By Elena Cresci
Most of the English speaking world is familiar with the general plot of Pride and Prejudice, whether through various visual adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic text or as a textbook during school. Mr. Darcy has become synonymous with the man of your dreams, while Elizabeth Bennett is often heralded as the classic feisty and independent female protagonist. But what if you tweaked the setting and situations somewhat… say to an England overrun with the scourge of the undead, where the ladies of England keep one eye on potential husbands and another on zombies that need slaying? This unlikely mashup is exactly what writer Seth Grahame-Smith undertook, transforming Austen’s original text to a tale with its fair share of blood, guts and gore. It’s a horror update of one of the most famous classics, but does it work?
There’s an undeniable market in bookstores for zombie fiction, particularly with the popularity of Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, as well as the success the shambling, groaning undead have enjoyed on the big screen. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters from potential newlyweds to deadly zombie-slayers, intent on clearing the scourge from the English countryside. These are no ordinary young ladies; we learn in the course of the text that they boast considerable fighting ability, having been trained by the very best in Shaolin, making them quite the match for their male peers. Elizabeth is a particularly seasoned fighter, having struck down many an “unmentionable” with ease.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a lot of fun to read, especially if you’re somewhat of a zombie enthusiast, or someone who likes their classic literature with a little added spice. Purists should most definitely steer clear as they’re not going to enjoy the gory additions to Austen’s prose. In some respects, Grahame-Smith’s reworking adds an extra appreciation for Austen’s writing and characterisation; Elizabeth makes a very believable warrior, as a heroine not only capable of excellent wit but also particularly skilled with weapons and martial arts.
In most cases, Grahame-Smith’s changes flow seamlessly with Austen’s original text. He makes the most of the original text, retaining its pacing and characterisation. Exchanges between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth are still some of the highlights of the novel, with an added fight scene or two added to up the violence ante somewhat. Grahame-Smith comes up with some clever ways to alter the Austen original and twist the plot to accommodate its undead additions. Slaying zombies becomes a key factor in the judgement of status, while discussions regarding the “unladylike” wielding of a musket are just one of a few which take place in the characters’ discourses.
However, there are undeniably certain occasions where the changes don’t quite fit. It may sound like a tiny quibble, but I honestly felt Grahame-Smith should have left out any mention of the word ‘zombie’ altogether. The undead are called a number of euphemisms throughout the book, from “the sorry stricken” to “unmentionables”, yet the word zombie still makes its way in there, most notably in the opening sentence. Aside from feeling somewhat anachronistic, my gut feeling is the polite and proper society of Regency-era England would shy away from uttering the word “zombie” in company.
Further to this, at times talks of Japan and China don’t quite fit either. It’s hard to believe the girls would have travelled from the depths of undead England to the outer reaches of Japan to receive their training in martial arts. Yet this is a minor factor. After all, if such liberties are to be taken with Austen’s text, then surely it’s appropriate to take them a stretch further?
Unsurprisingly, there’s a film version on the horizon. What studio could resist a classic steeped in gore and zombies? Against the odds, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies works for a number of reasons; while being completely off the wall, the overall tone remains faithful to Austen’s writing, even if the content is completely different. Austen purists may feel like her work has been torn apart and defiled, but zombie fans are going to lap this one up. The verdict? Take it with a pinch of salt, have a bit of fun with your classic literature and bask in the brain-chomping glory of it all.
8 OUT OF 10