Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy is described as “A titillating mash-up of an erotic bestseller and a romantic classic, peppered with puns.” As an unabashed reader of anything Jane Austen, or Pride & Prejudice… as well as a blushing, shameless fan of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, I confess, my curiosity was peaked. How could it not? In a literary world of sequels, prequels and what ifs, it was but a foregone conclusion that someone would lampoon these two bestsellers together. Contrived by a writer with a silly nom de plume, William Codpiece Thwackery, how could this be anything but a hoot? (Warning: Spoilers.)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good riding crop must be in want of a pair of bare buttocks to thrash.” Eh-hem. And that is how we find Elizabeth Bennet, tied to Mr. Darcy’s bedposts, flashing back to how she came to such a moment… Mrs. Bennet, now on her 4th husband, Billy Bob Bennett—she previously bonked to death his predecessors (Thwackery’s word choice, not mine) announces to her family, “I have heard that both men are considerably well endowed. Both have huge packages…” Unlike Austen’s irrepressible Elizabeth who possesses a dry wit, enjoys spotting a fool, and refuses to be taken lightly, this Elizabeth is not even offended by Mr. Darcy’s initial slight; she does at least resist her mother’s pleas to don a leather mini-dress. “If Mr. Darcy considers himself above our station, I can understand it. After all, our stepfather has but two thousand pounds a year, and Mr. Darcy is a man of vast wealth, and well known for his charitable works.” One of which is his support of unwed mothers in a business venture called Hooters. It was immediately apparent that this course, vulgar farce was simply going for shock value. And the mixing of modern with Regency made utterly no sense. But I soldiered on.
In addition to the burlesque plunder of Austen’s beloved Darcy & Elizabeth and Bennet family, a train wreck of meanly written characters are hijacked from both novels. Elizabeth’s Subconscious and “Inner Slapper” continually argue whether Mr. Darcy is in fact gay. Bingley’s sisters have become Looseata and Carrotslime. Mr. Darcy’s grand estate, Pemberley is now “Memberle y.” Lady Catherine is a dominatrix over Mr. Darcy. Christian Grey’s helicopter, Charlie Tango is now a hot-air balloon. Mr. Wickham has become Mr. Wackem who has a penchant for hiring maidens as his unpaid interns in his publishing company. And Mr. Collins is Phil Collins. Yes, that Phil Collins the rock star who used to be in the band Genesis.
Unlike the kinky, sexual prowess of the hero (or antihero) of Fifty Shades, Christian Grey, this Darcy flogs Elizabeth with no more than a toothbrush and an unfolded newspaper, leaving her wondering what all the bondage hype was about. (Me too, girlfriend. Me, too.) Elizabeth often broke the third wall expressing such nonsense as, “… I must beg your forgiveness. It is somewhat confusing being in a mash-up of two very different novels.” I might inquire why, with so evident a design of offending and insulting, Thwackery chose to self-deprecate? For me, his humour fell short. “She could feel his grey eyes burning into her, like red-hot pokers stirring her desire. The more they poked, the higher her flames of longing rose, until the metaphor exploded in a burst of sparks and badly written prose.”
“‘I have many vices,’ Mr. Darcy said huskily. ‘My libido, for one, I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding.’ ‘That is a failing indeed!’ cried Elizabeth. ‘Implacable lust is a shade in a character.’ ‘I have many shades, Miss Bennet,’ said Mr. Darcy. ‘About fifty, last time I counted.’” I suppose the occasional mash-up of Austen and James’ famous lines were droll enough, however, it turns out that like Elizabeth, I was misled. “‘You encouraged me to believe that “fifty shades” referred to your complex, multi-layered personality. Not… not this.’ Fifty lampshades? It was just a bad joke.” Yep, he was hiding a room full of lampshades. Badly done. Badly done joke indeed.
I’m all for diverting, quick-witted satire but indubitably, buffoonery is in the eye of the beholder. I found myself questioning my own sense of humour, that maybe my funny bone wasn’t evolved enough to catch the satirical tone. Despite the execution of purple prose mimicking E.L. James’ generous and often redundant adjectives, as well as the plethora of puns on characters, places and sex acts, Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy seems simply an over long collection of random absurdities and lewd wise cracks. In reviewing this, I was most diligent in my search to be able to use Christian Grey’s line of, “Good point, well made.” I was about to remark on the eye catching cover… but then it was pointed out to me that the boots aren’t even Regency-era Hessians but army field boots from the late Victorian age. (Later Darcy’s boots are described as Cuban heeled riding boots. What? Me too. I was befuddled at every turn.) Shame on William Codpiece Thwackery’s attempt to profit by slovenly satirizing Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Pride and Prejudice and E.L. James’ uber pop-culture phenom, Fifty Shades of Grey and then hiding behind a pasquinade nom de plume. He deserves at least 20 lashes with a wet noodle.
And what about Austen’s happily ever after? Well, yes. Lizzy does end up with the billionaire (why she would ever want this one, still is beyond me) but I will NEVAH be able to get back the 3 ½ hours of my life spent slogging through this obscenely boorish excuse for a parody. I can only imagine a jocular bunch sitting around drinking and throwing out nonsense as someone typed — really need to be fall down, sloppy drunk to find any humour. Real writers will be offended. And readers will be mad for buying it. The P&P and Zombies books was far superior. My apologies for the spoilers, but hopefully the spoilers will be all you ever subject yourself to reading. (I got my advanced copy electronically via NetGalley.)
1 out of 5 Regency Stars
Fifty Shades of Mr. Darcy: A Parody, by William Codpiece Thwackery
Michael O’Mara Books (2012)
Trade paperback (192) pages
© Christina Boyd, Austenprose