Today’s WrAnyMo offering (if you haven’t read my post on WrAnyMo, it is here) is my take on the much talked of– on this blog anyway– Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Some spoilers to follow. I tried to keep them as few and mild as possible; nonetheless, you are warned.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: the Classic Regency Romance, Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem
by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.
Philadelphia: Quirk Books, c2009.
319 p. : ill. ; 21 cm. $12.95
Link to Publisher.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the first of the Quirk Classics series of classic novel-monster crossovers (others include Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters (link) and the forthcoming prequel to PP&Z, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith (link). A New York Times bestseller, Austen purists might very well hate this novel but, after sticking it in my mind that this is schlocky zombie fun, I found it to be an entertaining read. Instead of having the backdrop of the Napoleonic War for Austen’s classic, we are treated to an alternate reality in which the Kingdom has been over run by “unmentionables,” that is, undead zombies. While class lines remain firmly in place (perhaps necessarily so, for this story), a zombie apocalypse is all it takes to dismantle some gender inequities of the time period. In this novel, Regency Era women may be combat trained in far-away countries and travel about the countryside unescorted in order to dispatch hordes of dreadfuls. These women are called “brides of death” and have pledged to serve king and country until every last zombie is beheaded and burned. The Bennet sisters have taken on this mantle.
Obviously, in order to introduce zombies into Austen’s classic, Grahame-Smith had to take some liberties with text. The changes that are made to the circumstances of specific characters are made in good zombie fanfic fun and Grahame-Smith’s alterations serve to magnify cardinal traits of Austen’s characters: Lady Catherine De Bourgh is more formidable, Charlotte Lucas is even more lifeless and Mr. Collins is even more odious and tiresome. These changes in characters are based in changes in the circumstantial differences of the characters: Lady Catherine is the most formidable zombie slayer in all of England. Charlotte Lucas, shortly before her engagement to Mr. Collins, succumbs to the zombie plague and undergoes a horrifyingly slow and gruesome transformation. Mr. Collins is rendered more insufferable and idiotic by his complete obliviousness to his wife’s evident decline.
In spite of the plentiful zombie action, each member of the Bennet family still retains his or her cardinal traits. There is still much fuss about Mrs. Bennet and her nerves and Mr. Bennet still spends much of the book hiding in his library. The deviation in Mr. Bennet’s character is his care and concern for his girls training in light of the zombie inconvenience. We learn that Mr. Bennet bundled up his girls at a young age and traveled with them to China, where they were trained in deadly martial arts by a Shaolin master. Elizabeth’s sisters don’t seem much changed for their training: Jane is still beautiful, naive, and impossibly good, Mary is still tiresomely preachy and dull, and Catherine and Lydia are as useless and stupid as ever. Except for the fact that they slay zombies and, in their free time, wrestle bucks to the ground with their bare hands, the characterization of Elizabeth’s sisters remains fairly true to Austen. By far the most dramatic departure is seen in Elizabeth Bennet’s character.
Elizabeth, among all of the Bennet girls, takes her training the most seriously and has assumed her role as the “bride of death” and the slayer of zombies with considerable gusto. Her actions are savage– and not just toward brain-eating zombies. When she is insulted by Darcy, she is consumed by graphic thoughts of violence. Honor and revenge are reoccurring themes, which is a marked difference from the sensible, far more level-headed Lizzy we are used to. Elizabeth’s temperament is quite volatile in this adaptation; Lizzy has a lucid day dream in which she beheads Lydia in order to silence her harmless prattle during a long carriage ride. In her fighting matches at Lady De Bourgh’s, she is absolutely ruthless and without mercy. After killing each of Lady Catherine’s ninjas, Elizabeth tears out heart out of her final opponent’s chest and eats it. I was all for the campy zombie fanfiction until reading this scene because it was so over the top and outside of the realm of who Austen’s character is. Chopping up the undead is one thing but murdering people is quite another. This is indeed, a very dark Elizabeth Bennet.
It is this darkness that attracts Darcy’s attention. An experienced zombie slayer himself, Darcy is sick of all of the pretentious, useless Caroline Bingleys of society. Travel has made Elizabeth more worldly. She has experienced foreign cultures and trained in a martial art alongside of men. She is more crass (balls jokes abound, as do references to those ‘most English parts’). In Austen’s original, Lizzy was set off by her good sense and her keen mind– both of which earn Darcy’s admiration. In this novel, Darcy’s attraction seems to be limited to an admiration for Elizabeth’s crazy zombie-slaying skills and, I suppose her mind, to some degree. In this world, it works though. Darcy wants a wife who is his equal and, in both Austen’s and Grahame-Smith’s versions, this is the story of how he finds his partner.
Overall, the story was enjoyable. There was certainly a sense of, “what is the author going to do with THIS character?” throughout. I was, however, disappointed that the writing style did not even come close to matching Austen’s prose. In fact, Grahame-Smith didn’t even seem to make the attempt to mimic the narrative style of Austen or, more broadly, of that time period. I count this as a blessing. Reading a mimicry of Austen’s style by an author who does not have the skill would have been unbearable.
Finally, if I might inject some hyper-feminism into this brief review, I have to admit that the final line of the novel made me uneasy: “And the sisters Bennet– servants of His Majesty, protectors of Hertfordshire, beholders of the secrets of Shaolin, and brides of death– were now, three of them, brides of man, their swords quieted by that only force more powerful than any warrior.” Presumably, this force is intended to be love but it might as well be hundreds of years of male patriarchal suppression of female independence. So Elizabeth cannot pursue zombie slaying AND be a wife? True, Elizabeth does take on Georgiana’s training and Darcy is quite pleased with the arrangement but even this might be likened to a Lady of the house taking a personal interest in a child’s education– a traditional woman’s role. In the world of this book, women may either be zombie slayers (there are still no women doctors, lawyers, or academics in the world of this book) or they can be wives. In post-apocalyptic zombie Regency era England, a woman’s duty is still first to her husband.
Lizzy’s sudden change in attitude after she is married is a bit difficult to accept. After years of running around, doing whatever she likes, Lizzy is now supposed to sit quietly in Darcy’s big house and do needlepoint all day? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the experience of loving Darcy changes our savage, zombie-slaying Lizzy. Before Darcy, I’m sure zombie slaying was a supremely better alternative to being barted– er, married– off to someone like Mr. Collins or becoming the old village spinster. As a “bride of death,” Lizzy had a vocation (which, as we are shown a number of times throughout the book, she ENJOYS) and her life had purpose but her life was becoming increasingly empty. She tolerated her parents and sisters and, while loyal to her family, she wasn’t close to them, except for her dearest Jane– and Jane now has Bingley. Perhaps even zombie slaying wasn’t enough anymore and being married– and being marrried for love– was the best course for Elizabeth.