The zeitgeist is a peculiar thing. For decades – centuries, even – almost nobody makes a Pride and Prejudice update centered on same-sex romance. And then suddenly, in the spring of 2022, we get two at the same time.
Tomorrow, of course, Hulu is premiering the long-aborning Fire Island, a feature film that updates our familiar tale to a group of friends vacationing on New York’s eponymous gay mecca, under the wing of a lesbian matriarch played by Margaret Cho. Early reviews (for example, here, here, and here) have praised the movie as a delightful romcom that isn’t afraid to address race and class discrimination in the gay community. Although I wasn’t thrilled by the trailer, I’m determinedly looking forward to the movie: Optimism is a necessity in the Jane-Austen-adaptation-watching biz.
Meanwhile, just last week, Gimlet Media released (via Spotify) the first two installments of its ten-episode podcast “Gay Pride & Prejudice,” which updates our familiar tale to a group of friends living in Boston and spending time in the gay mecca of Provincetown, under the wing of a lesbian matriarch voiced by Rosie O’Donnell. I was mildly diverted by the initial outing, but not enough to drop everything and devour the next two episodes, which arrived yesterday. Time will tell.
These new offerings are not, to be precise, the very first queer twists on P&P. The Jane Austen FanFiction Index, which catalogues online JAFF, lists twenty-five titles in the category “Gay/Lesbian/Slash -- Pride and Prejudice.” Among the short stories featured in the traditionally published 2008 parody Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen is an erotic interlude involving Jane Bennet and the Bingley sisters. Ann Herendeen’s 2010 novel Pride/Prejudice: A Novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and Their Forbidden Lovers keeps the central pairing intact but gives each of the protagonists a same-sex partner as well. And the little-seen 2016 movie Before the Fall is a gay romance updated to rural Virginia.
Why didn’t Before the Fall get the traction of the current same-sex P&P updates? Quality may have something to do with it – Before the Fall’s few online reviews are mediocre – but maybe it just arrived a few years before the culture was ready for it. Blame the zeitgeist.