“a novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and their forbidden lovers.”
It has a pretty spicy cover, and even spicier content. But how does it rate when it comes to our beloved Pride and Prejudice?
Truthfully? I’m torn on this one. Ann Herendeen does the slash fiction genre fairly proud. But she also manages to write a book that simultaneously makes me cringe and turn pages. If you’re into erotica, particularly in the same-sex variety, this will probably suit you. Bringing Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley together, with hot-and-heavy descriptions, this can be either someone’s dream or nightmare. Personally, I couldn’t stand the idea.
For those of you in Sydney, I got this book for AU$24.99, from Modern Times in Newtown, a really cute art/stationery shop with nice but limited book supplies on King Street.
The first chapter left me reeling in shock. Perhaps because the book was bought on a whim without any knowledge of the slash fiction genre or of the contents that would be within, I was far more sensitive to the changes in the story. To my own idiocy, I wide-eyedly read the question in the blurb “What is the real nature of Darcy’s intense friendship with Charles Bingley, to explain why he would prevent Bingley’s marriage to Elizabeth’s beautiful and virtuous sister Jane?” and did not pick up on the bisexual undertone intended. In my defense, the same-sex cover and the pink chick-flick type decorations definitely do not lend themselves to the storyline within.
But the two lead males aren’t the only new pairing (beware, spoilers in the content here) in the book. Herendeen writes in Darcy and Wickham, Charlotte and Lizzy and plenty of other strange concoctions of romances, sexual power-plays and flirtatious banter. There’s even a large part of the storyline played by the society Herendeen wrote about in her first book “Phyllida And The Brotherhood Of Philander”.
The content is graphic. To the point where the word “graphic” doesn’t quite cut it. For example, “He wrapped Charles in a strong embrace, pressing what was left of his by now dwindling erection against his friend’s equally flacid member” or “…the effusion trapped between their bellies and heaving chests, gluing them together in a sticky, love-scented mess.” and that’s not even onto the same-sex couplings yet, which are equally as detailed. Obviously, this is not a book for younger readers. But, funnily enough, about a third of the way through the book I stopped noticing just how out-of-my-comfort-zone these descriptions are. And once I became used to reading that, and imagining my favourite characters in those ways, the story became fairly enjoyable.
Technically, the main storyline is Pride and Prejudice all over. And, excusing the new sexually charged content between different partners, it does offer some interesting new details about the storyline from the perspective of the men, and a lot more detail about Georgiana’s life and Darcy’s upbringing and university days. While not all of it is acceptable to purist Janeites (some of it is far from my own reading of Pride and Prejudice, and the characters often do not seem themselves) it is a really experimental and revealing look at the potential “behind the scenes lives” of the characters. There is also enough original content about Wickham and Darcy’s relationship to give P&P an entirely new context (and so can be read as a standalone novel if you don’t want to associate it with Pride and Prejudice).
Another fun addition to the Pride and Prejudice storyline is the “what happens AFTER” where Herendeen explores the married lives of Lizzy and Darcy, Jane and Bingley. Unfortunately, the men lose their voice a little during this section. Only a woman would write, for instance, “Her backside was perfection- like a pale peach, its two large halves divided by the crease, the flesh mottled with fatty indentations. Charles had never seen anything so beautiful…”. Hello? That “mottled” flesh is called cellulite and has not been attractive to men ever. Similarly, Darcy sleeps with Elizabeth on her period without all that much concern. Both of these moments had me frowning as completely unrealistic from males.
While I have those qualms, I actually enjoyed the little discussions about the children the couples have and how they visit one another et cetera. There were a few other “ugh” moments about Charles and Darcy together-while-married-but-no-one-seems-to-care type scenarios but it just seemed to fit the storyline.
Herendeen explains that “While I may have “queered” Jane Austen’s novel, I don’t feel that I’ve “changed” it by turning her characters into something different from what they are in the original” at times I would have to disagree. I respect these intentions, because I believe that true fanfiction writers attempt to place new scenarios on existing characters, rather than altering the people who are already fully described in the original. Herendeen does capture the spirit of Lizzy, and the docile nature of Charles, but I think that many of the lovely character elements are lost in the bisexual translation.
Ann Herendeen explains the ideas herself in “The Story Behind Pride/Prejudice” which is in the book itself, and does a (not quite so good and a little creepy but) worth watching video on the storyline: