I knew I shouldn’t proceed, based on the title and front cover alone, but doesn’t a great Austen novel teach us not to judge based on first impressions alone? The back of the book didn’t allay any of my concerns, given the use of quotation marks for book titles and placement of commas outside, rather than inside, said quotation marks. None of the reviewers on the back cover provided his last name; one calls himself “Sir’s Kitten.”
I am open-minded, I kept reminding myself. Elizabeth narrates “Pride and Penetration” (maybe quotation marks are suitable if this is more a short story than a novel, I told myself, trying to mend first impressions). She describes herself as “dark-haired, fiery, and opinionated, the total opposite of a man magnet” (1). (Don’t smart men like women with opinions? If not, what hope do we have?) Interestingly, Mary is actually smart in this version, or at least so Elizabeth says, seemingly without irony. This version sounds more or less like the “usual” adaptation until Mr. Darcy “remove[s] his sunglasses” and lets his eyes travel “up and down the length of” Elizabeth’s body, which experiences some, uh, effects that are quite specific (5). This Elizabeth is really rude to Darcy who, when he takes a walk with her, is told she is “supposed to find a rich husband,” and, if he is rich, he should “drop to one knee and propose, moneybags” (7). Yuck. Way worse than Mrs. Bennet being the guilty party.
Given the anger, it is more surprising (though perhaps it shouldn’t be) how rapidly a sex scene occurs, followed by Darcy’s awkward “we should date” comment (11). He manages to offend Beth (at least the writer had the decency to alter the name) by telling Bingley what happened (though Beth had already told Jane so she has no real right to be offended by the, shall we say, kiss and tell). Oh, and by the way, Mr. Collins is into computer porn, and Mr. Wickham is into computer gambling.
As you might expect, there are grammar errors all over the place, in the words of characters who should know better. Beth says: “us girls took off laughing” and later, “My make up had more than likely been wiped off, but I could have cared less” (20, 33) (I won’t make this review mature audiences only by telling you how). Jane says: “If he’d been interested in me, he wouldn’t of left” (47). Mrs. Bennet’s errors we could allow if they were deliberate (“Put your father and I out of our misery”), but my suspicion is that none of these errors were made with the idea that they better tell the story (20).
Beth is less logical and less at ease than our Lizzy. In one moment, for instance, she claims “women don’t need men to rescue them anymore,” but in the next, she wishes that her “daddy could get a job” (21). On the phone with Catherine, Beth stutters “I . . . don’t think” (she’s about to marry Darcy) and adds that they “haven’t even dated really” (49). This is no Elizabeth Bennet, but in 50 pages, it’s done, with very little fuss, other than a minor kidnapping and a sore bottom.
I had trouble imagining the same sexual fluency—at least for Elinor—in “Sense and Sexuality.” I thought at first this story would discuss just Marianne, but no. Though she has “only had two lovers in [her] twenty-four years,” this Elinor “love[s] sex” and has “a collection of dildos that would make a prostitute blush” (55-56).
Elinor’s grammar is as flawed as Beth’s and Jane’s—Edward, she recalls, “was a pleasant, quiet man who” she “found interesting” (53). Lucy Steele is described as “a friend of Mrs. Jennings daughter in law” (no apostrophe and no hyphens) (67). Pronouns are not Wade’s field: Elinor says that Mrs. Jennings wanted “Marianne and I to attend” (71). Later Elinor “tamped down the monster of jealously”—seriously (73). Possessives, too: Lucy is “staying at the Palmer’s for a while” (83). Elinor, too, “could have cared less”—but means the opposite (88).
There are also some interesting choices with logic. How can Marianne be playing Wii and Elinor say she’s “great” one month after their father died? (53) I suppose that’s little better than Willoughby and Marianne bonding over The Hunger Games and Adele (62). Lucy has diabetes, which she tells Elinor made an older boy feel sorry for her (“it’s expensive”) (68). They stay married so she has health insurance. I still despise her, but it’s so real a modern problem, it almost makes sense!
The descriptions of the sexual encounters are pretty similar from story to story, both the order of things and the phrasing and the choices, but just when I was feeling rather unimpressed because the racy scenes were so predictable, Mrs. Jennings turns out to be much more adventurous than I had expected :-).
Unfortunately for the main romances, part of the fulfillment of the happy ending comes from the waiting, the delay of the satisfaction. Short story versions can’t build that.
Nonetheless, I had gotten this far, so I couldn’t miss the adventures with Emma. Camp Highbury is where Emma and her father and Harriet Smith are spending their summer. The first time we see Mr. George Knightly (she spells it without the “e”), he is speaking “with a gorgeous brunette” who turns out to be Jane Fairfax, but his “gray eyes brighten” when he sees Emma (97). (At one point Harriet’s name got an extra t, so apparently the spelling of character names isn’t a key concern, 104). This Emma admits to being “horribly prideful” about her looks, but doesn’t the real Mr. Knightley say Emma is not vain in that way? (97) Why the gratuitous change? Ms. Bates is “on the janitorial staff” (grateful to have a “break from the factory”), and Robert Martin is “the head cook” (98-99).
Emma, like Elinor, has “only had sex with two people” (104). Again, the details felt too close to the other stories. I was also bothered by illogical details that never get sorted out, such as why, if Elton graduated from Harvard, does Emma insist on not revealing which school in Massachusetts she attended? (102) What, especially given Harriet’s dropping out of community college because she “kinda didn’t know what major was” (I swear: that’s exactly what it says), makes Emma think Elton and Harriet are “perfect” for each other? (101, 100)
But none of those weaknesses was as disturbing as when Emma says no to Mr. Elton, but that doesn’t stop him, and then she enjoys it. It certainly didn’t sound like an ideal message. Less appalling but still not good is the sequence of events between Emma and Mr. “Knightly,” who, after they have sex one night, proposes the next day. Right away she says she loves him (137). This one might take the prize for being the most unfulfilling happy ending possible.