“Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel

Pride and Prometheus

I’m normally leery of continuations of Jane Austen novels, or anything that smacks of fan fic in any way, but I heard good things about this novel, so I picked it up. Then I put off reading it for a while, because I was afraid it would be awful.

Boy, was I wrong.

“Pride and Prometheus” is magnificent. It’s so much better than I thought possible.

Dark, moody, and intense, it follows the story of Mary Bennet, 13 years after “Pride and Prejudice.” It shows an adult Mary, one who has recognized the folly of her youth and is trying to move beyond that, even as she’s still stuck at home, unmarried and most likely unmarriageable. Mary has taken an interest in natural philosophy, and the book opens with her hunting for fossils at Lyme Regis, on the day that a young lady is gravely injured while jumping off the Cobb (Austen fans will appreciate the extra reference).

Juxtaposed with Mary’s story, told in the 3rd person, are two first-person narrations: that of Victor Frankenstein and of his Creature, who is following him across Europe and then Britain, determined to make him provide the promised bride. A chance encounter at a ball brings Victor and Mary together, but the presence of the monster means that this is no story of easy love.

Although Mary is the central and most sympathetic figure, the novel’s sensibility is much more Gothic than Regency. Fans of Jane Austen will appreciate the clever way in which her stories have been extended, and especial credit must be given to the author for making Mary a sympathetic and compelling character without attacking the characters of Lizzie and Jane, but the darkness that Austen hints at in her novels comes out full force here. Monstrosity of every sort is a recurring theme in the novel, and while there are moments of light and hope, this is not a lighthearted romance novel where everyone finds their happy ending.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, which twists and turns and surprises the reader right up until the very end, but suffice to say that Kessel takes some very familiar material and makes it incredibly suspenseful and compelling. “Pride and Prometheus” may come as a shock to some casual Janeites, who came for the spencers and stayed for the illusion of coziness that her works can give modern readers, but for serious readers, it will really give you food for thought, and something to sink your teeth into.

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