There has been a recent influx of books which are essentially rewrites of out-of-copyright classic books and characters — but with a wacky twist, usually involving zombies and vampires. The most successful one is based on Jane Austen’s period romance, Pride and Prejudice (ie, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has apparently been adapted into a film with Natalie Portman).
And so I guess it was only a matter of time before someone took Jane Austen’s enduring classic and turned it into an erotic farce. That’s exactly what Mitzi Szereto has done with Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, an ‘erotic parody’ detailing the sexual escapades of beloved literary characters such as Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. It’s a wild and hilarious ride that will likely polarise readers — those who believe Austen’s masterpiece has been defiled in the worst possible way (even worse than zombies), and those who think it’s a bloody brilliant idea.
Szereto is an experienced erotic fiction writer and editor, and it’s abundantly clear that she is also a skilled writer and Austen fan. Hidden Lusts may follow the plot and progression of the original and contain all the same characters, but the actual text of Austen’s work is used sparingly. A page by page comparison of the first chapter of the two books showed only a couple of short verbatim passages. The language used is genuinely Austen-esque, with none of the overtly sexual or crass vocabulary you would expect from an erotic novel. Szereto has captured Austen’s voice and tone and the essence of her characters so well that you might’ve believed that it was written by Austen herself — but for all the lustful thoughts and naughty shenanigans that appear in just about every chapter!
Bear in mind, Hidden Lusts is more parody than erotica, as just about everything is written with tongue firmly in cheek (and sometimes other things in cheek — literally), so chances are you’ll be finding yourself laughing out loud at the outrageous thoughts and actions of these traditionally uptight characters rather than feeling a bulge in your ‘breeches’ (which tends to happen in the book whenever characters cross paths!).
The kind of devilishly filthy stuff Szereto’s imagination conjures up is impressive. Every character is either a closet homosexual or sexual deviant or both. A few characters are given particularly harsh treatment. Have you ever wondered what Mr Bennett was doing locked away in his study all day? Have you ever wondered if Lydia Bennett was a nymphomaniac? Have you ever thought Mr Collins was a little gay? Have you ever been suspicious of the close relationship between Mr Darcy and his close friend Mr Bingley? Hidden Lusts has the answers.
You will probably need to have read Pride and Prejudice (or its ‘rewrites’) or seen one of the many film or TV adaptations to be able to fully appreciate the humour and wit of Szereto’s work. My last memory had been the 2005 film adaptation starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett, Matthew Macfadyen (soon to be one of the Musketeers) as Mr Darcy, Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett and Jena Malone as Lydia Bennett — which made it both hilarious and disturbing to be picturing these actors as I read the book.
Some of the erotic sequences do get a little repetitive after a while despite Szereto’s best efforts to keep them fresh and varied, but it’s hard to avoid in a 266-page book. The upside is that you’ll be giggling along with all the lewd craziness in anticipation of the glorious final hurrah between Miss Bennett and Mr Darcy. This is my first erotic parody and provided it’s as well written as this one I’d certainly be open to reading more.
3.5 out of 5