Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Shorty, but a Goody. A Historical Story Review.

Pride and Prometheus
by John Kessel

Where to Get This: Pride and Prometheus won the 2009 Nebula Award, which is a big deal for excellence in Fantasy and Science Fiction. It comes from Kessel’s anthology, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories, and was made available as a free download by its publisher, Small Beer Press, here. I read off of a Sony eReader, so I downloaded the .pdf format, which is also good if you plan on reading off of your computer screen. It’s only 38 pages, so I think it’s definitely readable off of a computer.

Summary: It’s more than 8 years since Pride and Prejudice left off, and Mary Bennet is accompanying her sister, Kitty, on her season in London. Mary is 28 (which… I am too lazy to check the dating here, but I suppose that’s believable) and “off the shelf” in terms of marriage prospects. She is aware of her awkwardness, and feels a lack of proper society to satisfy her intellectual pursuits. Kitty flits around her season (she is 25, and I would have to conclude too old to be “introduced” into society as she is here) and Mrs. Bennet frets about marrying off her youngest daughter and everyone generally ignores Mary, which is not entirely to her displeasure.

While in London, however, Mary is introduced to the young, brooding Victor Frankenstein, who intrigues her with his talks of “natural philosophy” and life in Europe. Mary is disappointed that she and her sister must remove to Derbyshire for Kitty’s health and leave behind her new friend, but is quickly restored when she finds Frankenstein (and Henry Clerval) in town, as well, buying up supplies for scientific experiments. Frankenstein seems haunted, both figuratively and literally, and Mary wants to find out the truth before she, too, becomes involved in his dangerous world.

My Review: This story is terrific on many levels; let me number them for you:

1. The writing style is somewhat reminiscent of Regency formality, but it is not a complete copy, and definitely not a pastiche. It’s rather a modern continuation of the original, rather than trying to rewrite or glom on to the untouchable original. I thought this was respectful and welcoming to read.

2. The characterization is beyond believable. Mary’s personality here could easily have sprung from the sketch that Austen left us with, and while it has been many years since I last read Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus, it touches well on Shelley’s characters, as well. I particularly enjoyed the description of Lydia and Wickham’s marriage; their bickering but mutual dependence is very much how I imagined it would be.

3. The plot is only slightly mysterious, but still acts as a great character study on Mary Bennet, and the kind of man she could fall in love with, and how it would happen. The plot, however, is neither trivial nor uninteresting.

4. The discussions of science during Regency times are very accurately dealt with. Scientific investigation was coming into vogue, but more conservative people such as Mr. Darcy would have shunned the topic entirely.

My only caveat on reading this story is that there is Austen character death. Be forewarned! I won’t tell you which one it is, but if you can’t bear the thought of one dear character coming to an untimely end, then you may want to skip this one!

In conclusion, this was a great short story. I haven't read a short in a while, and I know I should go back and read them more often. Pride and Prometheus was definitely enough to intrigue me to want to read more by John Kessel. And it's another delightful step toward completing the Everything Austen Challenge!

Buy the anthology on Amazon


  1. Thanks for the tip on where to find this! It looked interesting and I'm going to read it right now...

  2. I've never been a fan of Mary Bennet, but I'm going to check this out :) Good review and thanks for sharing.

  3. I just saw your link to this on Mr. Linky. I have never heard of it before, but it sounds pretty good. Are the Frankenstein references accurate as well?

  4. From what I remember, they are. At least, all the discussions of grave robbing medical students and the like seemed to strike a chord.

  5. Ooooh, this sounds interesting...a little bit left of centre, if you like.

    I might give it a try.

  6. Another title for the TBR list... :)