Edited by George Justice

Jane Austen, Pornographer

Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen

By Arielle Eckstut and Dennis Ashton.
Fireside, April 1, 2001. 160 pages.
Paper over boards, $12.

Reviewed by Elsa A. Solender.

I groaned aloud when I first received an uncorrected proof copy of Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen. An accompanying letter from a publicist virtually dared me to provide a blurb for the cover.

I tucked the paperback into my briefcase to take along to a doctor's appointment, convinced that I would never agree. Still, courtesy demanded that I take a look at the thing.

Once past the preface, I found myself chuckling aloud. Soon others in the waiting room were staring oddly at my gleeful outbursts. By the time I finished the book, I could not resist the challenge to provide the blurb, and I did.

The following words were extracted for quotation on the book jacket (I am told) from a paragraph I submitted: "… irreverent and salacious … so wickedly funny, I could not resist."

Pride and Promiscuity is a collection, wickedly funny indeed, of X-rated parodies. Published quite purposefully on April Fool's Day, Pride and Promiscuity spoofs Jane Austen's fiction by adding explicit, New Age sexuality to the "mix" of issues she presented. At the same time, it pays implicit homage to its source by echoing her incomparable style with astonishing fidelity. In addition, the authors manage to retain the consistency of the Austen characters as they explore their erotic potential. While nothing is predictable, everything is supportable. Thus, we have some clues as to how Charlotte Lucas survived sex with Mr. Collins. A very naughty charade hints at the reason Mr. Knightley took such a dislike to Frank Churchill. And we witness how Anne Elliot was "persuaded" to say no to Captain Wentworth. I leave you to figure out how Emma achieved satisfaction in the chapter called "Emma Alone."

Arielle Eckstut is a literary agent in San Rafael, California. Dennis Ashton is a prizewinning playwright in New York City whose identity I guessed at once, but promised not to reveal. The partners have successfully mated a keen ear for witty, suggestive dialogue and a shrewd sense of commercial appeal, to which has been added a very clear understanding of Jane Austen's oeuvre.

Be forewarned: Pride and Promiscuity is not for the squeamish, nor for those who prefer to clothe their Jane Austen in Victorian ruffles, bustles and stays, nor for those who cherish the romantic prequels and sequels that--in the words of Deborah Kaplan--"harlequinize" Jane Austen.

Of course the authorial impulse for Pride and Promiscuity is not entirely divorced from that of the writers of the scores of continuations and adaptations that Jane Austen's fiction has stimulated; but this book is something else entirely. What rescues it from banality is its abundant irony and the cultural cynicism with which the sexual mores of both Austen's age and our own are handled. Here is an entirely new example of what Marjorie Garber has termed "The Jane Austen Syndrome," as well as another (ironic) example for her long list of instances of the best known Austen title taking on "an unstoppable career of its own."

We can only speculate as to what Jane Austen might think of these parodies. I believe that those Austen enthusiasts who would have their Jane "Run mad as often as you chuse; but (do) … not faint," may very well join me in laughing out loud while reading it. They will find much wit and satiric insight here, some of it worthy of Swift or Pope--or at least Maureen Dowd of The New York Times when she's writing about the Clintons.

Elsa A. Solender, an independent scholar, was President of JASNA from 1996-2000. She has taught at the University of Chicago and Goucher College, and has won three journalism prizes. Her current project is a survey of screen adaptations of Jane Austen's novels.

JASNA News v.17, no. 2, Summer 2001, p. 26

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