In one of the treasure troves that the internet habitually throws off these days, the AUSTENLIST itemizes sixty-eight Jane Austen literary "reversions" (including eight of Pride and Prejudice) written between 1850 and 2000.  Most are sequels to the novels or a given novel's action seen from a minor character's point of view, but there are also such oddities as a re-creation of Austen's letters in rhyme royal, a postscript to Persuasion with a choice of endings a la The French Lieutenant's Woman, a play about Jane's mysterious seaside romance, a novel about "Antipodes Jane" and her doings down under in Australia, and, just in 1996, the first of three planned novels about Jane Austen, detective.
Of course, I was not tempted to read any of the lot in my life's short day of frost and sun, especially since most seem to be by Janeite enthusiasts of one stripe or another--and since this is intended to be an essay on the nature of prejudice, I must admit, male academic professional that I am, that I am casually, but no doubt unfairly, prejudiced against the sort of arch and nostalgically genteel thing such a society of Austen fans turns out. Or so, mostly, I have heard. For, like all prejudices, this one is based, if not upon total ignorance, then at least upon hearsay and a fairly limited sampling of evidence, after which the soul, having selected its society, snaps shut the valves of its attention pretty securely.
Still, there was at least one writer on the Austen list, Emma Tennant, to whom that prejudice did not apply, for I had read and liked her 1978 reversion of Sir Walter Scott's Heart of Midlothian entitled The Bad Sister. I consequently decided to give Tennant's 1993 novel, Pemberley. Or "Pride and Prejudice" Continued, and her 1994 novel, An Unequal Marriage: Or "Pride and Prejudice" Twenty Years Later,  a try, to see whether and how they might exemplify what I assume to be the thrust of all such reiterations: how narrative re-imaginings, either by close imitation, radical transgression, or something in between, reshape the nature and affective impact of their original.  (Personally, I much prefer irreverent flights of fancy to faithful adaptation--say, in immediate cinematic terms, the Beverly Hills girls of the wonderfully original movie Clueless to the respectfully imitative Highbury crew of the recent cinematic version of Emma.)
Having read both Pemberley and An Unequal Marriage, the sequel and the sequel to the sequel, I think I can show, by concentrating upon the former with only an occasional sidelong glance at the latter, how they complicate the notion of prejudice initially advanced in Pride and Prejudice. Here, then, is a brief account of Tennant's Pemberley: a year has passed since the wedding of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and their first Christmas together approaches. As happy as she has been, living in delicious seclusion with Darcy and his sister Georgiana at the Pemberley of the title, Elizabeth is aware that the time has come to invite her mother and sister Jane to visit--especially since Mr. Bennet has died during the previous year and the Collinses have taken over Longbourn through the entail. What begins as a small but manageable family Christmas party (although any party that includes a loose cannon like Mrs. Bennet will be a dicey matter indeed) soon expands out of all proportion. The gathering eventuall y includes most of the characters from Pride and Prejudice--not only Kitty and Mary Bennet but also Lydia and her unflappable, sponging husband Wickham, not only the congenial aunt and uncle Gardiner but also Bingley's nasty unmarried sister Caroline, still smarting from having lost Darcy, whom she had assumed her future mate, to so unworthy a rival as Elizabeth. And then, of course, there is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as affable and accommodating as ever, who had demanded an invitation for herself and her cowed and beaten-down daughter. The faux pas, the insults, the wounded feelings of a Christmas dinner table that seats Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine, Darcy and Wickham, Elizabeth and Caroline Bingley within a few feet of each other generate comic delights of an order not too far below Austen's own wicked brilliance.
If the famous opening proclamation of a "universally acknowledged truth" projects the narrative structure of Pride and Prejudice, the opening generalization of Pemberley serves a similar and echoing projective function for that novel. "It is a truth universally acknowledged," the opening sentence reads, "that a married man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a son and heir" (p. 3). Elizabeth's old friend Charlotte Lucas, now Mrs. Collins, is expecting a child in the coming summer; the Bingleys have a four-year old daughter Emily, upon whom Elizabeth dotes, and Jane is expecting another child, a son at that, whom she actually delivers during the Christmas at Pemberley; and the Wickhams have four children all under four years of age. Tennant never quite explains how such a riot of breeding would have been possible in just the single year's time since the close of Pride and Prejudice, but never mind. The point is that all around her, Elizabeth sees children, children, children, and she cannot conc eive the male heir that Darcy and Pemberley surely require. Indeed, one of the Christmas guests not as yet mentioned is Thomas Roper, a distant cousin of Darcy's, invited upon Lady Catherine's insistence, who stands to inherit all of Darcy's wealth and estates through entail should he, like Mr. Bennet before him with respect to his family of five daughters, take leave of the world without male issue--and Roper does indeed prance over the grounds and through the halls of Pemberley as if they were already his. While initially distanced by the various oil-and-water mixtures at the Christmas gathering, as the novel progresses, Elizabeth and Darcy clash mostly over the fraught issue of children: first Darcy cancels, without consultation or …