Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By: Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen, Philip Smiley
Publisher: Quirk Classics
Publication Date: May 1st, 2009
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read.
I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies some time ago, perhaps shortly after reading the original Pride and Prejudice, and my teenage self was delighted–it was exactly what I liked about the original, only with more zombies. Since the movie came out recently, I thought I’d go back and see if I still liked this kooky homage to an old classic. Turns out, I do.
The basic summary of PPZ is this: Pride and Prejudice, only wherever there are boring romance scenes full of talking and gossip, there are instead now ZOMBIE BATTLES. How, for instance, does the first ball end? Why, with zombies breaking in and devouring the staff, and Elizabeth and the Bennett sisters single-handedly fighting them off with the daggers hidden under their dresses. Why might the Army be in town? Because their solemn duty is to exterminate the undead. In a weird way, a lot of the explanations actually make more sense than the aristocratic etiquette displayed in the original.
It’s clear to me that the author of PPZ has really thought about what the world of Austen might be like if it had zombies in it. Specifically, he’s thought about how the characters might react to the world, and what their response might be. There’s a depth of character added, as well, in response to the depth of danger. A lot of Darcy’s reactions are more believable when it’s revealed that he thinks Jane’s earlier illness was part of the process of her becoming a zombie. Charlotte’s desperation in marriage is given an added poignancy by the revelation that she has been infected by the plague and only has a few months to live. And Elizabeth’s badassery is given more reason and explanation–she’s one of the best zombie fighters in Southern England, why on earth wouldn’t she be cocky?
The introduction of zombies also grants us a really tricky ethical situation, especially in the deeply moral, honor-bound world of the original Austen. In some ways, Elizabeth’s internal struggle is the division between the fearless defender of humanity that she should be, and the pesky emotions that she is trying to understand. Charlotte’s situation also presents something of a grim realization of Survival of the Fittest in this Austen-like world. Elizabeth and Darcy are strong, skilled fighters, therefore they thrive. Charlotte and Mr. Collins are weak, and so they are not allowed to thrive. There is no room for morality, and yet there has to be room for morality.
That being said, this deeper contemplation of humanity and of characterization is only possible because this is a riff off of Jane Austen. If you don’t know the original story of Elizabeth and Darcy, I’m not sure it would be possible to appreciate the altered world that Seth Grahame-Smith presents. Maybe where the movie producers went wrong is in ignoring the Austen story in favor of the period-dress Zombie Apocalypse story. Although I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m just spitballing here.
Also, although I’ve pointed out where the book went deeper than it could have, it is ultimately a silly, comedic Austen revision. I mean, goodness, anyone taking this book seriously needs to reread Darcy’s dialogue (protip: every other thing he says is an innuendo). There are times when things get overblown *cough Wickham cough* for comedic effect, although in many cases they could have delivered a more satirical blow by being more understated. The reason this book doesn’t quite measure up to Austen is mostly that it’s not meant to. It’s meant to be a silly, fun read, even though it delivers the promise of more and the opportunity for some thought–as shown by the book club questions in the back of the book.
The original Pride and Prejudice is, of course, a classic. In contrast, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a cult classic–goofy, silly, nerdy, beloved by the slightly strange, yet ultimately also an interesting adventure.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.