A review of John Kessel’s Pride and Prometheus (Saga, 2018).
By Derek Newman-Stille
John Kessel’s Pride and Prometheus is a tale of entwined loneliness – lives brought together through a sense of isolation and solitude who seek to understand what it means to be outsiders. Kessel’s work is a “mash up” story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the uniting of these narratives is effective because of the beauty of language Kessel is able to bring forth and because of the sense of longing that ties both stories together.
Pride and Prometheus focusses primarily on Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and both Victor Frankenstein and his creature from Frankenstein, and although these narratives seem at first glance to be disparate, Mary’s interest in moral education ties into the moral complexities involved in Victor’s encounters with his creature, desiring to morally educate the monster, but also to challenge Victor’s moral uncertainty and self-assuredness that allows him to feel as though he can be an arbiter of morality for himself and his creature.
The creature and Mary are both motivated by their lack and their belief that they need marriage in order to find happiness. The creature has asked Frankenstein to create a bride for him, and Mary feels a longing to be married so that she will not be trapped in the image of the “old maid”, considered too old for marriage by her contemporary society. It is her perception of herself as an old maid and the treatment of her by others as such that allows her to understand the essential isolation of Victor’s creation and the creature feels his own loneliness partially because of his alienation from a society that cannot accept him either.
There is an essential fatalism to Kessel’s narrative, partially shaped by his exploration of the existing texts of Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein, that drives the characters inexorably toward their end, allowing them to experience moral and emotional complexity and changing perspectives while ultimately driven toward a pre-defined end. Victor and his creature, in particular, are trapped in their conflict, unable to understand each other because they have already formed prejudgements of each other.
Kessel presents a complex and compelling story that brings out the uncertainty, love, and fear of isolation that motivate both Austen and Shelley’s texts