“Oh, For a Pride and Prejudice Trilogy!”
There is a certain mystique about the trilogy, and I think most novelists dream of writing at least one – one that’s important, acclaimed… and preferably available in a beautifully boxed set! That was my dream.
Actually when I wrote my first Pride and Prejudice sequel, I didn’t know there would be more. The goal was just to carry Darcy and Elizabeth into their married life and tell the story of Georgiana Darcy’s courtship. That’s what I did in The Darcys of Pemberley. But then my muse kept asking me, “Yeah, but what happens after that? What about Mary and Kitty? What happens if Mr. Bennet dies? Who inherits Longbourn, since you killed off Mr. Collins?” Importunate questions, indeed! And when the answers started popping into my head, I knew I had to write another book… or maybe TWO more books. Aha! That was it: a trilogy! How cool would that be?
So I set about plotting what would happen in the two books to follow – or my version of plotting, which means developing a vague idea of where I’m headed and then finding the most interesting route to get there. But that’s where my plans took a detour. More on that later.
Jane Austen never authored a trilogy, as you know, But, when I thought about writing this post, I started wondering about the three-volume novel. Was it roughly the equivalent? Was it common in her day? Was it the forerunner to the trilogies that are so popular now? A little research and I had my answers. The three-volume novel was a peculiarly Victorian phenomenon (thus, Jane did not live to see its day), and it’s not really related to the trilogy except by the number three.
A true trilogy is a set of three individual works (each more or less complete in itself), connected by common characters, setting, or theme. Think Star Wars – the original three movies, I mean – except it sort of broke the rule about each story being complete in itself. Didn’t it make you crazy mad when the second episode (The Empire Strikes Back) ended with Han Solo frozen in carbonite or whatever it was? But I digress.
By contrast, the three-volume novel was a single, long, complex novel (900 pages on average) published in three separate volumes. Initially a prestige format, it became standard after the success of Walter Scott’s novels in the 1820s. Mudie’s (the largest circulating library of the time) basically dictated the format to the publishing industry for the commercial benefits. Most people couldn’t afford to buy the expensive three-volume novels, so they had no choice but to purchase a subscription to the library to have access to them – or even three subscriptions, if they wanted to check out all three volumes at once (your one-guinea-per-year membership only entitled you to one book at a time). Barring this extreme measure, that one novel did triple duty, since it could be shared by three readers at once! Pretty ingenious. However, cheaper printing methods and the dawn of the public library eventually spelled the end for the three-volume novel.
Now, back to my situation, my quest for a Pride and Prejudice trilogy of my very own.
In book number two, Return to Longbourn, I picked up the story a few years later when, sadly, Mr. Bennet dies, leaving his wife and two unmarried daughters to deal with the new heir to Longbourn: Mr. Tristan Collins (the much more attractive brother of William Collins, deceased). The book got off to a fine start, and then one of the characters hijacked the story and went galloping off in a different direction than I had expected. (For more about this wild ride, see my RTL launch post). The result was a lot of fun and a much better book than the one I had originally planned.
So what’s the problem? Well, when I was finished Return to Longbourn, all my loose ends were tied up in very neat little bows; there were no threads dangling, nothing left for a third book. I had a pair of lovely novels, yes, but no trilogy! Disappointing. Don’t worry, though; there’s a happy ending. (I always find a happy ending for my stories!)
I must have said it a hundred times – explaining to readers in what order they should read my books: “You should know the Pride and Prejudice story first, since the other two books are sequels to it. Then read The Darcys of Pemberley next and Return to Longborn last.”
It finally occurred to me that I ALREADY HAD MY TRILOGY! Austen had written the first volume, and I had followed with number two and three. Three books united by common characters, settings, and themes: that’s a trilogy. Right? And I certainly don’t mind sharing billing with Jane!
As for the boxed set, that remains a dream for now. But I couldn’t resist having my graphic designer whip up this virtual version in the meantime.
What do you think? Wouldn’t it look splendid sitting on your bookshelf? *sigh*