is curious about the world — maps and science, mostly — and has mastered the pianoforte. No more plunking away; she’s a true talent! Arthur de Bourgh is practically a female version of Mary to the point of making you roll your eyes, but it is nice to see serious people represented and shown love, too. In fact, when Arthur tries to write Mary a letter about his feelings, Mr. Bingley encourages Arthur to throw in something about Mary’s eyes or hair, or something. Not only does he struggle to write the words, but readers hold their breath knowing Mary will not appreciate them. In that way, Gunderson and Melcon suggest love transcends physical attraction, even upon first meeting.

A joyful Christmas-time play, I hope that Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is considered for the 2020 season at the theatre where I work. The only concern is people who aren’t familiar with Jane Austen’s novel. I’m thinking even those who know the gist of Pride and Prejudice would enjoy the play. Perhaps when Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley try to explain to Arthur how courtship may not be a straight line will some audience members miss out on the misunderstandings that sidetracked Bingley and Jane and Darcy and Lizzy.

On a final note, I appreciate that the authors, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, encourage directors to consider interracial casting because “Jane Austen belongs to everyone.”

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20 comments

  1. I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Pride & Prejudice ‘sequels’. Mary gets a raw deal in the original, and even more so in the film versions, so it’s only fair she should have a romance of her own. Hope you had a happy, white Christmas, the weather in my corner of Oz was 90-ish (Farenheit) and clear – lots of sitting around in the shade, drinks in hand.

    • Mary is finally recognized as a mature young woman whose interests don’t match the traditional young woman of that time. She’s still a bit annoying when she corrects people for accuracy, but Arthur mirrors her and makes her seem normal. It’s about 27 Fahrenheit here and snowed for a bit, but the ground is by no means covered. Climate change has all but guaranteed that. Enjoy the shade and beverages, Bill and kin!

  2. What a beautiful sounding play! Of course, the drama comes from Lydia causing a ruckus again. It’s a shame that George Wickham isn’t around, if only because he’s just ridiculous. I’d love to see the Bennet sisters go into him. I definitely hope your theatre picks this play up for 2020! It sounds lovely. That quote definitely captures Austen’s characters well.

  3. I am a big fan of P&P. I really like the sound of this play and love all the Elizabeth and Darcy banter. Ugh, Wickham. I’d love for him to fall down a well. I do kind of pity Lydia though. She’s often portrayed as very frivolous, but I find it sad that her life became defined by choices she made when she was so young.

  4. Oh I like the sounds of this one! Does your theatre do ‘holiday’ plays in December, or would this be a departure for them? I’m not familiar with Pride and Prejudice (I barely remember what I read last week) but I think I would still enjoy this play.

    • Yes, we try to do holiday-themed shows to draw an audience. This year we put on A Nice Family Christmas (a straight play) and The Christmas Schooner (a musical). There are two theater spaces, so two shows can be produced at the same time (though that’s not typical).

  5. Crossing my fingers for you that this play will get considered for the 2020 season at your theatre. I like the sound of it. I read P&P many, many years ago and true to my nature, cannot remember anything of it. πŸ™‚ I’m sure it would all come to me as soon as I would start watching this play though. πŸ™‚
    I like your parting comment – I also believe that Jane Austen belongs to everyone. πŸ™‚

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