There have been few times in my life I committed a Daffy-Duck-style double-take. One was in the movie theater last week when the preview for Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter rolled. I blanched, giggled, hid my face in my hands, and groaned, “Make it stop.” Another of these time times occurred in Barnes and Noble, as I passed a display by the front door: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith.
And this is not the only attempt to blend Austen with other genres. There are Jane Austen mysteries. Even a whole slew of Austen vampires:
In all fairness, I will admit I have not read these books. I cannot rightfully praise or disparage the writing style or ability of these authors. What I mean to do today is address the surprising notion of bringing out the darkness in Austen. Crossing Jane with murder and monsters.
I tend to think of Austen’s works as a soufflé. It is not that her works lack substance, not by any means. Like a soufflé, they are full of rich, filling ingredients. But they are mixed, whipped, and baked with such careful precision that one early peek into the oven will cause the whole structure to collapse. Only a master chef like Austen, the Julia Child of early novelists, can cook up such a plot, where the heaviness feels light. Jane has a great deal to say on weighty matters, but she never feels heavy or preachy. The deception of meringue, after all, is that the texture is light and sweet, but in reality, it’s made of egg –meat—without a drop of yolk, not beaten a second too little or too much.
Is this an unfair assessment? How much darkness is really in Austen? We can’t overlook the elopements, adultery, broken promises, life-threatening illnesses, swindling, familial favoritism and neglect, and implied murder that form key hingepoints in her plots. I invite discussion.
I would call Austen’s observation of human foibles biting, at times. Is that a form of vampirism?
Maybe the problem is I just don’t care for horror. Horror movies either gross me out or make me laugh. I have read Twilight, in an attempt to understand why the many teenagers I work with love it. But when I step out of realism in literature, I tend to seek out Vulcans, fairies, the denizens of sci fi and fantasy. I don’t hang out with vampires, werewolves, and the undead. Would Austen? I don’t know. Maybe. Clearly she read gothic novels. Otherwise, how could she parody them in Northanger Abbey? But I get the sense this was a tongue-in-cheek guilty pleasure for her. She was able to read, and enjoy, and laugh at herself for enjoying the extremes of such novels.
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Still, I ask, what’s next? The Persuasion of Yeti? The Creature from the Black Lagoon Comes to Hertsfordshire? Mr. Bingley is the Boogeyman?
Who am I to judge cross-genre rewrites of classics? After all, I enjoyed Sharon Shinn’s sci fi take on Jane Eyre, entitled Jenna Starborn.
More on that next time.