Thursday, 9 June 2011

Underneath the Cover Versions

So, there's another sex-novel based on Jane Austen's work, Mitzi Szereto's Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. The previous one was the witty Canongate Pride and Promiscuity: the Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen. That one worked because the style was mimicked beautifully and Eckstut had a deep understanding of the structures and gaps in Austen's plots - as well a total lack of shame in filling those spaces with hilarious and unlikely couplings.

Whether or not the new one is anything more than a shameless and cynical PR stunt, it does make you wonder why Austen should be the target. There's no Henry Gaymes, or Charles Dicking (sorry, this stuff writes itself). I'd have thought Vanity Fair would be ripe for stuffing with sex, and I'm frankly stunned that Pamela and Clarissa haven't been porned: they're not far off as they stand. Austen must be targeted because lazy readers think that the texts are sexless, which they certainly aren't. The point of Austen is that lust, Enthusiasm, greed and above all fear rage, but they rage beneath the surface. Her women often live lives of quiet desperation: passed around (or not) between rich men and lacking material resources of their own. Slavery, war, illegitimacy and class struggle are all there, but you have to listen closely. People write pulp like Hidden Lusts because they think readers are so dim that they can't empathise with Austen's characters and situations enough to work out what's going on. Personally, I find Austen's hints far more stimulating than Szereto's shouting. To be fair, it's probably adequate. I don't think Austen or any author should be 'protected': it's when people mess with them that the really good texts shine.

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