Definition of Pastiche

A pastiche is any work of art that imitates the style of another artist or artists. Pastiches are not meant to ridicule the original style in the way that a parody does; instead, a pastiche respects the original style and often pays some homage to it. In literature, a pastiche usually is a light-hearted imitation that is jocular while celebrating the original. Therefore, a pastiche is always an example of intertextuality, because the text cannot occur without the original that is being imitated. Some examples of pastiche do not rely on only one source, but instead mimic many different sources in the same work of literature.

The word pastiche comes first from the Italian word pasticcio, which later became pastiche in French, and refers to a pie or pâté with a mix of diverse ingredients. The definition of pastiche took on a figurative meaning when it began to refer to works created by more than one artist, or works that incorporate styles from more than just the primary author.

Common Examples of Pastiche

One very common form of pastiche in the modern internet age is the rise of fan fiction, also named as fan fic, fanfic, or fic. Fan fiction is a piece of writing that is based off a work of literature or characters or settings therein, and is written by a fan of that work rather than the author him- or herself. Examples of fan fiction abound for famous series such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Twilight, The Lord of the Rings, and so on. Fans enjoy imagining the characters they already love in new situations.

There are also many examples of pastiche in other forms of art, such as film and music. Here are some famous pastiche examples:

  • Quentin Tarantino’s films for which, he has admitted, he “steals from everyone.”
  • Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • The Beatles’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun”

Significance of Pastiche in Literature

Though pastiche is generally written as a form of praise for the original work it’s imitating, very rarely does a pastiche itself become famous. This is probably because, while enjoyable, pastiche examples are usually considered derivative. The author of a pastiche cannot take any credit for creating a beloved character or unique setting. One very notable and best-selling exception to this is E. L. James’s books in the Fifty Shades of Grey series, which were originally fan fiction written from the characters Bella and Edward in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. However, most other pastiche examples in literature are not meant to garner attention. Instead, they pay tribute to the original and, at times, extend a series when an author has died. This is the case with Sherlock Holmes books, which are still being produced even though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is of course not around to write them.

Examples of Pastiche in Literature

The following examples contain a juxtaposition of a work of literature and a second text that uses the first as a template from which to create a pastiche.

Example #1

Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him from his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, trip home to the wintry, misanthropic woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder-cloven old oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts, to welcome such glad-hearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to the playful allurings of that girlish air. More than once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile.

(Moby-Dick by Herman Melville)

Thursday, 7th November

Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints. Through rotting kelp, sea cocoanuts & bamboo, the tracks led me to their maker, a white man, his trowzers & Pea-jacket rolled up, sporting a kempt beard & an outsized Beaver, shovelling & sifting the cindery sand with a tea-spoon so intently that he noticed me only after I had hailed him from ten yards away. Thus it was, I made the acquaintance of Dr Henry Goose, surgeon to the London nobility. His nationality was no surprise. If there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote that one may there resort unchallenged by an Englishman, ’tis not down on any map I ever saw.

(Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell)

David Mitchell has acknowledged the many sources he referenced in the creation of his novel Cloud Atlas. The entire book is a set of narratives, each of which is written in a different style (to wit: Period Drama, Genteel Interbellum Setting Satire, Mystery Fiction, Kafka Komedy, Cyberpunk Space Opera Dystopia, and Science Fantasy Adventure.) In regards to the first section of the book, Mitchell is quoted as saying, “For mid-19th-century language I ransacked Herman Melville, in particular Moby-Dick.” Though the two paragraphs excerpted above are not identical by any means, the reader can see how Mitchell used Melville’s writing as a jumping-off point.

Example #2

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”

(Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.

“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is occupied again?”

(Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith)

Seth Grahame-Smith’s contemporary pastiche Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a more obvious copy of Jane Austen’s novel, from the title to the exact language. The joke, of course, is the contrast between the upright society and strict rules from Austen’s novel and the presence of zombies.

Example #3

…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I though well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

(Ulysses by James Joyce)

…he said it’ll be wonderful you’ll see perhaps it will I said perhaps it will be wonderful perhaps even though it won’t be like you think perhaps that won’t matter perhaps.

(The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge)

David Lodge’s post-modern novel The British Museum is Falling Down owes its style to many different writers, including Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce. The end of James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses contains a famous soliloquy by the character Molly Bloom. David Lodge imitates her language with a similar quote from the wife in his novel, Barbara Appleby.

Test Your Knowledge of Pastiche

1. Which of the following statements is the best pastiche definition?
A. A work of literature meant to mock another writer’s style.
B. A text that is written in respectful imitation of a different work, or written as a combination of many former styles.
C. A derivative narrative that is written by a fan and can never be as good as the original.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #1″]
Answer: B is the correct answer. A is the definition of parody. While C might be true of some examples of pastiche, it is not an appropriate definition for the device.[/spoiler]

2. Which of the following statements is true?
A. In an example of pastiche, only one style can be imitated.
B. Pastiche is never meant to be serious literature, and is always a joke.
C. Pastiche is always an example of intertextuality.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #2″]
Answer: C is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

3. Consider the following quote from Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James:

Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Perhaps I’ve spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high.

What does this quote have to do with pastiche?
A. This is a sort of meta-commentary on the process of fan fiction and pastiche, and hints at the fact that James based her own books on previous literary heroes.
B. James is acknowledging that her own books can never be as good as what they’re based on.
C. E. L. James is admitting that the protagonist, Anastasia, is actually based on herself.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″]
Answer: A is the correct answer.[/spoiler]