Wednesday, June 10, 2009


(Should you be one of those poor souls who has not read Austen's major novels, beware spoilers below.)

When I first heard about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was immensely excited, not least because of passages like these:

"Lovely & too charming Fair one, notwithstanding your forbidding Squint, your greazy tresses & your swelling Back, which are more frightfull than imagination can paint or pen describe, I cannot refrain from expressing my raptures, at the engaging Qualities of your Mind, which so amply atone for the Horror with which your first appearance must ever inspire the unwary visitor." -- Frederic and Elfrida

"With a heart elated by the expected happiness of beholding him, I entered [the forest], & had proceeded thus far in my progress thro' it, when I found myself suddenly seized by the leg & on examining the cause of it, found that I was caught in one of the steel traps so common in gentlemen's grounds. . . . I screamed, as you may easily imagine, till the woods resounded again & till one of the inhuman Wretch's servants came to my assistance & released me from my dreadfull prison, but not before one of my legs was entirely broken."
At this melancholy recital . . . Alice could not help exclaiming, "Oh! cruel Charles, to wound the hearts & legs of all the fair." -- Jack and Alice

"MADAM: An humble Admirer now addresses you -- I saw you, lovely Fair one, as you passed on Monday last, before our House in your way to Bath. I saw you thro' a telescope, & was so struck by your Charms that from that time to this I have not tasted human food." -- Amelia Webster
As you may have guessed, these are excerpts not of P&P&Z itself, but of Jane Austen's own juvenilia, drawn from the splendid e-texts here. And they perfectly demonstrate why I think Ms. Austen might have enjoyed the concept of P&P&Z: She knew that frightful beings plus random, goofy violence plus absurdist humor plus well-chosen details (e.g. the "human" in "human food") usually equals a good time. (For instance, she would have loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) So when I finally got my copy of P&P&Z at the beginning of May, I settled down to read it with great expectation of pleasure.

Alas, dear reader! I found that Mr. Seth Grahame-Smith, who undertook the addition of the undead to Ms. Austen's work, also decided to edit the original text in ways that had nothing to do with zombies or their defeat. True, he made Elizabeth and her sisters trained Shaolin warriors, which was hilarious (especially in Lizzy's closing duel with Lady Catherine), and Charlotte Lucas explains her marriage to Mr. Collins by admitting that she has been infected with the "strange plague" and wishes to keep her family safe -- in some ways a better justification than the original. And the line "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains" is just delightful.

But Mr. Grahame-Smith's editorial work often goes awry. He flattens out subtle emotional and character behavior, describing Elizabeth as rolling her eyes at Mary at one point, and turning Mr. Collins explicitly fat (apparently to make him funnier). He introduces totally unnecessary sexual references and crudity: Mrs. Gardiner has a Polish lover in Lambton, and I counted three jokes about "balls," at least two made by characters who were supposed to be models of propriety. There is a lot of vomit and "soiling" and pus and blood and guts even in scenes that had nothing to do with undead rampages (Mrs. Bennet projectile vomits often, and Elizabeth at one point refers to emptying "piss-pots," which the real Elizabeth would never have said loud). I understand I'm approaching this book from an Austenian rather than a zombie-lover's point of view, and that Mr. Grahame-Smith may have regarded the changes as necessary to make the comedy comprehensible and amusing to the zombie lovers. (Is there a lot of soiling in zombie stories? Ew.) But to my eye, rather than heightening the humor of both the genteel social comedy and the violent zombie mayhem through straightforward contrast of the two, Mr. Grahame-Smith simply undercut the characters and social comedy with changes that demonstrated little understanding or appreciation of Ms. Austen and her world.

The book also was sloppily edited and barely copyedited. . . . I normally extend other editors charity when I find typos, because none of us are perfect, but the editor of this one should have noticed that "Kilkenny" on one page became "Kilkerry" on another, never mind standardizing "Bennet" with one T. The illustrations show the ladies in Edwardian rather than Regency dress. And the switch of Colonel Fitzwilliam for Mr. Collins in one particular scene of the novel was frankly stupid and out-of-character for the Colonel, and could have been easily avoided by any editor (or adapter) who had half a brain. (Perhaps theirs were eaten by zombies.) Given all these unfortunate changes, I'm afraid I soon came to find the project tedious; and while I greatly looked forward to beginning this book, I also greatly looked forward to the end of it. Or as Samuel Johnson is said to have said, "The manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

Finally, if you're an Austen fan interested in horror, check out this cover of a 1950s reissue of Northanger Abbey -- both excellent deceptive packaging, and a classic case of not getting the joke. And if someone would like to hire me to turn Sense and Sensibility into a vampire novel (with Willoughby and Lucy Steele as the undead who bleed the sisters Dashwood dry), or Emma into a werewolf book (with Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax as a secretly mated pair) -- like Mr. Bennet after his daughters are engaged, "I am quite at leisure."


  1. Ohh, how tragic to hear. I giggled my way through the first chapter, but resisted further purchase. All of that nonsense does seem rather unnecessary-- pity.

  2. It's an early warning of the Apocalypse.