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Pride and Prejudice and Porn

Pride and Prejudice and Porn
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Armed with choice words for the would-be literati who condemn her latest effort, writer Mitzi Szereto becomes Jane Austen by way of “Fanny Hill.”

  Persuasion

Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (Cleis Press, 2011) unearths just that: the previously inconceivable shedding of those frilly petticoats, the unfastening of the breeches, the consummation of all things conventionally and unconventionally erotic in lusciously Victorian multisyllabic detail — from Charles Bingley’s forbidden desires to have Mr. Darcy for himself to Miss Bingley’s penchant for delivering a sound “birching” to her suitor’ backsides to young Lydia’s beyond-brazen lust for all manner of stimulation via the region’s ample populace of soldiers. Or, you know, random inanimate objects when no other options avail themselves.

The idea of spinning lady Jane on her head, says Szereto, had been percolating for some time, probably since digesting the undead version. “I got such a kick out of the concept.” Austen’s rich characters “took on a life of their own as I wrote; everybody’s predilections are perfectly matched to their personalities. I mean, is it truly beyond belief for Caroline Bingley to be some birch-wielding harlot? Or for Lydia Bennet to be a raging nympho? Anyone who can’t figure out what [she] was getting up to with Mr. Wickham [in the original] has to be extremely naïve or extremely stupid.”

  Sex & Sensibilities

Sadly, I can’t quote anyone from the Jane Austen Society of North America. After contacting several members with no luck, a kind officer of the organization offered me sincere apologies.

“I’ve asked around,” she wrote, “and no one is interested in commenting.”

It’s unsurprising such devoted fans of Austen would be exceptionally polite. Members of the unsanctioned brigade of self-proclaimed purists, however, were after Szereto with all manner of pitchforks via prose (a.k.a., disparaging Internet thread comments). Szereto was actually quite surprised at the level of vitriol.

“It never even occurred to me,” she admits. “I guess I gave people more credit than they deserved, reckoning they might have a sense of humor and some literary knowledge to realize that authors have forever been remaking old works into something new…. I’m not the first to tackle Pride and Prejudice, and I doubt I’ll be the last.”

She acquiesces it was likely the sexual content that set those torches blazing. “I wouldn’t mind if people just flat out don’t like my book, but to condemn it without having read it is just plain ludicrous and silly.”

In fact, said ire prompted her to write a piece in the Huffington Post as a countermeasure. Much of what ensued, she says, had to be removed by HuffPo’s moderator. “That just reinforces my argument,” she adds.

While Henry Sayers, who teaches literature and humanities at a Denver-area university, was happy to lend his thoughts, workplace politics precluded him from using his real name. Revisions of the classics aren’t his thing. “But philosophically,” he says, “I have nothing against it…. What is appealing is that it allows [an author] to have their way with characters he or she may have fallen in love with. Pride and Prejudice is the mother lode of character mines.”

Though these reinvented Bennet sisters came of age in a different light than Austen’s, Sayers says it’s obvious Szereto was an admirer of the original. “That’s easily this work’s greatest strength,” he says, citing a passage:

To Lydia’s delight, a number of fingers had begun to make themselves familiar with the place of her womanhood and even the more illicit neighbor of her backside, and this served to greatly advance her bliss…

“It’s pitch-perfect and in many ways far sexier than reading something [in courser language]. Not only is Szereto graceful, but there’s something to be said for the fact that you actually have to read it — and even think a little — to really understand what’s happening. There’s mental stimulation to go along with the erotica.”

Creating that seamlessness was a major priority for Szereto — and she’s received praise for her effort, even from critics of the project overall. “It was my goal to have the novel read as if Jane wrote it in its entirety,” she says. She immersed herself in the original and watching its many film adaptations to acclimate to the era’s language, even paying a visit to Austen’s home in Hampshire to commune with her a bit.

“I found that being in the house in which she spent many years of her life … really gave me a sense of time and place and a sense of Jane Austen herself. It’s wonderful that there are organizations that keep places such as this alive and available for anyone who wishes to see and experience it.”

  Jane Errs?

Nancy, 51, is a journalist. She enjoys both erotica and Austen, though her love affair with the latter came later in life, spawned by the 1995 TV miniseries. She devoured all the books. “I love how individual her women are,” she says, “how modern, how empowered for their time.” She wasn’t surprised, however, when she heard someone had sexed them up. “I would be lying if I didn’t say I’d done the same in my head now and again.”

Mostly, Nancy found Hidden Lusts funny. “How apt that she made Bingley and Mr. Collins gay. How screamingly funny Lydia becomes. You can just imagine her disappearing with all the soldiers!” But, she says, after a while, it stirred some anger. “It’s one thing to imagine the scenes that are taking place out of our view — Mr. Collins in the linen closet, Elizabeth and Darcy fooling around in the woods — but a whole other to have them do things that people just don’t do. Proposing to someone with your penis hanging out? Absurd … and not sexy.”

Even so, she takes no issue with it — or any other rewrites for that matter. “Who am I to say how a person works his or her own creativity? [But from now on], I’ll stick with the lyricism and beauty of the original.”

  Austen Then and Now

Austen has six books to her credit. Szereto, however, is more prolific — and spreads herself around — penning entire erotic anthologies, editing others. Her latest, Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance is a collection inspired by the Gothic literary tradition. In addition, she’s got a writer’s call out for another, this one fantasy-themed.

She’s been accused by some of being arrogant for her belief that Austen would have enjoyed her update, but stands firm. “The woman had a wicked sense of humor and a talent for satire — and Pride and Prejudice was loaded with both.” She also believes that if she’d been permitted, Austen would’ve made it sexier, as well.

“She was quite a liberated woman for her time….” Szereto notes, “but living in a period when the writing of books was primarily a man’s domain…. women writers just weren’t taken seriously by critics — not that this has changed significantly,” she notes. “Had she been a man, she quite likely could have gotten away with a lot more. It was a matter of keeping her ‘respectability.’”

Sayers believes it’s the foundation of Pride and Prejudice —”people living as social creatures in search of acceptance, love and finally happiness”—is something to which we can all relate, making it an ideal base for a reimagining, sexual or otherwise. “For those of us who are open-minded enough to understand that no desecration is intended—it’s a lot of fun! Who hasn’t read a great book or seen a movie and thought, ‘It was good, but I’d have done it this way.’?”

Michael, 41, is a writer/editor by trade — often a paid book critic — with a Bachelor’s in English and half a Masters. “It was the prospect of having to take a Jane Austen-related class that drove me out of grad school,” he says bluntly. What did he make of the “porning” of Jane?

“May as well,” he says. “Can’t be any worse than the original. Now if they’d just make a triple-X film version starring Emma Thompson and Hulk Hogan, directed by Ron Jeremy — Harold Robbins, scriptwriter.”

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Comments

Spike  

So pious are these fools who get backed up by the fact that woman of that period had real sexual desired not that far removed from the desires of women today. I have no problem with updating a classic. Hey, if Oingo Boingo can cover the Beetles, then....

09/23/2011
ninonyc  

Thanks, Cherry! I'm a big Jane Austen fan, and your piece makes me want to run out and buy this Pride & Prejudice redux. Far from being an affront to the very dead Miss Austen's work, I think this sexy, saucy reinterpretation is in fact an homage---or at least you made it sound that way.

09/23/2011
Remittancegirl Author  

All I can say is that if either the zombies or the sex prompt anyone under 40 to actually read the original, that would be great. And, if you haven't read the original, you should - because it makes both the zombie and the smutty version all that much more enjoyable.

I think it's pretty clear from her work, that Ms Austen had a superb sense of humour. Too bad her devotees in the society for her appreciation don't.

10/31/2011

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