Good news, beloved readers! We’ve found something to ward off those post-Austen’s-birthday blues: the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest. Our lovely and talented fellow blogger (blogress?) Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose.com is editing a new anthology of fiction inspired by Jane, and she and The Republic of Pemberley want everyone to get in on the game. Enter your story in January or February, and then vote on your favorites. The Grand Prize winner gets included in the anthology! (And no, this doesn’t count as vanity publishing, as far as we can tell.) So . . . in that spirit I would like to offer a little holiday mash-up of my own.
The Nutcracker, by Jane Austen
Little Clara Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t expect too much from the Christmas assembly family party ball at Netherfield. A chance to be witty, some animated dolls, and a few partners in the Grand Dance, that’s it. However, her deus ex machina, Jane Drosselmeyer, has other plans: She gives Lizzie a Nutcracker, of all things. Despite its stiffness and unresponsiveness, Lizzie finds the Nutcracker mysteriously attractive, as does everyone else. (The Nutcracker must have at least ten thousand a year.) Everyone wants a piece of him, but nobody gets results until Lizzie’s bratty little brother(-in-law . . . to be), Fritz Wickham, grabs the Nutcracker and breaks him in two!—or his reputation at least.
Then, Lizzie has a dream in which she visits Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, and Rosings Park. (You didn’t think she’d go see Mr. Collins while she was awake, did you?) Colonel Mouse King Fitzwilliam and his minions, the Mice of Doubt and Listening to Gossip, almost manage to kill the wounded Nutcracker entirely, and he himself takes a kamikaze marriage proposal run. BUT, just when you think the Nutcracker is down for the count, he writes a letter to Lizzie and gets her to read it/hit the Mouse King with a slipper/fire a cannon at him. And then the Nutcracker springs up, he slays the Mice of Doubt, he takes off his head, and ta-da! he turns into Colin Firth!
Now I know this is just sounding more and more improbable. But it is a dream after all. So bear with me.
After all these revelations, both Lizzie and Mr. Darcy spend the winter in thought. He’s relieved to finally be a human being, and to not have a papier mache head anymore, but . . . she doesn’t hate him anymore, but . . . In some thoughts they might dance together, in others there might just be snow. Thus, intermission.
Miss Drosselmeyer Austen, having given everyone time to go to the bathroom, decides to send Lizzie off to Pemberley, presided over by the Sugar Plum Fairy Housekeeper. Mr. Darcy appears, as does most of the cast of Act I in slightly different clothing. Pemberley provides lots of food for thought for Lizzie, all of it yummy: Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea, Russian candy canes, Danish marzipan shepherdesses. There’s also polichinelles that live under a drag queen’s skirt (Miss Bingley and her neverending drama), and flowers, tons and tons of flowers. The gardens of Pemberley are famous, are they not?
All this sweetness and light convinces Lizzie that Mr. Darcy is the man/prince/alien-with-two-heads for her. However, there’s a lot of serious dancing to get through yet—a sort of back and forth, moral agonizing about who’s done what, does s/he really love me, and all that. In the end, though, as we knew it would be, Lizzie runs to Mr. Darcy, he scoops her up and gets a mouthful of tutu (Mrs. Bennet), and they live happily ever after.
. . . Or do they? . . . Sometimes Lizzie wakes up from her dream, and realizes she’s back at home, with her Nutcracker toy and no prince at all. Sometimes she doesn’t . . . The top is still spinning. Will it stop? . . .
Photo credit: ©2010 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
Whether you call it literary breaking and entering or the greatest publishing scheme of the new millennium, surely the Austen mash-up trend rates some thought from the Austen community, right? And yet. Love it or hate it, readers, this market isn’t living up to its potential. In fact, we at Austenacious have come up with a new technique by which publishers could amuse/alienate twice as many readers with each attempt! Not all mashups need involve Jay-Z, the walking dead, or anything trendy at all, really: by mashing Austen novels up with other classic literature, we see the rationalizing force of Jane on some decidedly harebrained stories, as well as some extra adventure for the ladies and gentlemen of the Austen canon. What could possibly go wrong?
A few examples:
Detective Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder in Grace Church Street, Cheapside, London: a sweet-tempered newlywed from the country has offed her uppity sister-in-law, a fact he deduces from traces of poisoned wedding cake (a double wedding!) and the fact that neither the guilty party nor her equally nice husband can lie worth a darn. The murderer’s smarter but less-pretty sister may have aided and abetted.
On one of her many walks, Marianne Dashwood falls down a mysterious hole, drinks potion left by a stranger, shrinks (which is what happens when we drink potions left by strangers), and ends up in a magical and dangerous fantasy land. There’s bird-head croquet with Lady Middleton and tea with Johnny Depp. Eventually, she finds it was all a dream and that she has learned precisely nothing about controlling her emotions or anything else remotely useful in life.
The Bennet girls encounter four Civil War-era sisters from a Transcendentalist family in Massachusetts; a good time is had by all, including many picnics, though the youngest from each family duke it out for the attention of all eleven (combined) relatives. The eldest sisters atone for all wrongs by sheer force of their goodness, as the third-oldest play a duet on the piano.
Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth visit a lighthouse either near Lyme or the Isle of Skye, an experience colored by an unreliable narrator and the problems of memory and perception. Nothing else happens, but it’s significant. Later, the author walks into a river with stones in her pockets.
Haters Gonna Hate Edition, Parts I and II:
Catherine Earnshaw wanders the moors until a chance encounter with the post-Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland persuades her to give up the obsession with Gothic bad boys. Heathcliff gives up. The sun comes out, and everybody realizes things weren’t so bad after all.
In a fit of pique, Emma Woodhouse runs off and finds adventure on the river and/or in caves (possibly around Box Hill), and teaches generations of American high school students about racism and the dangers of picnics.
Emily Bronte and Mark Twain, née Samuel Clemens, each die a second death of embarrassment and rage. Jane, in an impressive show of self-control, manages not to laugh in public. A new literary sub-genre is born.
This just in: sometimes, the internet is an awesome place.
Sure, the Google Machine is the source of 98 percent of the self-involvement in the world. Yes, it offs the occasional brain cell. But sometimes? Sometimes, the internet is just brimming with cool, interesting-if-symptomatic-of-having-too-much-time-on-one’s-hands stuff. To wit: all of the following gems include interesting and/or unusual takes on Jane and her work—and all of them came across our radar within the last few days.
People, if this is the volume of creative Austenian stuff coming out of people’s brains in three days, what are we doing with ourselves? We could be an army! A non-employed, fond-of-neighborhood-news, Empire-waisted army! We could bring back the eating of syllabub. We could encourage the taking of picnics in the countryside. We could offer important insights on the nature of true love, and bring back the social calling card! Hell, we could conquer the universe—or the Home Counties, at the very least—with the power of our lady novels.
Who’s with me?
This woman’s job is to talk to people about Jane Austen! How can we get in on that gig, and do we think it’s brought to you by the letters P, h, and D? Via Jane Austen’s World
Oh, readers, we do tire of Austen mashups.
That is, we would tire of Austen mashups if we ever read any of them.
It all just seems so unnecessary, all this revamping of the land of Austen in the name of murder and mayhem. But what if the mashup in question were, by definition, un-horrific? What if there were no zombies, no sea monsters, no vampires, and no modern-day single ladies looking for a man? What if it were, in fact, a mashup with adorableness? In that spirit, the fine folks over at Who’s Your Dachsund have graced us all with their fine video The Complete Jane Austen, featuring the usual Jane canon acted out by—you guessed it—baby lemurs!
Kidding. They’re Dachsunds.
(This is not to say that we would not enjoy baby lemurs in our Austen. “Oh, Mr. Wickham! How charming you are!”)
I’m especially fond of Captain Wentwoof, heartfelt letter-writter that he is. Such a charmer, that one. I bet he and his lady love enjoy long walk(ie)s on the beach at the end. How sweet!
…Somebody, please make this stop. I’m going to be thinking of Austenian wiener-dog jokes all day.
I know I’m no fun, but I think we’ve established that Jane Austen prequels, sequels, mash-ups, and other literary Photoshoppings make my heart sink and my blood pressure rise. It’s not that I don’t appreciate fandom (heaven knows I appreciate fandom), or that I don’t have a sense of humor about Jane—I do, and anything else would miss the point. This isn’t even a Jane Austen Hates You post; it’s just that, well, I don’t want the Darcys’ sex life play-by-play, and I don’t want to see the Bennet sisters fight monsters (sea, nocturnal blood-sucking, or otherwise), and I don’t want to hear about Jane coping as a swingin’ modern-day vampire looking for love in the big city.
To which I say, who doesn’t love a good bhangra number?
For me, it’s all a question of basic (if implied) intent. Austen sequels, mash-ups, and the like so often come across as attempts either to paint Jane in a hipper, funnier light—as if she needs the help—or to add to the canon she left behind. The implication is that Jane’s work has no place in contemporary culture if we don’t see it through the familiar lenses of bodice-rippers/Sex and the City/debilitating irony; even straight-up sequels set in Austen’s universe, which are clearly labors of love on the parts of the authors, tend to imply that Jane’s work deserves some kind of follow-up (and, with a brand of guts that I personally could never muster, that they are the one to provide it!). On the other hand, Bollywood Jane is—so far—a work of pure appreciation. In Bride and Prejudice, nobody ever implies that Austen needs changing or supplementing, or that the Indian audience wouldn’t relate to a straight re-telling. There’s no sense that the original novel would be better with a modern-day Indian setting; if anything, it’s the other way around. In fact, the change of scenery and style occurs almost separately from the story, and function as a tribute to the universality of Austen’s themes—as the setting changes, the narrative and key themes remain surprisingly the same.
Besides, Bollywood Jane gives a whole new meaning to the term “choreographed group dance.” I love a ball, indeed:
If Aisha can offer the same thoughtful, affectionate take on Emma, well, bring on the dhol.
INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
We open on a television set. The screen is black.
An eerie chord sounds and splinters; text appears.
EXT. REGENCY HOME – DAY
When we return, gone is the island! Instead, OUR HEROES materialize, bedraggled and apparently out of thin air, on the grounds of a grand Regency estate. CHARLES WIDMORE looks on from a nearby window, twirling his nonexistent mustache.
You’re gonna love it. LOST: The Regency Season! What a way to go, right?
We zero in on the action.
You fell down a hill and twisted your ankle? I’ll save you! Don’t you love me? Fine. I’ll be off crying in the forest if you need me TO AMPUTATE YOUR LEG.
JAMES “SAWYER” FORD
I challenge you to a duel, Mr. Shephard! I say, have I misplaced my shirt again?
KATE (ahem) AUSTEN
I love you, Mr. Shephard! No. I love you, Mr. Ford! No, I love you, Mr. Shephard! No, I love you, Mr. Ford! No, I love you, Mr. Shephard! What? You want your gun(s) back? La la la I can’t hear you! What?
Tell me where Wickham and Lydia went, or I’ll kill you with my thighs!
That Churchill fellow cultivates an admirable air of mystery. Care for some backgammon, shooting, and/or pseudo-religious posturing? Don’t tell me what I can’t do!
I can kill every single one of these ladies with my brain.
Gypsies warned me not to send my baby away, but what do they know?
These ladies are tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me…away from mah Penneh. PENNEH!
This time-travel nonsense is no match for the majesty of Rosings Park!
Memo, Anne Elliott: Don’t let your man go off to sea. The only thing worse than years of crushing loneliness is having to rescue him from a lifeboat in the South Pacific ten years later. Ask me how I know!
Dude, where’s the Dharma cold meats platter?
We close on the castaways burning a bonfire as the sun sets. They’re alone. OR ARE THEY? Mr. Collins skulks around the shadows, unbeknownst to all.
Okay, global publishing industry. Let’s talk. Put down that Chicago Manual; I want to see the whites of your eyes. I know we’re all having great fun (and by “we” I mean “you,” and by “having great fun” I mean “swimming in your Scrooge McDuck money vaults”) with the explosion of pseudo-Austen legal-fan-fiction goodness, but there’s a new sheriff in town, and her name is Austenacious, and she’s drawing a line in the fine English country soil.
Here’s the thing: go ahead. Sequels, mashups, reimaginings; call them what you will, and print them by the thousand. Live and let live, and all that. But have a little dignity; set some standards for yourself. We’d like the Austen fandom to be a lobotomy-free zone. Wouldn’t you? We’ll even help you out: here, for future reference, are the top five Austen derivatives that let you know you’ve hit the bottom of the acceptable barrel:
Relations and the Country
Four Austen heroines (spunky Lizzy, romantic Marianne, independent Emma, and dramatic Catherine) cavort about the countryside, discover all good-looking young men to be blackguards, and attempt to find true love in unexpected (older, previously disdained, sometimes grizzled, often related)places while also having brunch and attending balls. Critics complain that nobody actually wears muslins like theirs.
We already have Mr. Darcy, Vampyre; if our dear Fitzwilliam starts to sparkle, it’s Game Over. Period. End of story.
The Anglican Code: A Mr. Collins Mystery
What’s that you say? Mr. Collins is an operative of a secret anti-Church of England sect operating from within? And the secret numerological terrorist plan is hidden in the banisters and inlaid floors of Rosings Park, which (as we know) cost 500 pounds apiece? We’d name Charlotte Lucas as the intrepid love interest/detective, but she doesn’t get to come back in the second book. Hmmph.
Consume Consider Pine
Fanny Price travels the Home Counties in search of a spine, food that isn’t cold meat, and a guy who’d rather hang out with her than be in plays. Result: Enlightenment! Find a wealthy uncle to fund your spiritual journey today!
He’s Just Not that Attached to You
Having trouble attracting a man? These easy steps, inspired by the real women of Jane Austen’s novels, are sure to garner you a steady heart and an income of five thousand a year, at least! Ladies, never forget the magnetic power of repeated rejection, the sharpened senses that come from social misunderstanding, and the no-fail trick of falling down a hill in the rain! Guaranteed to find your knight in gaiters and top hat!
Now, don’t we all feel better? Publishers, like children, need boundaries. Now go and design us some pretty, matching editions of the originals, stat!
OMG, really? What’s with this fad of mashing up literature and disaster/monster porn?
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies got a ton of publicity, but, let’s just say it: it wasn’t very good. There was lots of obvious guy humor about balls (and how could they miss the intercourse jokes, if they’re going that route?) and only one scene that really spoke to our hearts: Lizzie kicking ass as a ninja. This, I can understand. We of the female persuasion all want to be Elizabeth Bennet, so they say, and who doesn’t feel a girl-power thrill at some Buffy-style action? But it was clear the author didn’t have any love for or understanding of the original book. It could have been any old book with a slightly prim reputation, and that’s where things go off the rails: if ”time for tea” vs. ”braiiiiiiins!” is your only joke, then 320 pages are going to seem really, really long. After a few battles with the undead, well, what’s the point?
Now there’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, wherein the Dashwood sisters move to an island and, apparently, fight off the evils of the deep. WTF? For one thing, if this had to be done, why not Persuasion, which already takes place (partially) near the sea? Could Captain Wentworth not have taken on the kraken? If, that is, it had to be done at all.
You know why it had to be done: it’s because zombies and monster/disaster porn are really, really popular right now. And it must be funny, right?, to contrast it with that very feminine and oh-so-coincidentally popular franchise of Jane Austen. And I think a lot of Austen fans are, like, “Hey, it’s Jane Austen and it’s popular! Go you!” But we deserve better. I mean, it’s all so obvious. And Miss Austen, boys and girls, did not dig obvious.
She had no problem with monsters in their place, being very fond of gothic novels, especially The Castle of Otranto, I think—in Northanger Abbey (and Pride and Prejudice) she ridicules people for saying they “don’t read novels,” which was evidently the “I only watch PBS” of the day. But she was very definite that monsters didn’t belong in her place – had no part in the reality she was trying to portray in her books.
I see the appeal, I really do. For example, right now I’m imagining Captain Wentworth and the intrepid Anne in a fight to the death with the aforementioned kraken. But mash-ups only work if you’re creating something new, bringing deeper humor or insight to Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, zombies, and sea monsters. And, call me crazy if you like, but I find it hard to imagine anyone bringing deeper humor or insight to Pride and Prejudice than is already there. Zombies, who knows?