It’s a truth universally accepted that the world has a peculiar preoccupation with zombies. It’s also a truth accepted that all American high school students suffer through at least one Jane Austen novel, in their tenure through the required education. Much like we all read The Old Man And the Sea and upwards of three different books by Charles Dickens, we’ve all read Jane Austen, one of the Brontë sisters (Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, decisions, decisions), and so much Shakespeare, we’re sick of ye olde bastard until we punch the air watching Doctor Who years later.
My beloved high school English teachers may tell you that once in a while comes a child who falls in love with a book. They understand the story, they understand the plot, and they simply devour every page. For me, that book was Moby Dick. I loved it. I still own a copy and re-read it from time to time. And my love for such a wandering, digressionary tale came a surprise to my teachers, especially after my virulent dislike for a similarly renown to be off-topic author.
I’ll put it baldly. As a student, I hated the Romantics, and to a degree, I still do. I can’t stand their self-involved sophomoric ineptitude. The ‘woe is me!’ attitude makes me roll my eyes, much as I do their heirs: emo brats. And yet I love Moby Dick, which is highly regarded as one of the epitomes of American Romantic literature. How can I reconcile my love/hate with a branch of literature? I’ve determined I hate Romantic love.
Looking back on the books I enjoyed and the ones I dreaded, the ones surrounding love and marriage were the ones I wanted to rip apart. Frankenstein, when re-read five years ago, was delightfully funny and sophomoric, but then again, Mary Shelly was 18 when she wrote it! My 18 year-old work suffers similarly, so I give her much more leeway now than I did when I was a snobby 19 year-old. But Dracula, with its convoluted love story, was far more frustrating then, and now. The only enjoyment I get from Bram Stoker’s work is seeing how far horror has come.
Which brings me back to a dreaded author: Jane Austen.
I made the mistake of reading Emma on my own over the summer, and was magically unaware that it was a comedy. In fact, up until a year ago, no one properly explained that Jane Austen was making a farce of her own time. My partner’s friend Meg, in order to get me to agree to watch the Colin Firth version of the miniseries, used that as her selling point. It’s supposed to be funny. So I agreed to watch it and was, much to my own surprise, entertained. The actors helped, I admit, but going in with the understanding that this was a farce was what won me over. I was never going to be an Austen Lover, but I certainly found the story much more palatable. I did not pick the books back up, however, because frankly I enjoyed Alexander Dumas much more.
Still, Passover was approaching and I knew I needed a book to push me through the two days. After seeing the novel at my friend’s house, I picked up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from the library, wondering how a parody of a farce would play out. And again, I was pleasantly surprised.
Instead of just making the story all about zombies, or turning everything into a post-modern monologue on the death of romance, the book takes the normal plot (boy meets girl, both are idiots, people fall in and out of love, finally everyone gets a happy ending), and tosses in a mysterious plague. Suddenly the Bennet girls are Chinese trained martial arts masters, which serves to explains Elizabeth’s attitude and snobbery. Lydia, the youngest who runs off with Mr. Wickham, is written nearly the same, in fact her dialogue is hardly changed at all, which serves as a hilarious counterpoint to her sisters’ discourse of zombies.
Plot points that confused me in the original are trimmed down considerably and given the added ninja here and there. Mr. Darcy’s reason for not wanting Mr. Bingly to pursue Jane? He thought her illness to be a symptom of incipient zombificiation. Why did Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte, marry the idiotic and odious Mr. Collins? She was a zombie! Genius!
Certain points hang in confusion, of course. Mr. Darcy savagely beats Mr. Wickham, crippling him for life, and to no deep purpose save his own pride. Mr. Bennet’s various affairs while in China (helping his daughters train) is a dangling plot-thread, and there’s never an explanation as to how this 55 year old plague actually began (n.b. I suppose the answer to that lies in the prequel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies : Dawn of the Dreadfuls).
Do I recommend these books to the discerning Austen fan and devotee of Romantic Literature? No. Not in the least. But if you have a sense of humor and want to picture Colin Firth running about with a katana, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh having an all out Xena-esque battle with Elizabeth, well then, pick up the book. Or wait for the movie, with Natalie Portman as Elizabeth.
Oh yes. I’ll be watching that one.