Just when the rage for Jane Austen monster mash-ups seems to be over, our favorite author’s fine books have been targeted for a different sort of mangling, one that explores the sexual side of her characters’ lives.
Frankly I don’t care for Jane Austen sequels in general and so chose to ignore all the hoopla surrounding Mitzi Szereto’s 15 minutes of fame with Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. But then she wrote a blog post for Huffington Post and I found that my indifference over her x-rated foray into Pride and Prejudice could no longer be ignored. This statement particularly set up my hackles:
There appears to be this presumption by the pitchfork coalition that Jane Austen was some prim and proper spinster who wouldn’t have dared to be so impolitic as to address sexual matters in her novels. Therefore who was I, a lowly writer, to tamper with such purity? I wonder if these hecklers from the peanut gallery have even read the original Pride and Prejudice, since it alludes to matters most impolitic, indeed.
That’s a broad sweeping statement if ever I read one. If Mitzi had used her critical thinking skills she would have realized that even pitchfork carrying Janeites are conversant with the Regency era and its history. By and large they know about the scandals, the Hell Fire club, the mistresses, the revealing clothing, and the sexual proclivities of all segments of that society, not just the aristocrats. Thomas Rowlandson’s sexually charged cartoons are not unknown to this group. Neither are the stories of such well-known mistresses as Perdita, Emma Hamilton, and Harriette Wilson.
So if it isn’t ignorance about the Regency era and knowledge of Jane Austen’s awareness of the hanky panky that surrounded her that has kept a Janeite like me on the sidelines regarding Mitzi’s tome, why have I been unable to embrace her new novel?
I am simply not interested.
There are readers who will LOVE her sequel, and I say to each their own. But don’t expect EVERY reader to fall all over themselves to be the first to read yet another twist on the Pride and Prejudice tale. I am so over reading these countless variations on a single theme that I no longer review them. (By the way, the sensual side of Jane Austen characters has been explored by other sequel writers; Mitzi is the first one whose steamy version has caught the eye of mainstream media.) I don’t begrudge Mitzi’s enterprising nature, her talent, or her desire to explore different sides to Lizzie and Darcy; I begrudge that she is miffed that many of us are not impressed. Here’s another statement on Huffington Post:
Why do the re-imaginings of Austen’s works push so many buttons with these “literary purists” – especially re-imaginings that don’t follow the traditional romance route? And why the vitriol, some of which is not very gentlemanly or ladylike? If it’s the sexual content that’s getting these naysayers’ knickers in a twist, perhaps said naysayers should pay closer attention to the original Pride and Prejudice …
Vitriol? To that I say piffle. And before I am lumped in with the Puritans or some virginal sect group, I have read my share of romance novels and believe me, the traditional romance route of which Ms Szereto speaks is hotter than a Houston pavement in 101 degree heat. Ever since Kathleen Woodiwiss arrived on the scene in 1972 with The Flame and the Flower, the majority of romance novels could safely be labeled as soft porn. Some, like Thea Devine’s, are downright hard-core erotic. My point is that Ms. Szereto should have let sleeping dogs lie and not responded to her naysayers in such a public way, for she gained no fan in me. She concluded her rant with this statement:
Perhaps the members of the pitchfork brigade need to pull that stick out of their backsides and get a sense of humor. After all, Jane Austen had one!
Nice way to win me over. Talk to my friends, by the way, and none will accuse me of lacking humor or of not taking advantage of the bawdy side of my sensual nature to make a point. I am sure Mitzi’s novel will be a hit, for it has garnered more publicity than Casey Anthony sightings. I, for one, will not be reading it.
- This link leads to a cached page of Mitzi’s blog post on Huffington Post. The original article is no longer accessible.
- Interview with Mitzi Szereto on Book Talk
- Errant Ramblings