My thoughts on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Persuasion, and Lost in Austen.
My thoughts on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Persuasion, and Lost in Austen.
“The business of Mr. Bennett’s life was to keep his daughters alive. The business of Mrs. Bennett’s was to get them married.”
“Mr. Collins, who apparently had no idea that his wife was three-quarters dead.”
“We are each commanded by His Majesty to defend Hertforshire from all enemies until such time as we are dead, rendered lame, or married.”
“The sisters Bennett [brides of death] were now, three of them, brides of man, their swords quieted by that only force more powerful than any warrior.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
“Everything’s better with zombies,” says my seventh grade student upon me describing this book sitting on my desk. While one cannot go that far with this clever reimaging of one of the greatest comic/dramatic works of the English language (and one of my all time personal favorite books), it certainly makes for a great read. And it is much more than just a hilarious gimmick. The point, sure, is to be funny while juxtaposing Regency comedy of manners with the grotesque violence of zombie attacks. But there is a nugget of truth for those so literarily inclined. There is the obvious satirical meaning behind the inclusion of brainless, devouring hordes of zombies in Jane Austen’s seemingly idyllic, pastoral romance. A meaning that Jane herself would wholly embrace. Elizabeth is a warrior, rejecting the rigors of the female’s place in society, rejecting the need for marriage in order to be protected from poverty (or zombies) in her world where women are given no power whatsoever. Marriage without love or respect, marriage as conforming to society, it is a fate worse than the death it seeks to escape; it is to be a zombie (as perfectly illustrated in Charlotte’s not unpredictable fate). Oh yes, it is a shorter leap than you would suppose between hunting zombies and hunting for a husband. Elizabeth’s evolution from warrior to wife is well done and fitting.
Perhaps more importantly and more successfully, P&P&Z is a satire on the recent slew of reworkings and revisitings of old, beloved classics (from ridiculous sequels to poor film adaptations, from painful companions to unnecessary from-the-perspective-of-another-characte
So, on two levels besides just being a funny gimmick, the book works. And, when the device gets boring, you can just sit back and revisit Jane’s original language and great story.
And come, on, how freaking sweet is it to see Elizabeth and Darcy (and, later, Elizabeth and Lady Catherine) to have a good old ass kicking while battling with Jane’s extraordinary wit?
Oh, I’m sure Jane is laughing along with all of us. She was, after all, a zombie slayer herself.
“One half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was.”
“Songs and proverbs all talk of woman’s fickleness. But, perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.” “Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no references to examples in books. Man have had every advantage of us in telling their own story… the pen has been in their hands.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.”
Persuasion by Jane Austen
It being my 27th year of spinsterhood (the same age of our heroine Anne Elliot), and being Austen-inclined, I picked up (and consequently couldn’t put down) my beloved, aged Complete Works of Jane Austen in order to reread Persuasion, a close third favorite (only just after her masterpiece P&P and the profound S&S). Oh, Jane, how I love you, my most favorite author. So funny; I was cackling with laughter at your comedic timing, your witty and ironic eye, and your amazing attention to detail in human psychology, character, and behavior. Not just moved to laughter, but even to tears (Captain Wentworth’s final love letter still gives me collywobbles). Falling into Jane’s books is like falling into a vat literary chocolate. Oh, yes, there is the beautiful love story (one of her absolute best, by far her most mature, perhaps her most moving and emotional) between the broken-hearted and angry Captain Wentworth and the spinster, past-her-prime Anne Elliot, torn asunder years before because she was persuaded that he was unworthy of her, now reunited, yet distant. (How Jane so perfectly and honestly describes the pining, unrequited heart!) But—as with all of Jane’s works—the love story is really only a vehicle for her greater messages and observations about society, reality, human psychology—messages that are still profoundly pertinent. It’s not only that her characters and situations could be walking around onto on our concrete streets. It’s that Jane knew humanity down to its core two hundred years ago. When her incredibly real and troubled characters find romance, it is a meeting of internal discovery. Persuasion, needless to say, is about the necessity of finding the balance between yielding to outside forces (i.e. advice) and staying true to your own desires and conscience. What human being hadn’t had to contend with that? This book is perfection itself. Still powerful, meaningful, humorous, moving, and utterly delightful. Grade: A+
Lost in Austen
As a deep lover of Jane Austen who has long ago exhausted her works, and with no hope of sequels or new releases (as she has been mouldering in her grave for two hundred years), I, like many of her--for the lack of a better word--fans, have sought out and suffered through various novels attempting to recapture Jane's magic. From horrible time-traveling losers (By a Lady) to idiotic lost diaries (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen) to painfully horrible retellings (Darcy's Diary) to the eye-candy appealing yet irritatingly disappointing biopics (Becoming Jane), I have suffered through so much that I am loathe to try any more elaborate "Jane Austen fanfic".
Where to begin on where these wretched, festering turds of garbage get it wrong? That they lack the sparkle, wit, irony, charm of Jane Austen? That they reguritate Jane's stories--reducing them to treacley, flat trash romances--without adding anything new, clever, or refreshing except to make you wish that, instead, you were simply rereading one of her novels? That I would rather get a rusty nail lodged in my heel than read these things?
Oh, Jane, as much as I hope that you know how much you are loved, I hope that somewhere, you are writing satires of these piles of literary manure so that in some bibliophilic-karmaic afterlife I will be rewarded by reading them.
Needless to say, I approached Lost in Austen (an ITV--that's British--miniseries) with some trepedation.
I'm not going to say that it was genius unparalleled. But compared to those torturously disappointing and irritating literary guano, this was certainly a diamond in the rough.
It succeeds for a few reasons. First and foremost because it knows exactly what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything different. It knows that it is wank, wish-fullfillment for Austenites (particularly for those that want to snog Mr. Darcy). It knows that it is messing with Austen at the same time that it writes her a love letter. It knows that it is silly and stupid. And it is all the better for that knowledge. Heck, it's actually laugh-out-loud funny.
Second, the main character and the plot are (for the most part) right on. How cool is it to see a chick with a modern haircut running around in Gregorian wardrobe? Amanda Price is a modern woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. She isn't a literary scholar. She isn't a time-traveling escapist looking for love. She simply loves her favorite novel and, when she finds herself inside it, isn't excatly pleased with it or herself. Her favorite characters (for the most part) act as they do in the novel, and she is disgusted with them. She presses her modern sensibilities (particularly of emotional expression and a rejection of classism) onto the characters (which is much more intersting that the fact that she now has to brush her teeth with chalk, and moments like the latter are thankfully kept to a minimum). She behaves like a fangirl and is ashamed of her behavior. But she (and we) can't exactly help herself.
Actually, more interesting, is Amanda's deep desire not to mess with the plot of P+P. What lover of the novel would really take Darcy from Elizabeth? And yet, in an oh so refreshing twist, the plot unravels (Jane marries Mr. Collins! Cripes!). Sure, I could grumble about certain things (like Wickham not being so bad after all), but it the "alternative P+P was so refreshing, so interesting, who cares? After other authors and films simply regurgitating Austen's plots over and over again, this was like a breath of cool ocean air from Lyme.
Although predictable, the ending/message of the film was thought-provoking. Modern women (i.e. Amanda) adore Jane's world of romance and drama and courtship. In our crazy, unromantic world, it seems wonderful and delicious. But Jane and her contemporary women (as portrayed by Elizabeth who runs off into 21st century England) would have loved the freedom and power enjoyed by modern women, the ability to think about and do more than chase men around and pray for a good marriage. Let's all hope that some day a middle ground might be obtained. In fact, I think Amanda obtains it.
And, of course, there's that nugget that pervades the entire film:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen rocks.
She knew all those universal truths about the human character. Then as now, she knew it. And she wrote it all with great style and flare and comedy and drama. She's just as powerful now as she was then. Give the woman the respect she deserves..