What is a Mashup?
When I first became aware of the term “mashup,” I automatically thought of the music industry with its remixes and creative imaginings of oldies and the classics. By definition, a “mashup” is creating a new entity from two or more unrelated sources. Although some believe this subgenre has hit its peak, mashups still garner a substantial chunk of the market. That fact probably lies in the reality that a reader of paranormal would find mixing a Jane Austen classic with vampires intriguing. Many authors are finding a new market, whether they write science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, or humor. Recently, we have seen mixes of William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, and Louisa May Alcott. It is not just Jane Austen. There is a crossover appeal, very much like the steampunk genre. Think about Hemingway or Flaubert or F. Scott Fitzgerald; there are endless possibilities because the past is always in the process of being reinvented.
Is Jane Austen spinning in her grave because of all the sequels, variations, and mashups? Maybe, because I sometimes write the genre, I do not believe so. Austen wrote in an era when women could not openly express their imaginations without censure. We must not forget that Austen loved stories of all kinds, as well as a bit of gossip and scandal, and she possessed a “twisted” sense of humor. In the movie Becoming Jane, Anne Hathaway refers to it as “ironical.”
How does one mix together Jane Austen and Vampires?
Vampires first appeared in literature in 18th Century poetry before becoming one of the stock figures of Gothic fiction when Polidori published The Vampyre (1819), which was reportedly influenced by the life of Lord Byron. Dracula did not appear until 1897.
One finds the roots of vampire fiction in the early 1700s when the Serbian monarchy exhumed the remains of suspected vampires. In 1748, August Ossenfelder released the short German poem “Der Vampir,” which had strong erotic overtones. Goethë’s “Die Braut von Korinth” and Bürger’s “Lenore” followed, each with vampiric elements. In English literature, Robert Southey’s “Thalaba the Destroyer” (1797) was one of the first examples. Lord Byron’s “The Giaour” (1813) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816) followed. Even in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s housekeeper accuses him of being a vampire.
Dracula remains the definitive description of the vampire in popular fiction. In it, Dracula’s “disease” is a contagious demonic possession, with undertones of sex, blood, and death. All of these elements probably struck a cord with Victorian England, where tuberculosis and syphilis were common fears. A decade before, in 1888, the British press had sensationalized Jack the Ripper’s reign in East London. Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing became the model for all other vampire hunters. Some believe Stoker wrote Dracula to subtly criticize Victorian stuffiness, and others agree it was a social commentary on Stoker’s friend Oscar Wilde and his legal situation. Images, themes, and even actual phrases from Wilde’s trial for sexual inversion appear in the book. Count Dracula symbolizes an aristocrat, who socializes with middle and lower class people to survive – creating an image of the British aristocracy having to interact with the changes occurring in the wealthy middle class. Note how the middle class vampire hunters are the powerful characters in the book. Also, notice how all the vampires in the book are female, except Count Dracula. Vampirism allows Lucy and the others female vampires to dominant, and Dracula’s reign represents the British fear of being “contaminated” by an outside force.
Modern vampires have evolved from those repulsive figures: They are romantic and sexy bad boys, a stark contrast to Eastern European folklore. Christian symbols no longer repel them. Anne Rice’s Lestat De Lioncourt makes both a fanatically religious girl and a nun his victims. The moon does not influence them, nor are they only sustained by drinking blood. Modern vampires can fly, can feed off energy, and can “sparkle” in the sunshine. Modern vampires may possess unusual talents and may be very passionate about things other than blood. Bonnie Anderson says in “Vampire Showdown: Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula Verses Anne Rice’s Lestat,” that “The true fans of horror no longer want to be frightened by the mere fantasy of the fearsome. We want what scares us to our very core: Ourselves. We want to see ourselves dressed up and romanticized, satirized, and suffering and sinning. And then we want to see it again.”
There have been vampires in every film genre, even children’s works: the Count on Sesame Street. Exhibiting self-control is a recent trait of vampires. Modern vampires are more sympathetic to humans. Our current vampires are less monstrous – downright sexy, in fact, and infinitely more human. Contemporary vampirism is about desire. Romance with the undead is intense and forever and perfect. These are female-centered story lines featuring a powerful love, which surpasses the limits of mortality.
So, why is vampire literature so popular and in what way does Jane Austen fit? Beyond the broody, often lonely, male as a main character, vampire stories welcome anachronism. They are striking examples of the juxtaposition of past and present. Vampire stories of old were sources of terror, but contemporary vampirism is seen as desire. They are female-centered narratives, containing a powerful love that transcends the limits placed upon it. In a time after the World Trade Center disaster, we are less likely to make heroes out of those who hide their thoughts and feelings; so recent vampires must become infinitely more human. I mean, let’s face it, unless one is a vampire, there are no longer impediments to marriage. Today, Las Vegas is our Gretna Greene. Vampires who are sympathetic to humans, but whose goal is a relationship and respect are all the rage. As the majority of the readers of vampire literature are women, some believe it is a post-feminist way of taking on power: Women standing up and demanding respect. There is an allure of the forbidden, and the virtue of the individual prevails as a major theme. Now, look back at each of the boldfaced phrases. Are they not part of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
Teens embrace the concept of vampirism as an alluring idea – to be young and beautiful forever. Were women in Austen’s time not on the shelf by their early twenties? Remember that Anne Elliot had lost “her bloom” by age 27? Plus, teens think of themselves as immortal. They exist in a time of surging hormones, and they love the idea of power over another. And as a post-menopausal woman myself, the concept of being “hot blooded” appeals to me. Paranormal romance is about power. The females are tough chicks, who kill demons and hunt vampires.
And let us remember that the Twilight series has its roots in classic literature. If you have not noticed the similarities before, let me point out that Twilight is Pride and Prejudice. New Moon finds its basis in Romeo and Juliet. Wuthering Heights becomes Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn mixes The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Vamplit has the allure of the forbidden. It is quite simply a love story. The current audience for vamplit is a mix of those who grew up on Dark Shadows, Anne Rice’s series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, and Harry Potter.
So, why is Austen so easy to adapt to these subgenres? I would say because her works allow modern authors to insert their ideas into Austen’s point of view. Jane Austen was a forward-looking writer, who wrote thematic masterpieces. Although she writes intriguing characters, Austen’s strength lies in how the theme permeates every word. And is it fair to parody Austen? We must remember that the Lady wrote her own parody of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Regina Jeffers speaks of Vampire Darcy’s Desire. In this book, I tried to keep certain elements of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Wickham, the book’s vampire, still tries to seduce Georgiana, and he still takes Lydia to Northumberland (where Newcastle is located). Darcy, a dhampir, desires Elizabeth as a man, and he knows he must break the “curse” upon his family in order to make her his wife. When Darcy first meets Elizabeth, he is withdrawn from society, is generous and protective of his sister, and dutifully oversees his estate. Yet, to this mix of Jane Austen, I have added the folk elements of the Baobhan Sith (Scottish female vampires), a traditional Scottish folk song entitled “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender,” references to Celtic gods, vampiric legends, apotropaics, and bits of Stoker’s Van Helsing.
Vampire Darcy’s Desire presents Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a heart-pounding vampire romance filled with passion and danger. Tormented by a 200-year-old curse and his fate as a half-human/half-vampire dhampir, Fitzwilliam Darcy vows to live forever alone rather than to inflict the horrors of his life on an innocent wife. But when he comes to Netherfield Park, Elizabeth Bennet captivates him as no other ever has. Uncontrollably drawn to each other, they are forced to confront the seductive power of forbidden love, while dark forces are at work all around them. Most ominous is the threat from George Wickham, the purveyor of the curse, a demon who vows to destroy each generation of Darcys.
Join us tomorrow for a look at Jane Austen and Zombies.