Pitchforks, Jane Austen and Me

Property of the Pitchfork Coalition

Warning: the following material contains commentary that might offend literary purists and those who lack a sense of humour.

The recent controversy swirling around my new book Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts has come as a bit of a surprise to me, particularly after the tremendous success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Having written my version in the same spirit (minus the zombies), I assumed the reception would be, for the most part, along similar lines. After all, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ended up on the bestseller list and is being made into a film, so a lot of people obviously enjoyed what was clearly intended to be an outlandish parody of a classic novel.

However, with Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (which is likewise meant to be a parody, albeit a sexual one), a number of people appear to have misplaced their sense of humor. If they ever had one, that is.

I quickly discovered that some journalists, along with a pitchfork-wielding mob of so-called literary purists and Jane-ites, were vilifying both my book (and me as its author) before it had even come back from the printer. It seems odd that there was all this frothing at the mouth from individuals who hadn’t even seen a copy of the book, yet had plenty to say about its contents. You would think I’d penned a how-to guide advocating the cannibalism of young children, judging from the vitriol being spewed in my direction.

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. Considering the time in which Jane Austen wrote and the fact that she was woman writing in what was a man’s profession, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there was only so far she could go with her characters. I’m certain if she were alive today, we’d see a very different Pride and Prejudice.

Although Austen’s novels dealt for the most part with matters of the heart, she was also a keen satirist and social commenter. Pride and Prejudice was, in many people’s opinion, the wittiest and most satirical works of her career. Writers such as myself have simply carried on in the spirit of Jane Austen, albeit taking a few artistic liberties. Indeed, there’s a long-standing tradition of authors taking pre-existing works and creating something new from them. We see it all the time. Yet for some reason when this is done with Jane Austen, the practice is suddenly denigrated to the ranks of amateur “fan fiction” or else labeled a “rip-off.” Why is that? 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 and ask themselves exactly what a fifteen-year-old girl (Lydia Bennet) was doing with Mr. Wickham (a man in full adulthood) or, for that matter, what he was doing with her predecessor, the very young Georgiana Darcy. I doubt Jane Austen intended for us to believe they occupied themselves in games of whist after running away together, since a popular card game wasn’t likely to cause scandal or land disrepute on these young ladies. Whether Austen fleshed out the unsavory details is irrelevant. As stated previously, it was unlikely she would have allowed herself to or, for that matter, been allowed to when the book was written – not unless she was willing to go “underground” with her novel.

Taking pre-existing works and having a bit of fun with them is something many contemporary writers do, just as it was for writers from the past. The fact that some of us have chosen to do so with Pride and Prejudice merely corroborates the longstanding popularity of the novel and the rich fodder it contains. Jane Austen’s book is an amusing satire full of characters both romantic and ridiculous. Authors such as myself have been inspired by what Austen gave us and decided to take it in a new direction.

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!


Postscript: The text of this article first appeared in similar form as “Pride and Prejudice and Pitchforks” in the Huffington Post. Interestingly, the vitriol continued even there, so much so, in fact, that Post moderators were forced to remove many of the readers’ comments. due to their inappropriate nature and language. I doubt that Jane Austen would have approved such behaviour! It only reinforces my “peanut gallery” argument about those individuals who have neither read my book (nor, for that matter, anything I’ve written!). Readers are perfectly free to love or hate Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (just as they are perfectly free to love or hate Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), but at least read the books before passing off what claims to be “critical commentary.”

In closing, I’m pleased to say that Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts was selected by the Jane Austen Society of North America (Greater New York region) to be a raffle prize at their Jane Austen conference this past spring. Evidently it was a pitchfork-free zone!


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11 Responses to “Pitchforks, Jane Austen and Me”

  1. Sheila Says:

    You know if it was up to some people in this world the stork would still be the way that babies were delivered. I think that’s part of the reason you’re taking so much flack, you’re sexualizing something that are trying to make out as being pure. The other is that they’re probably kicking themselves for not coming up with an idea of their own to use with Jane’s stories.
    Personally, I think that the anal retentive really need to work on getting that stick out and living like everyone else. They would certainly be able to rest better and find something more important to do with their time.

  2. mitzi Says:

    Well said!

  3. oatmeal girl Says:

    I came here after seeing your call for submissions to “Kingdoms of Desire” on the ERWA website. Then I read this phrase: “if she were alive today”. And gasped. My heart pounded. A woman who knows how to use the subjunctive! Sadly, that grammatical form is now nearly extinct in the US.

    I think I’m in love.


  4. mitzi Says:

    Interesting point. It does seem to have vanished. The English language and use of grammar etc is changing – and not necessarily for the better.

  5. KW Says:

    Well Mitzi, the site advisor / security feature on my pc suggested there were ‘risky behaviours’ on your blog and I should think twice about visiting – so, somebody is certainly concerned about either Austen’s reputation as a purist or your vitriolic rants! .. personally, I say ‘well done’ .. and with your book in hand I’ll be looking forward to a few evenings at the card table .. {;o)

  6. Axie Barclay Says:

    As a huge JA fan and having reviewed Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts for Portland Book Review, I came away feeling you remained true to Ms. Austen’s vision and characters while modernizing the already steamy text and giving it a new depth for new readers. It’s funny, sexually exciting, and overall thoroughly entertaining. Just some words from this part of the peanut gallery. :p

  7. mitzi Says:

    How odd! It must be overzealous (or a literary purist), as I use a very respectable web-hosting service!

  8. mitzi Says:

    Thank you, that is so nice to hear! Can you send me a link to the review? I would appreciate it! 😀

  9. Axie Barclay Says:

    I’ll definitely post the link as soon as it becomes available. I checked tonight but the review hasn’t been posted yet.


  10. Steph from fangswandsandfairydust.com Says:

    Your book has been recommended to me by one of my readers. Religious custom would have prevented a genteel woman from writing erotica under her own name but, seriously we’re nearly Victorians here only showing MUCH MUCH more cleavage. If I showed as much cleavage as a Regency or Georgian Heroine it would be deemed a wardrobe failure and I would be fined by the FCC.
    A historian friend of mine says we see the past through Victorian glasses, or what we think is Victorian. But during this time, the vices were thrown into greater relief by the enforcing of virtue. The Victorians wrote some of the most incredible erotica. It is all the more standout because of the virtues for which it provides counterpoint. Imagine then the Regency when the Bingley’s didn’t go to court much, no doubt because of the depravity to be found there!
    Mores are like a pendulum. We never would have had Victorians without the Regency, or more lately the Moral Majority and Right-wing without the 1960s and 1970s.
    And, as far as the mash-up goes: that is a long established literary format. Think My Fair Lady.
    People just need to calm down about this stuff.

    NOW if the book isn’t good that is another issue; The difference between making love and f*@<ing!

  11. mitzi Says:

    Well said! These naysayers really need to get those bees out of their bonnets!

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