Hugo Nominee: “Pride and Prometheus”

The story, and the comment:

Nick Gevers, in Locus:

The closing story in this collection, ‘‘Pride and Prometheus’’, recently published in F&SF, is a splendid exercise in Jane Austen pastiche, a younger Bennet sister meeting Victor Frankenstein and striving to reconcile his cruel Gothicism with scientific ideals. Enlightenment scientism is beautifully burlesqued here, both Austen and Mary Shelley coming in for gentle mockery, the worldliness of the one interweaving mischievously with the emotional extravagance of the other. Each satirizes its counterpart, and the result is a spirit of wry realism. In short, a perfect summary of the complementary contraries within John Kessel, who in The Baum Plan for Financial Independence has produced one of the best collections of the year.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, at The Fix:

“Pride and Prometheus” is a technically dazzling Jane Austen pastiche which brings Miss Mary Bennett in contact with Victor Frankenstein. There is much to admire here: the language, both Victorian and Gothic, the philosophical discussions around naturalism and the limits of what empirical research ought to concern itself with, as well as the search for redemption through companionship from opposing and contrasting points of view. And yet, for me, some dramatic tension was diffused through the forced juxtaposition of thematic concerns and reverberations. The impeccable narrative style already places us at one remove from contemporary sensibilities; rather than spontaneously generating from this construct, the inclusion of Frankenstein’s world seemed more like a nifty exercise in literary mutagenesis that further constrained the dramatic potential. This story has already proven popular, though, and despite my reservations on these grounds, readers will find plenty to savor here.

Abigail Nussbaum:

If I have any complaints against “Pride and Prometheus” they are first that Kessel hasn’t really got the Austen-ish voice right. His pastiche rings hollow, emulating Austen’s grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure but lacking the spark that imbued her writing with so much humor. Perhaps more importantly, there’s the plain fact that “Pride and Prometheus” is barely even a genre story. That’s not always a problem–Kessel’s story is a hell of a lot more SFnal than Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See,” which quite rightly won the Nebula in 2004–and if nothing else “Pride and Prometheus” has once again reminded me to be grateful for the broadness and inclusiveness of the genre short fiction scene, since I can’t for the life of me imagine what mainstream short fiction magazine would publish this story. But with a shortlist already stacked to the rafters with metafictional games, literary pastiches, and appeals to the reader’s nostalgia and fannish affection, Kessel’s story, which unlike “Shoggoths in Bloom” doesn’t do much besides be metafictional, is somewhat devalued. Finally, given my chilly response to Bear’s story, I can’t help but wonder how much of my positive response to “Pride and Prometheus” has to do with my previous familiarity with the novels Kessel is drawing on.

Paul Kincaid, at SF Site:

Other than the hard-riding heroines of “The Invisible Empire” or the rather fearsome autocrats of the lunar stories, the strongest character is probably Miss Mary Bennet in “Pride and Prometheus,” in which the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice encounter Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his creature. It is becoming impossible to keep count of the number of novels and short stories that revisit Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, though this is certainly one of the better examples. This is at least in part because of the novelty of including Jane Austen in the mix, and even more because of the consistent way in which Kessel views the action from the point of view of Mary Bennet. Rather than the horror of monstrosity, therefore, this becomes a story about the constrictions of society. Kessel’s women are as trapped by perceptions of what they should be and how they should live their lives as his men.

Best SF:

What I believe the younger generation call a “mash-up”. Kessel puts the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice together with Victor Frankenstein. Kessel does a more than passable rendition of the writing style of Miss Austen, which will doubtless please those who like their fiction written in a style now two centuries old, although it can at times err on the pastiche, and I for one was reminded of the classic French & Saunders pisstake on such costume dramas on TV (“You suppose? You suppose? Madam, I find you very suppository!”)

The two unmarried Bennet daughters, Mary and Kitty, are in London, the younger, prettier, out to catch herself a man, like Mr Darcy, of some six thousands pounds per year. However, it is Mary who is smitten – by Mr Frankenstein. The creature also lurks, and the story leads a leisurely pace until a dreadful denoument, when young Kitty dies of a fever, and her body is resurrected by Frankenstein, to furnish the creature with a mate.

Actually, this is a false denouement, as we find through means of a newspaper clipping a year hence, of the likely fate of several of the characters, although this rather wraps up the story post-haste and with less satisfaction than one would like.

Colin Harvey, at The Fix:

But where Kessel scores is in fusing two seemingly disparate genres together so beautifully; it’s a wonderful Austen pastiche, and only rarely does he ever let control of his material slip. Once the initial bemusement at such an unlikely juxtaposition has passed, it’s a well-written story in its own right, with Mary [Bennet] at times quoting contemporary beliefs in such a way that they feel as if they could as easily have come from the mouth of Mary Shelley, who was, after all, a feminist almost two centuries before the term was popularized.

While the first half of the story is as light a soufflé as any Austen created, the mood gradually darkens with the second half to bring it emotionally closer to Shelley’s Gothic denouement—although in the end, Kessel reins in the story to steer a middle course which, unlike many genre romances, avoids both a contrived resolution and some of the histrionics that characterized his source material, and he manages to wring fresh pathos from what could, in a lesser writer’s hands, simply be a reworking of familiar materials. In all, “Pride and Prometheus” is highly recommended.

Broadly positive, then — and, of course, it’s just won a Nebula award. There’s also a short interview with Kessel about the story here.

And now, over to you …