Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Pride or Prometheus"

Pride and Prometheus
John Kessel
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

John Kessel blends the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with that of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Set sometime after Elizabeth Bennet marries Mr. Darcy, “Pride and Prometheus” begins at a ball at Grosvenor Square. Mary Bennet, already set on spinsterhood and otherwise out of place in society, meets Dr. Victor Frankenstein at the ball and feels immediate connection due to their shared interest in the natural sciences. “Pride and Prometheus” would be placed somewhere on the Frankenstein chronology after the death of Dr. Frankenstein’s brother, but before he marries cousin Elizabeth. The events of the novel have not yet taken place at the beginning of this story. Normally when a story takes place is not worth mentioning, but given that “Pride and Prometheus” ties together two classic novels, it is worth mentioning.

Clerval chuckled. "Victor has been purchasing equipment at every stop along our tour—glassware, bottles of chemicals, lead and copper disks. The coachmen threaten to leave us behind if he does not ship these things separately."

Because we know when the story is set in relation to the novels, we know what this means, why Dr. Frankenstein purchases materials. Later comments of graverobbing should be understood. Not long after the above passage the reader learns exactly where in the Frankenstein chronology this story is set.

Kessel’s story requires, or assumes, at least a passing knowledge of Pride and Prejudice in order to know who the characters are. A deeper understanding of Jane Austen’s novel adds layers of richness to “Pride and Prometheus” as smaller characters in the story automatically have all this back story that Jane Austen readers will be familiar with.

Typically, this is the sort of story I would avoid like the plague. I am not a fan of Jane Austen’s fiction and while I can appreciate its place in literary history, it doesn’t work for me. So, any story (except for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) taking Austen’s characters is to be avoided. The curiosity, however, of Austen with Shelley, of Dr. Frankenstein, brings an intellectual interest to “Pride and Prometheus” which might not have otherwise been there.

That’s about as far as my interest in “Pride and Prometheus” goes, however. Kessel’s story is well written and there is a strong aspect of intellectual interest to the chronology of the story and working out the little clues as to what is going on. John Kessel works in the inherent horror of the situation perfectly.

The main problem here is simply that because I am not a fan of the original source material, I am not the ideal reader for “Pride and Prometheus”. For me, the story only works on the “hey, Kessel’s doing something kind of cool here” level. “Pride and Prometheus” does not work on the emotional level that I require to truly acclaim a work as being exceptional. The blending of manners and horror is interesting, and I would venture to say that I appreciated Kessel’s story far more than I do that of Jane Austen. It is just not enough.

1 comment:

Susan Tyler Hitchcock said...

It is really odd and shocking to think that Frankenstein and Pride & Prejudice were written at about the same time -- they seem worlds apart, don't they? Sounds to me as if this author had it in mind to show that in fact they were from the same world, London circa 1818.