The Sincerest Form of Lawsuit Bait ...
The Sincerest Form of Lawsuit Bait
By CHARLES McGRATH
Published: August 15, 2009
Jane Austen lived a sheltered, reclusive life, and when she died her family burned many of her papers. So we know next to nothing about her. From “Northanger Abbey” we can guess that she enjoyed tales of Gothic romance, but nowhere in her work is there a clue to her feelings about zombies.
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Something similar happened with “Lo’s Diary,” by Pia Pera, which retells Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” from Lo’s point of view and argues, incidentally, that Humbert did not kill Quilty. Dmitri Nabokov, the author’s son and a zealous protector of his father’s legacy, initially objected but then came around for a percentage of the royalties, which he donated to PEN, the writers’ group.
Ms. Pera’s book is not nearly as good as Ms. Randall’s, but like hers, it really did have a claim to being transformative. It was an implicit critique of Nabokov’s book that allowed us to see it in a different light. There are a number of prequels and sequels that do this — that genuinely enhance our appreciation of the original text. The most brilliant of all may be Jean Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea,” which retells the story of “Jane Eyre” from the point of view of the first Mrs. Rochester, the madwoman in the attic. It helped give rise to new, feminist readings of a lot of Victorian fiction.
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