Early this morning, I was finally able to close Pride and Prejudice, on which I had been laboring for almost a month. Many rides on the 81 had been spent trying to ignore my fellow passengers changing their socks next to me or picking imaginary bugs off of their sweaters as I tried to push myself through my first Jane Austen novel. (Yes, that is my rather limp attempt to connect this post to the bus.) I struggled to keep my interest alive in the book through the balls, the idle lunches, interminable voyages by carriage into the countryside, walks through grounds, and games of whist. Happily, the book picked up at the end with the elopement, all the passionate letters, and the cornucopia of happy marriages, etc.
I’m not sure how I got through high school or four years as an English major without reading any Austen, but I did. I had never really had much interest in reading Austen, but something piqued my interest a year or two ago. I think it was something I read suggesting that John Updike (a longstanding Octopus favorite) was our modern day Jane Austen. That probably sounds absurd to many, but now that I’ve finally read Austen, it makes some sense. Both authors are firmly grounded in the realm of the practical: incomes, houses, marriages, families, rivalries, etc. If Austen had lived in the 1970’s, I’m sure she would have found a way to write about dissolving marriages in suburban England and swinger parties attended by Toyota salesmen and their wives. As it is, she seemed to push pretty far, especially for a woman writing this novel in 1796-97.
Which brings me to the absolutely awful parody idea I’ve been plagued with while reading Pride and Prejudice. Of course, this idea came to me on the 81. In any event, perhaps influenced by The Wind Done Gone, the legally disputed parody of Gone With the Wind (the litigation over the book struck an important blow for the cause of fair use), I’ve been imagining the following parody of Pride and Prejudice: a combination of Pride and Prejudice and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In this version, Eliza Bennet has run away from Longbourn and steals away with a young black man named Jim, and they float down the River Thames, perhaps to freedom. Eliza has fallen in love with Jim, and the two lovers are determined to float away from England and the imprisonments of reputation, virtue, rank, civility, manners, and the crass market for marriage. There would likely be a lot of gratuitous lusty scenes, in which Eliza eagerly hands over her virtue to manly Jim, on the dark water under the stars above England.
The Octopus recognizes that he is sick and dirty-minded.
This parody seems all the more delicious because it would likely horrify both Twain and Austen, though I suspect Twain would be the more disgusted of the two. Twain once said of Austen: "Jane Austen? Why, I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book."