Some readings of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

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pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies

As the title rather suggests, this book consists of a good part of the text of  ‘Pride and Prejudice’ interspersed with scenes where zombies appear and in general make an ineffective nuisance of themselves before being speedily vanquished, especially by Elizabeth Bennet.

My first reading was of the extract available on Amazon, and I thought the straight-faced collision of such disparate worlds was hilarious.  Then I got the book itself, and inwardly rather daunted by the thought of 300 pages and one joke, I found it no more than mildly amusing.  That was unfair of course–there is a second joke in the form of the “Reader’s Discussion Guide” at the end, which is a very funny parody of the kind of self-regarding bollocks you find at the end of book club editions.

Question 6 asks:  Some critics have suggested that the zombies represent the  authors’ views toward marriage–an endless curse that sucks the life out of you and just won’t die.  Do you agree, or do you have another opinion about the symbolism of the unmentionables?

Well, let’s have a think about whether there is any connection between the zombies and the world of Jane Austen (which is kind of Question 10 of the “Reader’s Guide”).

As they suggest, zombification is represented as Charlotte Lewis becoming a drivelling idiot upon her marriage to Mr Collins, so maybe it does represent the effect of marriage and children upon a woman.

Jane Austen heroines had their own warrior code with its strict rules and cruel punishments as they sought a husband without breaking down and weeping at the unfairness of it all, so when five of them appeared at a ball it would have had something of the effect of a Pentagram of Death.

Pedantic critics have often pointed out that Jane Austen never mentions slavery and the Caribbean sugar plantations upon which the wealth of her characters depended.  A belief in zombies originated among the slaves on these plantations, as representing the horror of being forced to go on working even after death.

My third reading involved comparing PPZ with PP, to see exactly what Seth Grahame-Smith had done.  And after that I was rather more impressed.

The changes seem to me to come down to the following:

i)  changing something that is not about zombies to something that is;

ii)  opening a hole in PPZ  and inserting a zombie passage there;

iii)  adding in violence, Oriental martial arts and vomit similarly to (i) and (ii) above for zombies;

iv)  removing entirely some complicated stuff about perceptions and nuances;

v)    replacing the abstract by the concrete, even when there is no real change in meaning;

vi)   making some very minor changes in the plot (since Mr Collins has hung himself, he can’t write to Mr Bennet, so a Colonel Fitzwilliam needs to be introduced).

And of these, the least is…zombies, since they really don’t feature in the development of the human situations.  As well as the girls’ warrior code as husband-hunters, the conflict between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh becomes combat by the rules of Oriental martial arts, and that’s perfectly reasonable (also funny).  Similarly the violence makes explicit what is hinted at in PP, as when Darcy threatens to cut out Miss Bingley’s tongue with a sabre, or Elizabeth daydreams she has cut off Kitty’s head.

And again the violence is simply funny, as in the brilliant Chapter 51, where Wickham arrives after a punishment beating by Darcy:  Leather straps kept him fastened to his traveling bed, which was redolent of stale piss; and Elizabeth, who had been expecting as much, was nevertheless shocked at the severity of his injuries.

In Chapter 43, both versions make rather a good joke in their different ways:

The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shewn. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.

as opposed to

The battle-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good zombie heads and suits of Samurai armor; but Elizabeth cared little for such trophies, and turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s, in crayons, whose subjects were almost exclusively the male nude form.

(not only a change in content, but also syntactic simplification and concrete-for-abstract!)

A final thought: if you apply syntactic simplification and concrete-for-abstract to X to produce an English novel, then what is X?  It looks as though Miss Austen was engaged in writing French novels in English, an observation that might have surprised her more than somewhat.

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