Guest Author: Ben H. Winters

Today, Literary Escapism is excited to welcome Ben H Winters, author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, to the floor.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest—and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!

I’ve never wanted to read the original Sense and Sensibility, but Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters sounds like something I would be interested in.  What about you?  If it does, stick around as we’re giving away a copy at the end.
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Jane is my Co-Pilot: The Fine Art of Making Sense and Sensibility Totally Ridiculous
By Ben H. Winters, authors of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Since writing Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I’ve gotten a ton of feedback about how nice it is that I’ve made Jane Austen appealing to certain readers — meaning readers who previously suffered a persistent allergy to The Classics. I am complimented for taking the prim and decorous Jane Austen and making her, A) really violent, and B) really funny.

The first compliment I will gladly accept. Over the decades since Sense and Sensibility first appeared, it has been noted by scholars and casual readers alike that the book is sorely lacking in shipwrecks, shark attacks, and vividly described decapitations. I believe it was the poet and critic Thomas Chatterton who admired the novel’s careful plotting and social critique, but lamented the total absence of vengeful ghost pirates.

But I can’t take credit for making Jane Austen funny. As is well known by passionate fans of Austen — I have yet to meet any other kind — the old girl has always been funny. Take for example Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, a set of secondary characters in Sense and Sensibility. The periodic appearances of the Palmers comprise what any comedy writer will recognize as a running gag. Mrs. Palmer is chatty and trivial, while Mr. Palmer (a delightful Hugh Laurie in the Ang Lee version) is gruff and unaffectionate. What Mrs. Palmer labels “droll,” the reader — along with Elinor, our sensible heroine — recognizes as plain distaste for his wife, her friends, and everybody else in the universe. Every time those Palmers show up, we know we’re in for the next variation on the same great gag.

Note that Austen doesn’t do to the Palmers what Charles Dickens would: Exaggerate their core traits to the point of absurdity. (Also, she doesn’t name them something like Mr. and Mrs. Featherwit). The Palmers are funny, but they’re plausible, and their primary function in the book is to provide not laughs, but a corrective to Marianne’s rosy ideal of married life. So Austen makes them funny, but not ridiculous.

Making them ridiculous was my job. When the Palmers appear in my monsterfied Sensibility, I give Mr. Palmer’s drollery a murky, weird-tales back story, part of the preposterously elaborate foreshadowing of my H.P. Lovecraft-inspired denouement.

I play the same game, of comically amplifying what’s already there, in varying ways throughout the book. Colonel Brandon, stiff and formal and middle-aged, becomes a stiff and formal and middle-aged man-monster. Genial Sir John becomes genial adventurer/explorer Sir John. Had Austen made all her characters ridiculous in that Dickensian way, if she had been the kind of writer who is forever winking at her readers, my book would be (as they say in improv comedy) a hat on a hat. But because Sense and Sensibility is so eloquent and restrained, Sea Monsters gets to go way over the top.

This is true even on the simple level of vocabulary. Austen’s precise early-19th century diction is the textual equivalent of Eustace Tilly, the top-hatted, monocled figure from the cover of the New Yorker: Her writing simply oozes good taste. The trick was to appropriate that ever-so-tasteful and old-timey Austenian style to describe things she never would have:

In the profound silence that followed, their ears were filled with a low thrashing sound, as the corpse of the bosun’s mate was noisily consumed by devil fish. At length the captain drew upon his pipe, and spoke again. “Let us only pray that this is the worst such abomination you encounter in this benighted land; for such is but a minnow, when compared to the Devonshire Fang-Beast.”

“The . . . what?”

Even more fun to play with than Austen’s eloquent vocabulary is her universe of enforced emotional rectitude. The Dashwood sisters live in a world where one’s feelings are not blurted out — or, at least, they’re not meant to be, as sensible Elinor is continually reminding sensitive Marianne. It’s a constant struggle to keep one’s emotions hidden beneath the surface; all I did was literalize that metaphor in the most preposterous way, by adding deadly and dangerous monsters which appear literally from beneath the surface.

There was one factor above all that made Sense and Sensibility such a fun comic foil, and that is the place the book holds in the cultural firmament. One question I’ve heard a lot (or read a lot, as it’s the sort of thing that comes up on blog comment-threads), is “Why didn’t you do Persuasion? That’s the Austen book that actually takes place on the water!”

The answer is simply that Persuasion, unlike Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, may be a great book, but it is not a Great Book. It has not gathered around itself the unmistakable stink of importance.

Sense and Sensibility, on the other hand, stands in the literary tradition as Margaret Dumont stands before Groucho Marx, as the Chairman of the Reception Committee in Duck Soup: Prim and proper and radiating worthiness — just waiting, in other words, for someone to hit it with a pie.

©2009 Ben H. Winters, authors of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Author Bios
Jane Austen, coauthor of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, is coauthor of the New York Times best seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has been translated into 17 languages and optioned to become a major motion picture. She died in 1817.

Ben H. Winters, coauthor of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, is a writer based in Brooklyn.
For more information please visit www.BenHWinter.com and www.quirkclassics.com
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Thank you Ben for stopping by Literary Escapism today. I’ll be honest…I’m one of those who have steered clear of the classics, but I’m definitely willing to pick up sea monsters.

Contest Time! Today we are giving away a great prize – Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as well as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Deluxe Edition to one lucky winner. All you have to do is answer this question: Queen Victoria, Lincoln, Pride & Prejudice, Tom Sawyer – all of these have been introduced to the paranormal, but what else would you like to see? Which classic or historical figure would you like to see get revamped? Sorry everyone, this contest is only open to US residents.

As always, there’s more ways of getting your name in the hat:

  • +1 for each place you post about today’s contest on your blog, social network, or anywhere you can. Digg it, stumble it, twit it, share it with the world. Wherever you share it, make sure you add a link to it along with your answer.
  • +1 to any review you comment on, however, comments must be meaningful. Just give me the title of the review and I’ll be able to figure it out from there.
  • +1 Join the Literary Escapism Facebook page and/or follow LE on Twitter
  • +1 subscribe to Literary Escapism – either via a reader or email (see the RSS button at the bottom of the sidebar)
  • +10 purchase any print novel through LE’s Amazon store sometime during this contest and send a copy of the receipt VIA email for your purchase to: myjaxon AT gmail DOT com. Each purchase is worth ten entries, but it has to be through the LE Amazon Link.  If you buy all 4 books, that’ll be 40 entries.

There is one thing I am adding to my contests now…the winner must post a review of the novel someplace.  Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter.  Just help get the word out.

The contest will stay open until January 19th, at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the Research Randomizer and the List Randomizer.

Also, I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.

About Jackie 3273 Articles
I am a 30-something SAHM with two adorable boys and a supportive husband who is very tolerant of my reading addiction. I love to read and easily go through about a dozen books a month – well I did before I had kids. Now, not so much. After my first son was born, I began to take my hobby of reviewing a little more serious and started Literary Escapism to help with my sanity. I love to discuss the fabulous novels I’ve read and meeting all the wonderful people in the book blogging community has been amazing.

17 Comments

  1. I would love to see Emma get some sort of Supernatural treatment. Ohh, or Gone with the Wind. I would pick up either of those in a heartbeat.

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  2. I always enjoyed Little Red Riding Hood when I was Little, guess that why I enjoy reading about werewolves today! Would like to see this one done.

  3. I think The Scarlet Letter is an easy answer: EVERYBODY who’s had to read it in high school wants to see THOSE people get eaten. Moby Dick is also obvious, for many of the same reasons.

    Wuthering Heights actually is somewhat paranormal, although it could have used a vampire or two.

    So, if we’re going to try to freshen up an old classic, I think I’d go with Dickens’ David Copperfield.

  4. would love to see Hamlet revamped! :)

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  5. I would love to see Ahab and all of Moby Dick revamped in some really weird way.
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  6. I agree that Robin Hood would be a good choice. Some powers that be can be in a war for his soul. He could use his powers for good or evil and make everyone do his bidding. Maid Marion and the Merrymen could fight to help him stay on the side of good. Hey, maybe I should write my own book. I like this idea.

  7. I would have to pick, The Scarlet Letter. Let’s skip some of the description of the forest, and add some witches and weres. :)

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  8. I’m not a big classic literature fan, but I’m surprised no one has taken a work of Shakespeare and worked werewolves or faeries or something paranormal into it. I think I’d enjoy a retelling of the Revolutionary war with some sort of paranormal element. Maybe the Minutemen were really vamps or something.

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  9. Don’t forget Midsummer Night’s Dream. It has fairies in it already, so that may be why no one has hacked him yet. It would be amusing to see Romeo and Juliet with vampires or werewolves. I could so totally see Romeo as a vampire and Juliet as the poor fool who fell in love with him. Wait a minute….yeah, we don’t need another Twilight. :)

  10. Queen Victoria, Lincoln, Pride & Prejudice, Tom Sawyer – All Of These Have Been Introduced To The Paranormal, But What Else Would You Like To See? Which Classic Or Historical Figure Would You Like To See Get Revamped?

    I Would Like To See Phantom Of The Opera Or Les Misérables Revamped. Alice In Wonderland Would Be Kinda Kool With Supernatural Beings In It. Also I Love Gone With The Wind So I Would Love To See That Get Some Sort Of Revamp.

    +1 For Each Place You Post About Today’s Contest On Your Blog, Social Network, Or Anywhere You Can. Digg It, Stumble It, Twit It, Share It With The World. Wherever You Share It, Make Sure You Add A Link To It Along With Your Answer.

    I Blogged About This Giveaway.
    http://skyla11377.blogspot.com/2010/01/literary-escapism-blog_14.html

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  11. I noticed someone else already mentioned this, but I too would love to see a modern day revamping (no pun necessarily intended) of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I personally have read any of the modern retellings yet, but they’re all on my TBR list. I would love to win this giveaway to start me on my way. Thanks for the opportunity!

    Rebekah
    littleminx at cox dot net

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