Jane Austen and the Supernatural Sensibility

It is with great pleasure that we introduce Vera Nazarian who shares with us how she brings out the darkness in the world of Jane Austen.


To say that Jane Austen has changed my life is a bit like saying that oxygen has changed my life. Under normal circumstances I don’t pay much attention to it, but without it in the room, I would quickly collapse and then painfully expire. I am not sure which of Austen’s novels is my favorite – that changes with the seasons, the weather and every breeze, since there is so much to love in each one. 

Jane Austen’s influence is the all-permeating air of gentle living, loving, an otherworld of bygone nostalgic warmth of historical relationships between men and women, siblings, parents and children, the depths of family intricacy — all frozen in a matte filtered glow, viewed through a soft veneer of warm light, set in a glass bowl containing an entire era — minus all the darkness and grime of poverty, squalor, death, wars, dramatic intensity, and plain incivility. 

Just as air is in itself not particularly distinctive, standoffish, shocking, piercing, or overwhelming, Jane Austen does not invoke angst or extreme feelings, does not throw the mind into an unbalanced tumult of frightful depths in which you can drown among the leviathans… 

There is in fact no darkness in Jane Austen at all.

Or is there? 

Think about it. There can be no wit, no profound psychological analysis, no clever insight, without a full-blown range of experience, dark and light. 

You need a complete range of contrast to create the necessary juxtaposition to perceive one or the other. You cannot see shadows without illumination.  And you cannot have air without the eternal possibility of a vacuum. 

I think that in real life Jane Austen was a very sharp, even prickly, critical, astute, and knowing woman. But her personal darkness and “edge” was always balanced by optimism, a sensible outlook on life, and ultimately a good heart. But, the hint of darkness is always there, just beyond the smooth, polite, oh-so-genteel edges of things… 

And maybe that’s why it is so much fun to imagine Jane Austen’s worlds filled with the impossible, the creepy, the dark… and also the wondrous, numinous, and the fantastic.  It’s as if they are itching to come out and play! 

All the supernatural things that have been hiding behind the scenes are there, like tiny fairies hidden in crevices, ready to pop out at a moment’s notice and create some mayhem — exactly the kind of mayhem that I firmly believe Jane herself would heartily approve. 

Jane Austen and the Supernatural SensibilityI admit I started writing Mansfield Park and Mummies, the first book of my Supernatural Jane Austen Series, in response to the popular craze initiated by That Infernal Book — ahem, no, not Twilight! — I mean, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  It’s the mash-up that started the no-longer-so-recent literary practice of combining classics with horror or other supernatural elements for shock (and awe) value. 

Well, I thought, as a lover of Jane Austen, I could do it in a far more respectful manner, better integrating the period style with the magical fun stuff… and I think I’ve succeeded.  When I introduced an infestation of mummies into Mansfield Park, I relied on the current historical Egyptology craze that fit in very well with the Regency.  And the addition of my original character, the sexy Lord Eastwind, a magnetic, elegant, dark and mysterious gentleman who is also an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh in disguise, to be the rival of both Edmund Bertram and Henry Crawford for the affections of Fanny Price — well, this definitely upped the emotional ante and heightened the romantic elements. And when I say romantic, I mean it in both the amorous and Gothic sense. 

After completing Mummies, and discovering how much fun I had writing it (cackling with laughter at the Abbott and Costello-worthy mayhem, and holding my breath during the romantic scenes), I decided that I was in love with this sub-genre.  And, as someone with a background in period literature, a tendency to employ ornate period mannerisms in my own writing, and an arsenal of languages (I am a native speaker of Russian and Armenian, fluent in Spanish, and have studied Mandarin Chinese and German) I was almost in a unique position to do this Austenesque period fantasy style particular justice. 

And so the decision came easy to rewrite all the novels of Jane Austen and combine them with humor, satire, and the riches only to be found in the supernatural — not necessarily horror but fantasy and wonder. I created my own special fantasy milieu, in which love and laughter and romance is married to shapeshifters, mummies, angels, ancient gods, ghosts, vampires, werevolves, nephilim, ogres, trolls, fairies, demons, and otherworldly wonder.  In addition, some recurring characters pop up across books — such as the infamous monstrosity, the Brighton Duck! — and thus, the Supernatural Jane Austen Series was born. 

Jane Austen and the Supernatural Sensibility 2Book two, Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, was my satire of a work that was already a satire, and a gentle poke at Dan Brown’s religious thriller oeuvre. My version of Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland can see angels and other supernatural creatures — demons, dragons, ghosts, nephilim, and you can imagine the amazing mayhem that ensues as a result when this sensitive girl is placed in the already gothic terror-inspiring abbey, with its dark master and his handsome alluring son… filled with Symbols and Omens, and cryptic Code and pointing statues, and nightmares to be discovered, including a great dragon that is rumored to have hidden a treasure hoard somewhere… including the town of Bath! 

Book three, coming very soon, is Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret. This is where I take on the world of shapeshifters and possibly the world’s favorite novel in one.  When the moon is full over Regency England, the gentlemen are all subject to its wicked curse, they shift into various demonic creatures, and the ladies are entrusted to contain them for the night.  Mr. Darcy however harbors an even darker secret than most… 

The rest of the titles including Pagan Persuasion: All Olympus Descends on Regency, Emma Enchanted, Sense and Sanguine Sensibility, and Lady Susan, Succubus, are all coming in 2012 and onward. 

Be sure to visit the official Supernatural Jane Austen Series website for more information on each, and many fun unimaginables and extras. 

Gentle Reader, please note that the books are all illustrated by Yours Truly (I’m an award winning artist) and come with Scholarly (ok, not so much, but idiotic, hilarious, inane, and bumbling) Footnotes and Appendices, and amazing authorial “praise” and blurbs from actual Regency Ladies and Gentlemen of the period on the back cover (this must be seen to be believed)!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you visit my imaginary worlds of Austen, colored in a wide range of the fantastic, from pitch dark to bright light.

And my profound (indeed, deep, dark, and dramatic) thanks to DarkJaneAusten for inviting me to be a guest blogger here today.

*Book covers provided by Vera Nazarian.

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