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 andZombies. 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!
Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts by Mitzi Szereto
Countenances are integral to literature. Authors would lose a lot of content if we didn’t discuss countenances. Countenances help the reader envision the characters. With this in mind, I decided to write a novel that replies heavily on countenances.
And what better place to start than with Jane Austen’s literary classic Pride and Prejudice?
It all began in the spring of last year with a pilgrimage to Jane’s house in the lovely English village of Chawton in Hampshire. I, along with my ursine sidekick Teddy Tedaloo, decided to visit for a bit of research and inspiration in preparation for the writing of my new book Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. Little did I realise what would come of it.
Mitzi Szereto and Teddy Tedaloo call on Jane Austen
Yes, folks, you heard it here first. I met Jane Austen (or at least the non-corporeal version). And boy, did she have a lot to say! Apparently when she wrote Pride and Prejudice way back when, she had to tone things down. A lot. There was no way she could get away with telling us all the juicy stuff that really went on behind closed doors (or in the garden or out by the stable). It wouldn’t have been at all politic! Of course, she hinted a bit here and there, hoping the more savvy of her readers would pick up on these tidbits.
Whether they did or not remains to be seen. Therefore the task fell to me to… err… spill the beans.
I must admit that while writing the story behind Pride and Prejudice, even I couldn’t believe what manner of activities the characters were getting up to. Indeed, I found it positively shocking! As my fingers clicked and clacked on the computer keyboard revealing all these hidden lusts and outrageous goings-on in Longbourn, Netherfield, Hunsford Parish and Pemberley, my countenance grew heightened till I could scarcely draw a breath. I had to consume endless cups of tea to calm my nerves as well as take refreshment out of doors before I could continue on to the next chapter. Had it not been for the kind patronage of Miss Austen (not to mention the not-so-kind condescension of Lady Catherine de Bourgh), I don’t know what would have become of me. It’s most fortunate that I also had the pious (or should that be priapic?) council of Mr. Collins available, should I have required it. After all, I didn’t want matters to get too out of control. Not that the fellow had much time for me, what with his various duties in his parish, not to mention in everyone else’s. For a village parson, he sure got around!
I suppose I should be grateful for the wisdom of the Bennet family patriarch, whom one could always count on to be level-headed and not disposed to bouts of excitability like his wife. Though I suppose everyone needs an outlet to blow off steam now and then. Surely you didn’t think Mr. Bennet spent all that time in the library reading?
But what of Mrs. Bennet and her poor nerves? Were they merely the result of a naturally high-strung temperament or was there another reason for her condition? And what about the youngest of the Bennet sisters, dear impetuous Lydia? All those dishy young soldiers passing through Meryton – what’s a young lady to do? Surely she had to sample them all! As for Hill, the Bennets’ housekeeper, perhaps those details are best left to the heartier of folk.
Mr. Darcy! Be still my heart!
And then there’s our protagonist Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who observed all with a keen wit and a critical eye. She was not the sort to suffer fools gladly. Nor, I suspect, was her creator, Miss Jane Austen.
As for the handsome and prideful Mr. Darcy, well… that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Let’s just say that it was no wonder the buttons on his breeches came loose, what with all that straining going on.
To be made privy to all the sexual madness and mayhem transpiring in Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, I recommend you avail yourself of your favourite bookseller and buy a copy today. After all, you don’t want to be left out of all the fun!
Portrait of Miss Caroline Bingley (courtesy of Jane Austen Prequels and Sequels)
If you haven’t heard about my soon-to-be released book Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, now’s your chance! Check out my interview with Kory French on the Book Talk show at BreakThru Radio, where I discuss how I approached the writing of my version of the Jane Austen classic, along with a whole bunch of other bookish (and not so bookish) topics.
Teddy Tedaloo receives his advance copies of Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts
Step right up and enter to win a chance to receive a pre-publication copy of my raunchy and outrageous new novel, Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts! The book won’t be out till July, but if you fancy a sneak preview, speak now or forever hold your peace! (Or whatever it is you prefer to hold…)
For more details on how to enter, please visit the official Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts website. Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, you can become a fan on Facebook and keep up with all the news! After all, you don’t want to be left behind, do you?
Mitzi Szereto and Teddy Tedaloo with the BBC Radio Shetland "Sideways" crew
During my recent appearance at the Wordplay book festival in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by BBC Radio Shetland presenters Jonny Polson and Amz Fisher for the “Sideways” programme. Topics discussed include how I got started writing, teaching erotic writing workshops, my upcoming books (including Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts), and pretty much everything else I get up to that’s suitable for broadcast on the BEEB!
The recent Christmas and New Years holidays (along with the never-ending Bank Holiday Mondays we get here in ol’ Blighty) have got me thinking. Yes, I do this on occasion. Having worked through the holidays nonstop, including Christmas Day and News Years Day, I began to wonder about those such as myself who spend our lives toiling in alternative forms of labour – ie authors and other creative individuals who don’t take home a regular pay cheque or get requisite days off (let alone sick days). Wouldn’t it be nice if WE got a special day off?
Yeah, I know it’s a lot to hope for, but what’s life without a bit of hope?
You’re probably asking what I was so busy doing that I couldn’t even take a minute to myself. Okay, where should I start? There’s this little matter called a deadline that had to be dealt with. Publishers set them – and it’s your job to meet them. So I was correcting the galleys for my upcoming book Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (going over them twice, I should add). In addition, I was putting together a book trailer and website for the title, while also working on my new anthology Red Velvet and Absinthe(which likewise has a looming deadline),reading material as it came in and working closely with writers whose material I was keen on (I mean, being an editor does require some actual… errr… editing!).In between all this, I had to keep myself fed and watered, attend to my social networking responsibilities (and they are massive), do housework, and look after a rambunctious young bear, who doesn’t like being neglected. There was also the issue of a new vacuum cleaner that needed attending to (the previous and now-famous one having died on me right after the warranty ran out). Oh, yeah, and I was busy fighting an annoying cold I’d picked up from some germy bugger on an overstuffed tube train in London one night when I was on my home from The Smoke. Imagine the footage you’ve seen of passengers in India clinging vicariously to the sides and roofs of train cars and you get the picture. Though at least the Indians don’t pay the equivalent of a London pub lunch for the price of a tube ticket.
Of course I realise that I’m not the only person in the world who has a ton of things to do and not enough time in which to do them. But when you actually have to force yourself not to send out rejection emails to hopeful short story contributors on Christmas and New Year’s day, fearing it would make you look like “Mrs. Scrooge the Anthology Editor,” you know it’s time for an official day off.
A Facebook friend of mine suggested that maybe two authors should get married and give us a public holiday, a la Will and Kate. Since that seems to work as far as adding to the British Bank Holiday curriculum vitae, I said yeah, good idea. So I thought we can play matchmaker between Salman Rushdie and Jilly Cooper (that should get some notice!). Whether either of them is already married is beside the point. They can always get a quickie divorce in Mexico and hurry back here in time for their wedding.
Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I mean, no one really gives a darn about us poor writers toiling away in our dark and dusty garrets. The public reads our books, but do they care about how we are? Hell no. If we need someone to make us chicken soup when we’re sick do they come running with the ingredients and a cooking pot? Hell no. When they see us on the street, do they drag us into Starbucks and treat us to a latte with extra whipped cream? Hell no. They just use us and forget us. (Hmm… kinda like men, eh?)
No, it seems we’re on our own in a big old scary world without a proper and legally recognised day off. The entire world goes off on holiday and there you are, still slaving away and seeing your life flash before your eyes. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Even my gym kept shutting early because no one wanted to work. Blimey.
So on behalf of all us poor overworked authors, will Salman Rushdie and Jilly Cooper please hurry up and get married and give us an official day off?
No, this isn’t the name of my new crime novel. Yes, I am writing a crime novel, but it’s nowhere near to completion for me to spill the beans about it. Worry not, however, for you’ll soon be hearing lots more about my raunchy and outrageous new novel Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts due out in spring!
As for the case of the missing glove, it is, in fact, a real case, and it takes place on the dark foggy streets of Londontown. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t so foggy when it happened…
Teddy Tedaloo and his mate enjoy a pint of Fruli beer
The mystery all began thanks to my famous social butterfly and bon-vivant bear Teddy Tedaloo and his Christmas meet-up with a mate of his, who was coming down by train from “oop north.” Ted was in fine Christmas cheer attired in a dapper Santa suit, replete with hat, which ended up coming in quite handy for warding off the freezing Siberian cold that had draped itself like an old lady’s shawl over our little island. Of course no meet-up worth its weight in ale can kick off without first paying a visit to a favourite drinking establishment in Covent Garden – particularly one that serves Fruli strawberry beer. We were already halfway to the floor drinking our lunch when Ted’s Uncle Geoff turned up, at which point things began to lean a wee bit toward the surreal. Though frankly, I’ve become so used to surreal that if Salvador Dalí gave me a melting clock for Christmas, I’d likely not bat an eyelash. (The fact that he’s dead probably wouldn’t faze me either.)
Teddy Tedaloo on Thames River Christmas cruise
We set off down to the river, where we availed ourselves of a Christmas boat cruise on the Thames. Little did we expect to be entertained by a commentator who could have put any of the top British comedians to shame, he was that good. Alas, nearly all of his humorous jibes went over the heads of our mostly foreign sailing companions, who seemed more interested in speaking as loudly as possible and instigating their screaming children to do likewise. But hey, it added to the hilarity of the moment, as did the gingery fizzy cocktail we were served. I mean, we really needed a drink to sober up after all that Fruli!
Once we’d teetered off the boat, we sobered up even more in the Arctic blast and had a look at the Christmas market set up on the South Bank, which featured among all the sweet sellers and soap pushers a babushka lady selling religious icons and statues from Minsk, Belarus. Now I ask you, what else would you possibly expect to find on London’s South Bank but a babushka lady from a convent in Minsk? It’s the first thing you think of, right? I have a feeling that Ted’s uncle was rather taken with her, but he decided to play hard to get by going off to buy some sweets, which we later stole off him, afterward topping up our hunger with some roast pork and sage stuffing sandwiches, which we ate while standing up, our frigid fingers clinging to our food for dear life. We next got some rubberised French crepes that were a challenge to eat, particularly with a plastic fork. These were eaten to the accompaniment of a musician whose hands were so frozen he could barely get any sound out of his guitar. Yeah, baby, it was cold.
Mitzi Szereto and Teddy Tedaloo observe safely from the sidelines
We rounded off the evening by schlepping across the river yet again, this time to Somerset House to watch the ice skating, where we were joined by yet another mate of Ted’s. Enter the missing glove. Apparently somewhere between Waterloo Bridge and the ice rink Geoff discovered his right glove had gone missing. With no sign of Sherlock Holmes (Elementary, my dear Watson!), it was up to us to solve the mystery. A frantic search ensued, involving much harassment of the security people, neither of which yielded a result. We ended up inside the viewing galleries, warming up with tepid and obscenely overpriced cups of “hot” cider and dancing to some very peculiar Balkan-esque music being piped in, whereupon it was decided we’d find another pub once we’d escorted our out-of-towners safely to the tube station.
The pub never happened, which might, in retrospect, be a good thing. We were in the vicinity of Charing Cross station when our glove man, who was to catch us up after one more check with Somerset House’s lost-and-found, sent a text that he was returning back across the river to the South Bank to search for his glove. Had it been me, I’m not sure I would’ve gone to that much bother on a freezing cold night in a city that is exhausting even in the best of times. However, it was probably the temperature that drove him to seek out his glove rather than endure further torment.
Later that night when I got home, I texted Geoff to see if he’d found his errant glove. I didn’t receive a reply. My first thought was that he’d been mugged during his search or possibly even run off with the babushka lady. Indeed, perhaps his claim to return to hunt for his glove on the South Bank had been but a ruse to put us off the scent. I mean, you just never know with men.
The next morning I had an email informing me of the sad news: the black glove was never found. On the bright side, however, Geoff happened upon a right-handed green glove that some other poor soul had lost, thereby giving him a proper (albeit unmatched) pair. The last I heard, he was still wearing it!
So now you know what happens to all those lonely gloves you see scattered around London. They eventually find a new partner, and live happily ever after.