Across various media, we've had crime thrillers like PD James' Death Comes To Pemberley and even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that brings a shudder to the spine. Now South African writer Helen Moffett has created Charlotte, a novel that reimagines the future for Elizabeth Bennet's close friend Charlotte Lucas after settling down with ridiculed clergyman Mr Collins.
What quickly emerges is a piece sensitive to the Jane Austen original that puts a lot of thought into the human-side of these female characters and their lot in life.
Taking a sideline character like Charlotte is a good move by Moffett as there is less chance of trampling on readers' presumptions. She does, however, weave in Lizzie and Darcy's married life along with following through with updates on other characters from Darcy's sister Georgiana to Mary Bennet that rings true with the original.
But what emerges from this tale of Charlotte's life in Kent with regular visits to Lady Catherine de Bourgh's home of Rosings Park and Lizzie's Pemberley estate are feistier, stronger and a more interesting range of characters They include Lady Catherine's daughter Anne and a visiting Austrian musician, who both leap from the page while not feeling out of kilter with Austen's imagination.
Following the now-Mrs Collins, as she copes with grief, friendships and an evolving marriage to Mr Collins, you find there is something you may have missed in these everyday characters that Austen overlooked.
Moffett is kinder to Mr Collins while giving the subdued Charlotte new breadth and the chance to become the voice in her own story.
With a fresh, feminist perspective, Moffett keeps the passion and drama that so many of us loved in Pride and Prejudice and takes it to a new level that is akin with modern times, but still true to its regency roots.
Infant death, miscarriages, the compromising nature of married life and an independent woman's desire to break out of a restrictive role are all themes among Charlotte and her friends that will feel relevant to readers and quickly gather pace.
The style of writing naturally fits in with Austen and you feel yourself quickly submerged into the world of Pemberley, balls and class expectations in this intelligently-crafted novel.
The first edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Helen Moffett is better known as a poet and academic and Charlotte is surprisingly her first piece of fiction. I say surprisingly because the flow of her narrative and depth of characters feels like someone with many novels under their belt.
Charlotte is a welcome return to the world of Pride and Prejudice for Austin fans with plenty of wit and human-led adventures in this beautifully-written novel that keep this enticing story galloping along. Maybe my view of literary spin-offs was a little prejudiced after all?
Charlotte is published by Manilla Press on September 3, 2020, and costs £14.99 on hardback from book stores.