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Jane Austen and the zombies

Cover art for Grahame-Smith's Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies
Cover art for Grahame-Smith's Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies
Amazon Books

Does Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies offer anything more than Jane Austen's original novel interspliced with gruesome descriptions of walking corpses hungry for brains? The reinvention of plays, novels, short stories, and movies occurs frequently, so this latest foray into “rewriting” a classic novel seems to rely wholly on the recent public fascination with zombies. Introducing a supernatural creature seems, at first, to be a cheap ploy to gain attention and boost sales figures. However, Grahame-Smith does more than earn a few dollars with his inclusion of zombies; he adds a novel interpretation to Jane Austen’s tale. He keeps her words, keeps her basic meaning, keeps her larger plot line, but integrates new character traits along with the gory brain-eating scenes. Although credit should be given to Grahame-Smith, much praise should be reserved for zombies themselves. Zombies richly enhance Austen’s Pride and Prejudice because they add a compelling, apocalyptic theme.

Modern readers can be somewhat disconnected from Austen’s portrayal of the complex, deliberately slow relationship of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. When Grahame-Smith adds zombies to the mix, however, the Elizabeth-and-Darcy relationship becomes more interesting, more immediate, and more thrilling. Austen forces the reader to wait for a conclusion to the main love story, and artfully allows the reader to sense the growing passion and respect shared between Elizabeth and Darcy. However, the aristocratic lifestyle that Darcy emulates is difficult for the reader to connect with; in fact, even at the end of Austen's story, there was no compelling reason that Elizabeth and Darcy had to marry at that particular time.

Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies shows the reader how physically and emotionally tough both Elizabeth and Darcy are and offers a reason that Elizabeth and Darcy must marry now. Both have unique martial backgrounds, and both must use their martial arts to defeat zombies. Moreover, because they are so physically tough, their marriage makes sense—and makes them equals. Zombies signal the end of the world and few people remain to fight against this supernatural creature. Elizabeth and Darcy bond over their shared strength, and must marry because the end of the world looms close.

Zombies, or corpses infected with a desire to kill and eat humans, signal a peculiar understanding of the novel's interest in social etiquette. Although death is a clear threat from zombies, these supernatural creatures hold power over their audience because they demonstrate a total break from social norms. For all intents and purposes, a zombie, while inhabiting a (decaying) human body has lost all sense of order and propriety. A zombie could have been the nice old lady down the street or a murderer on death row, but, when turned zombie, the corpse becomes devoid of emotion, devoid of the past, devoid of humanity. Zombies strike fear into humans because we can see how slippery the slope of social norms might be; although flouting social norms is certainly a promising avenue for success, it can be dangerous as well. Zombies show the dangerous consequences of living a life free from the larger world. Austen's brilliant novel explored how we judge and categorize humans, but Grahame-Smith takes Austen's fascination with propriety one step further. By introducing the antithesis of social decorum, zombies, he shows a clear picture of why rules, order, and judgment are needed in the world. He does not, however, answer the question of how much personal freedom should be had. After all, zombies are better for bringing questions to the forefront than answering them.

Zombies offer more than a unique interpretation of Austen’s book or her characters. Zombies redefine the characters and lend credence to the complex relationship of Elizabeth-and-Darcy. Plus, heck, Charlotte as a zombie is pretty awesome. At least something explains why she made the dim-witted decision to marry Mr. Collins. Jane Austen would appreciate that.