Despite living in Australia, I check in regularly with the BBC news website which, despite its faults, contains a rich vein of useful news and interesting frippery.
In the latter category, I noticed a piece in its culture section in The many lives of Mr Darcy. My tutor at university was a fan of the critic F R Leavis, and I was readily persuaded that Jane Austen is indeed one of the really great writers in the English language there has ever been, ever. The piece was about adaptions of Pride and Prejudice. My attention was caught by a reference to a spin-off called Spank me, Mr Darcy.
I own a Kindle, which is great. I am pleased, of course, to have physical copies of all sorts of great literature, but the Kindle is great for going on holiday and also for downloading – quickly, cheaply and painlessly – things that might well turn out to be complete tripe. So I downloaded Spank me, Mr Darcy.
Before writing this thing off as complete tripe, I should say that the author Lissa Trevor, has got one thing right. Most television and film adaptations treat the role of Mrs Bennett as an opportunity to cast not very attractive character actresses, who can play out her appalling vulgarity. But I have always wondered this about the original novel: why would Mr Bennett have married her in the first place? The only answer that I can think of is that she was, at least when she was younger, and perhaps still when the action takes place, incredibly sexy. Probably very beautiful as a young woman. But certainly irresistibly attractive to Mr Bennett. There are precious few decent roles for character actresses who are not great lookers, and this perfectly understandable temptation to cast them as Mrs Bennett is a bit of a plague on television and film adaptations.
The way that this stuff seems to work is that Ms Trevor has downloaded the entire text of Pride and Prejudice, cut out the boring bits, and larded the rest with sex scenes. For example, one of the earliest scenes in the real novel is a conversation between Mr and Mrs Bennett as to who has taken possession of the local big house. This is how it plays out in Spank Me, Mr Darcy:
“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife, impatiently thrusting her hips up to encourage him to enter hard and fast.
“You want me to tell you?” Mr Bennett groaned, feeling the tight muscles of her quim clamp down on him. He ravaged her like a man teased beyond his endurance, his posterior red and burning from her use of the riding crop. “I have no objection to hearing it – as soon as you come for me.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you make me ache,” Mrs Bennett said, sighing her pleasure as he thrust in and out. They had been married twenty years and were raising five daughters, but he still made her feel like a wanton. She dug her nails into his shoulders as the sweet oblivion threatened to have her caterwauling her pleasure to the household. Settling for screaming into his mouth, his lady met his plunges eagerly until the sparks danced before her eyes and tremors threatened to rip her apart.
He grunted and finished shortly after, collapsing on top of Mrs Bennett. He kissed her shoulder and rolled off to stare at the ceiling while he tried catch his breath.
Prurient drivel, you might say. And you might well have a good point. But then again, a great deal of what Jane Austen was writing about in Pride and Prejudice was indeed pure sex, and perhaps her writing was all the better for the fact that it would have been wholly unacceptable for her to have been – in her day – explicit in any way. But how would she have written in today’s world, when writing explicitly about sex is part of the modern genre? There is a parallel with Mozart here. It seems to me obvious that if Mozart were alive today, he would be writing in the genre of rock music. It would be fascinating to know what a modern Mozart would write and play. Similarly, it is hard not to speculate what Jane Austen would be doing if she were writing novels today, or perhaps even more interesting, was a screenwriter for the film industry.
And so I read more pages of Spank me, Mr Darcy than I had intended. I was curious to know what she would make of Mr Collins. Surely the odious Mr Collins could have no possible sexual interest to anyone? I underestimated the ingenuity of Ms Trevor. If you want to see how, I think you’re going to have to read it for yourself.
I am part way through reading something else on my Kindle, Larry Kramer’s The American People: Volume 1: Search for my Heart, which is a much more challenging read. I intend that that will be the subject of another post.
Meanwhile, I wonder how much further this “cut and adapt” style of literature might go. Are we going see this sort of thing?
They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek, that now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put their lips about my member,
Their breast pulsating against my chest
And pulled my hand hard into their mound.
Cracking their whip until they found
My cum upon my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Are modern movies any better than older movies for the fact that directors now have free reign to include explicit sex scenes wherever they like? Personally, I think they probably are, on balance. I doubt whether a bit of “slap and tickle” causes any harm to anyone.
Violence is quite another matter. I am very far from sure that the appalling violence in modern movies is a good thing.
 Not her real name, obviously. The misspelling of Lisa suggests an anagram. Violet Rass? Tessa Vilor? Rose Vasil?