Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Jane Austen/Ben H. Winters
Quirk Classics 2009
344 p.

Opinions differ about the pertinence of classics' reinterpretation or sampling: some are horrified at the mere idea of THE CLASSIC being altered, others find it amusing and many simply don't care. Being neither a Jane Austen enthusiast nor even a reader of her works, I wasn't going to rave about the unholiness of this sea monsters invasion. And given my love of postmodern literary weirdness, I certainly wasn't going to stand by and pretend not to be interested. So being amused it was, and indeed I had to laugh directly at the first page:

„The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. Her death came as a surprise, ten years before his own; she was beating laundry upon a rock that revealed itself to be the camouflaged exoskeleton of an overgrown crustacean, a striated hermit crab the size of a German sheperd. The enraged creature affixed itself to her face with a predictably unfortunate effect. As she rolled helplessly in the mud and sand, the crab mauled her most thoroughly, suffocating her mouth and nasal passages with its mucocutaneous undercarriage. Her death caused a great change in the elderly Mr. Dashwood's home.“ (p. 7)

A very promising start, I should say, for this augmented steampunk/horror version of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's youthful search for the ideal match. Or so I thought but I was soon to be proven wrong. The world in which the Dashwoods live is under constant threat of sea creature attacks and the Devonshire coast is known to be one of the most dangerous places in Great Britain. It's been like that since the Alteration took place, what- and whenever that may exactly be.* But at the same time, the whole of humanity and especially the wealthy part of it seem to be unable to restrain from exploring the seas and engages in risky behaviour all the time, be it walking along the beach, or living on small, unshielded islands or even building a submarine station. So it comes that Barton Cottage, the new home to the Dashwood sisters after the cohabitation with their half-brother Sir John Dashwood and his wife in the family house proved impossible (daddy got half eaten by a shark, leaving the sisters not much money and John the house) is situated on a tiny island off the Devonshire coast; while the place to be seen at isn't London but Sub-Marine Station Beta, a city built on the bottom of the sea, under a giant glass dome, off the Welsh coast. And this kind of alterations goes for the characters as well as the places. Being a good swimmer for example is a bonus for women willing to marry a good party. Colonel Brandon isn't only old but also afflicted by tentacles on his face, while Willoughby the libertine is a treasure hunter, never to be seen without his diving helmet and flippers. And the favourite topic of conversation, besides who is going to marry whom and to what conditions, is pirates and shipwrecks.

Well, some of you will probably hate me for saying this but the Sense and Sensibility-part of the novel is utterly dull! The Dashwood sisters (and the rest of their family, and Mrs Jennings, and Willoughby, and Edward etc. etc.) are unsufferable. I mean, how self-absorbed can one get?! And don't try to blame that on the sea monsters because they actually made the story better for me (I checked many scenes in the original version and it was even worse). All that marriage/how-much-money-will-(s)he-get-blahblah is the most boring topic there is. The only character I did care about (a bit) was Colonel Brandon, which means the one who was the most tormented by the whole sea monster addition! The tentacle-thing was indeed delightful in its sexual character:

„Colonel Brandon, who had a general inivitation to the docking station, was with them almost every day. He came to look at Marianne and talk to Elinor, who often derived more satisfaction from conversing with him than from any other daily occurence. At the same time she saw with much concern his continued regard for her sister. She noted that his appendages at times seemed to stiffen a bit when he chanced to glance upon Marianne, as if excess blood were flowing into them. It grieved her to see the earnestness with which he often watched Marianne, and discomfited her to see the aforementioned tentacle-stiffness; his spirits were certainly worse than when at Deadwind.“ (p. 157-158)

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters had some truly hilarious moments – whenever the characters' response to sea monster threats was completely inappropriate – but the rather fun b-movie horror was blunted by the dreadfully uninteresting romance that bored me to death.

*There is no real explanation of how it actually came to the Alteration or when. The book refers to legends, theories and studies about its origin but nothing conclusive. One possibility though is to interpret it as a sign of metaficition: it's not just meant as an alteration of animal behaviour and so on but as the very alteration by Ben H. Winters of Jane Austen's work, which of course would be quite clever!

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is published by Quirk Classics.


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    #1 Mo sur 06/16/10 à 07:19
    Tu sais que tu donnes méchamment envie, là?
    (pour le côté chiant de l'original, il me semble avoir lu plusieurs fois chez des fans que c'était leur roman le moins aimé. J'aime bien la dernière adaptation BBC; mais j'ai de meilleures disposition pour la romance que toi!! (même si les romans de JA sont loin d'être de simples histoires d'amour)
    #1.1 Niessu sur 06/16/10 à 08:09
    Ah ben non tu vois, je pensais que je vous laisserais tous un peu perplexes... mais tant mieux si ça donne envie ;-).
    Il me semblait aussi que Sense and Sensibility faisait moins l'unanimité que Pride and Prejudice et les autres. Mais bon, j'avais espéré que quelques tentacules bien placées rectifieraient le tir (au fait, merci à Karine de me l'avoir offert :-)). Mais même ça, ça n'a pas suffi. Il est vrai que mon seuil de tolérance en matière de romance chaste est assez bas (même en considérant l'aspect critique de la société du roman, sans doute parce que cette société-là me semble très chiante). J'ai vu l'adaption d'Ang Lee il y a des années (mes parents adorent) et cru mourir d'ennui... Je crois que je vais m'en tenir aux sœurs Brontë, j'accroche beaucoup plus (mais je n'ai pas encore lu Jane Eyre, juste Wuthering Heights et Agnes Grey).
    #2 Mo sur 06/16/10 à 08:45
    je préfère l'adaptation bbc à celle d'ang lee, pour les acteurs, et parce qu'elle est plus longue et donc plus précise.
    Mais tu vas mourir d'ennui aussi ;-)
    #2.1 Niessu sur 06/16/10 à 10:12
    Merci pour l'avertissement, je vais donc m'abstenir ;-).

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