Gay Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen & Kate Christie

It’s been a while since I last read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It goes something like this (not, that I don’t think everybody knows this story, this is just for the purpose of reminiscence – and the 2 or 3 people in the world who actually haven’t read it):

Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet and dislike each other from the first. At some point, he notices her “fine eyes” and is smitten. Still, he helps his best friend Bingley to fall out of love with Eliza’s sister, Jane. When they meet again, Darcy asks Eliza to marry him but she refuses him – adding some choice words that crush him. Well, things happen and Darcy proves his value. Eliza rethinks her position and as Bingley comes back to the neighborhood and asks Jane to marry him, her anger is quite overcome and she relents to the inevitable: she marries Darcy.

The story isn’t quite as dry as I have presented it here, wit and hilarity abound, there are intrigues and odd characters. It is actually one of the best stories ever told and Lizzy and Darcy are two of the most amazing characters in literature – they are AWESOME, actually.

This is probably why there is a tendency of late to take the story, the actual words of Austen, and add a little something – something like zombies. And although, I haven’t read that particular story, I am now looking forward to it more than when I first encountered the book at a Barnes & Noble in 2009. Especially, after I have now read Kate Christie’s colloberation with Austen’s story, Gay Pride and Prejudice. The story is a little different:

Elizabeth Bennett and Caroline Bingley meet and dislike each other from the first. At some point, Caroline notices Eliza’s “fine eyes” and is smitten. Still, she helps her brother Charles to fall out of love with Eliza’s sister, Jane. When they meet again, Caroline professes her love for Eliza but she refuses her – adding some choice words that crush Caroline. Well, things happen and Caroline proves her value. Eliza rethinks her position and as Charles comes back to the neighborhood and asks Jane to marry him, her anger is quite overcome and she relents to the inevitable: she marries Darcy (no, really, she does). Caroline has meanwhile married Rèmy de Laurent, Darcy’s boyfriend, and the foursome lives happily ever after on Pemberley.

Now, we could argue all day about the value of altering Austen’s story (whether to add zombies or homosexuals), but I don’t want to do that. I have never read any of the many sequels because I pretty much held the conservative stance that it is blasphemy. Still, they have always intrigued me. They are fanfiction and I never thought anything wrong with that concept (my first stories were Xena-fanfiction and I am still not done with that genre, either). I am convinced, that from now on I will read a lot of stories which are related to Austen’s writing, now, that I have finally begun. Fact is, I missed Jane Austen these last few years in which I haven’t read her and I will remedy that, sometimes with her own writing, sometimes with her characters gone astray into the writing of others.

As for Gay Pride and Prejudice, it is a blast. Of course, most of the story is unchanged, often it’s only the adding of Caroline Bingley’s name that discerns the original from Christie’s version. So, it is not difficult to like and I do. Eliza falling for Caroline instead of Darcy makes sense because Darcy and Caroline are not so very different. The Caroline Bingley Christie pulls from the pages is pretty much part of the original Darcy, ripped from him but never far from him (as it is, Darcy and Caroline are close friends and allies, especially, since Caroline discovered that Darcy hides the same kind of secret she does). And as Eliza is described as someone who prefers the attention of her own sex as well (she and Charlotte Lucas have been more than friends for over two years now), they have just to overcome the same problems of pride and prejudice as the originals do.

There is one thing within the pages I do not quite agree with. Having read a lot about romantic friendship, I am not sure it was actually as much under suspicion as Christie is trying to make us believe. In regard to Louisa Hurst who is, of course, informed about the preferences of her sister, the prejudices might be understandable but there are instances of suspicion that I do not quite agree with, especially, since the story takes place before the well-publicized trial of Oscar Wilde. It does also not correspond with the notion that Christie gives us in the end about Rèmy and Darcy living in one wing of Pemberley and Caroline and Eliza living in the other and the servants just accepting this without question or gossiping about it just because they love their master so much.

Yet this is the only criticism I have and it can be easily forgotten while reading – or re-reading – this wonderful story. It is really more Austen than it is Christie, yet it is also an important contribution for those of us who have always wondered about Eliza’s sexuality, who have always wanted her to be a little bit more like oneself. And I must say, I cherish the idea of a Caroline Bingley who is not as typically snobbish as Austen made her.

Maurice by E.M. Forster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(In case you were wondering about why there are two book covers this time: I own a copy of each. I read the left one but I just love the other cover so much that I had to put it up, too.)

Forster wrote this novel sometime around 1913-14 but it was only published after his death in 1971. The topic of homosexuality seemed too sensitve, too taboo. Today the novel seems outdated but for the fact that Forster dared to let it end happily-ever-after for his main character.

Maurice Hall is a product of the British upper-middle class. He is a snob, not overly intellectual but clever enough, and he fits into a well-carved position his father left him – but for the fact that he is “an unspeakable of the Oscar Wild sort,” an invert, a homosexual, or in modern parlance: gay. He is lucky enough to have a friend to share the sentiment with, I say sentiment as their relationship never becomes sexual. Maurice and Clive meet in Cambridge, their friendship evolves over one summer when they are parted and Clive finally tells Maurice how he feels. They become lovers – in the platonic sense – until Clive “becomes normal.” Maurice is shattered, thinks of suicide but finally decides to bury his desires inside the farce that is his life. He will work, he will be a good son and brother but he will not be a lover. While he tries for medical help and a cure, he meets Alec Scudder who works for Clive and they fall in love.

I have read and re-read this novel multiple times now and it always shocks me out of my certainty of being a queer person myself. For the most part, I think Clive is the more sympathetic character. His homosexuality can only be understood on an intellectual level as he deals with it on that ground. The question whether he even desires men is as fascinating as the one about his transformation toward heterosexuality? Does he believe in it? Do we? Naturally, this evokes strong opinions and emotions but I find Forsters approach a  legit one. I rather like the idea of fluidity in sexuality (I call it an idea because I don’t find my sexuality all that fluid) and I think it is quite possible for a person to go from one kind of sexuality to another – and back again. Either in this or in getting rid of the labels and just loving who one wants to love. The sad thing about the character Clive is that he gets stuck once he owns to his heterosexuality. There may be a sentimental moment when he kisses Maurice hand but his mind is set on being straight – so much so that he becomes unsympathetic, a hypocrite.

Maurice is not the most likable character. He is destined to be dull and only when he allows himself to be himself he becomes the character we would have wished for from the beginning. The development is a believable one and in the end, we couldn’t like Maurice more. He loves, and he loves beyond borders, beyond the distinctions made by his class. And that is a truly remarkable evolution for a character who starts out as middling in everything he does. Maurice may not be remarkable but his coming-of-age and coming-out are.

There are many things to love about this novel, the fact that I have read it several times and always like to pick it up again, attests to this. It poses a lot of interesting questions about society and sexuality. It also condemns a certain British class and it’s way of living. There is wisdom and beautiful prose, thoughtful contemplation of topics that still interest the human mind and… soul?