Austen and vampires. Two powerhouse pop culture juggernauts. Mash them up and they are irresistible to publishers eager to feed on the Twilight & Trueblood craze. Here is a new novel that transforms Emma, Austen’s masterpiece of astute characterization and social reproof into a tale of Undead matchmaking blunders and vampire battles. Will Miss Woodhouse continue to be a nonsensical girl or morph into Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Once upon a time, long, long ago in Regency times there was a handsome, clever and rich young lady named Emma Woodhouse who had lived close to twenty-one years of her life with very little to vex her. She lived with her kindly old father in a big castle named Hartfield near the village of Highbury. The Woodhouses’ were the first family of consequence in the surrounding neighborhood filled with gentleman vampires. Their particular friend was Mr. Knightley whose pale skin, black eyes and fear of sunlight were attributed to his lack of sleep and dull appetite.
Miss Woodhouse was clueless that anything was amiss though the telltale signs of the Undead were apparent throughout their social sphere. The other ladies of Highbury were also un-mindful accepting the attentions and marriage proposals of the gentleman vampires without concern. Not even their children’s pallid skin and need to hunt for small animals in the nearby forest alarmed them to any measure. However, in the dark forest also lived wild vampires totally lacking in social graces who feasted upon the young ladies in Mrs. Goddard’s school or anyone else careless enough to walk too close to the shrubberies.
Oblivious to the real evils within Highbury, Emma proceeds to match make her friends to unsuitable vampires with disastrous results. Even though she has never had the discipline to apply herself to reading or drawing, or the desire to marry, she discovers quite suddenly that she is a skilled vampire slayer and proceeds to rid the neighborhood of the fiendish Undead while winning the approval and heart of the one gentleman vampire who she discovers she truly loves. And then, with all the evil vampires vanquished and her desire to be a misapplying match maker renounced, they lived happily ever after.
If this synopsis sounds like a charming fairytale of Emma with vampires added in, that was my intention. It was the novel that I wished I had read, but sadly did not. I am exceedingly puzzled by what was attempted. A retelling of Austen’s Emma for young children, or adults that need a dumbed down version laced with vampires to understand the original story?
There is an inherent challenge in retelling a classic; how much to leave in and what to take away. Wayne Josephson has used Austen’s characters and followed the plot faithfully. However, he completely rewrote 99% of the text in his own words. His choice of language is very simple and modern taking away the flavor of Austen’s beautiful prose. Even her famous quotes were axed, removing any grounding to the original text and absolutely all humor.
The vampires have been added for excitement and there were moments of surprise and occasional smiles. This dumbing down of the language and doping up with vampires could have worked beautifully if he had not taken the middle road and either made the story a fractured fairytale parodying Emma and vampires, or gone all out campy and outrageous presenting Emma a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even though this novel has been classified as adult fiction, I think that it appeals more to the young reader in middle school who will be glamoured into reading an Austen retelling by the mention of romance and vampires.
2 out of 5 Stars
Emma and the Vampires, by Wayne Josephson
Trade paperback (304) pages
Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks © 2010; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Austenprose.com