In my experience, non-Janeites are blissfully unaware of the vast universe of Austen fanfic in all its magnificent, explicit, pansexual variety. How else to explain the slightly breathless anxiety with which writer-director Byrum Geisler is ushering his film Before the Fall onto streaming video?
See, Before the Fall – apparently no relation to the bestselling book by Noah Hawley, soon to be a major motion picture – is a gay-themed update of Pride and Prejudice! The Darcy and Elizabeth characters are both men! Aren’t you shocked? Aren’t you? Aren’t you?
Gay versions of Austen’s stories date back at least to 2010, when Ann Herendeen published the odd but interesting Pride/Prejudice: A Novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and Their Other Loves, which matches Darcy with Bingley and Elizabeth with Charlotte.
Nine years earlier, Arielle Eckstut and Dennis Ashton, the authors of the hilarious Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen, penned a vignette in which the Bingley sisters welcome Jane Bennet to Netherfield in a most surprising fashion – although, admittedly, that one was parody.
And I’m sure that denizens of the online fanfic boards could cite many more unpublished examples of Austen slash fiction. So Geisler’s film – which can be rented for $4.99 through iTunes or Amazon – is hardly the incredible! pioneering! risk! that he seems to think it is.
In a two-minute featurette, viewable at the Huffington Post, Geisler notes the “timeless quality” of Austen’s stories. “Jane Austen just had to have been brilliant,” he opines. Well, yes.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s clear from the plot description that Geisler takes at least one other liberty with the original: not only is his Elizabeth now a man, but Geisler seems to have reversed the relative social standings of his protagonists. Ben Bennet is a wealthy Virginia lawyer, while Lee Darcy is a brooding factory worker. (Based on the trailer, however, I can attest that Darcy is, as he should be, very easy on the eyes.)
“I’m hoping Jane Austen’s fans will see [the film] as a tribute to her and not misusing the source material,” Geisler concludes, a tad anxiously.
Oh, honey. Not to worry. You have no idea what we’ve seen.