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Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Author:Jane Austen, Ben H. Winters
Release Date:2009
Publisher:Quirk Books

By Lee Gardner | Posted 10/28/2009

So this is a thing now, apparently, the 19th-century literary classic wackily spliced with modern monsters. First, there was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies this spring, and now another Jane Austen novel has been given the treatment. (Little Women and Werewolves is rumored to be on the way.) The folks behind these books will run out of monsters way before they run out of canonical books to invade, but can't we just collectively agree to have run out of patience for/interest in this whole enterprise right now, already, before it wastes any more trees, time, or patience?

The premise, as can't help but be obvious, is that the text of Austen's novel of love and manners has been retrofitted with bits about ravening aquatic monsters. In this version the seas of Austen's turn-of-the-19th-century England have turned against the island's inhabitants, and every water-dwelling creature, from lobster to leviathan, is murderously hostile to humans. Houses sport bars on the seaward windows, and armed servants stand guard at waterside gatherings. The under-dowried Dashwood sisters don't venture to London for the social season, they descend to Sub-Marine Station Beta, an underwater domed city. Elinor Dashwood learns of her intended's engagement to another while fighting off the slime-dripping "Devonshire Fang-Beast." Colonel Brandon is discounted as a serious suitor not just because of his advanced age of 35, but also the clutch of tentacles that make up the lower half of his mutated face.

The premise of young women shackled by convention is universal and deftly handled enough to have insured that generations of undergrads have suffered along with the Miss Dashwoods. Nominal co-author Ben H. Winters' steam-punky vision of a Regency England gone Jules Verne and dripping with gore boasts moments of divertingly batshit invention. Putting the two together between the same set of covers results in a collision, not a blend. Austen's gimlet social observations and sly humor are deadened by the relentless streak of sea-going smirk, and anyone likely to enjoy Winters' vision of oceans amok is likely to be stultified by the social and emotional travails of the heroines. Austen's contributions are played too straight for the book to read as parody; the closest it comes is Winter making cash-conscious older brother John Dashwood volunteer to undergo a paid experiment to make him more fish than man. After all, more fins and fewer brains is what S&S&S is all about.

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