30 diciembre 2010


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Pride and Prejudice and... What?



Now, I was not in full favour of writing this article. I have not even read the book yet, have honestly very little interest in reading it and I already find  myself sounding far too proud, perhaps too prejudiced against it. In fact, I have to admit that what I will proceed to write is not a complimentary pre-review. It feels oddly disturbing, to have to write anything at all about it, precisely because I cannot claim that I know the author thoroughly well, or that I have taken the trouble to read his best-selling book. Still, as a true, faithful follower of Jane Austen, I feel that I must voice my thoughts on the matter, slightly biased though they may be.

   *  *  *

Jane wrote once, in reference to novel writers in general, "Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body." Much as I agree with this premise, I must this time break it; for I am a writer and I am— half willingly, half in guilt—, about to desert another. But alas! I will only judge his theme, not his prose. To condemn his prose I will most happily abstain from doing, for I have not (as was shamelessly confessed above) the slightest idea of what it reads like.

The trailer advertising "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"  ends eventually with a casual catch-phrase, "The Bennet girls are ready... Are you?"

First, whoever can find coherence in and actually imagine "the Bennet girls" (as they are called in the trailer) arming themselves against a stream of zombies cannot possibly have much love for the times in which "Pride & Prejudice" took place as for the characters themselves, for what is "P&P" without the 18th century? Is not Lizzy's Prejudice the result of little acquaintance with the gentleman in question? Is not such the consequence of few interactions between two different social classes? And Darcy's reserved character, isn't the latter partly due to the English customs of the times as well? 

Then how on Earth could one so easily picture such horrifying creatures embedded within this fiction's scenario? Why, to introduce zombies sounds a little too far-fetched, too fantastic, too improbable! Not that I am totally against the idea itself, but I am, however, against the probability of it in accordance with the story—"Pride and Prejudice"— which Seth Grahame-Smith has chosen to feature as databse, as platform, if you will, for his book. 

Oh, and there is this other thing that keeps nagging at me, this other issue against which I declare myself: the book's cover reads "Quirk Classics/The New York Times bestseller/"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"/(and brace yourself for this one) BY JANE AUSTEN AND SETH GRAHAME-SMITH."


The problem with this last line is that it suggests something that is not at all plausibly true! Jane Austen couldn't have written any novel in collaboration with anyone because she was  long-time dead by the time Seth Grahame-Smith wrote "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies". The text reading "By Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith" is, to my mind, a lie in disguise. Jane Austen wrote "Pride and Prejudice" and moved on, she wrote nothing in collaboration with Mr Grahame Smith, or with anyone. And least of all a novel that would so break with her own heroes' usual environment, introducing gothic elements which she was known to laugh at, and that she ridiculed herself! 
What if somebody who does not know the former author bumps into this novel? What will they be led to believe, but that Austen and Grahame-Smith have been contemporaries, might have been like-minded authors, and thus worked together on this book? The idea that such a conclusion could give of Jane Austen, a conclusion that could be logically drawn by someone who happened to ignore Jane and read this very line as quoted, would be entirely wrong about Austen's themes, style and the genre she devoted to writing during her lifetime. Now, what I am led to believe, knowing as I do that Jane lived in another century, is that this last line written on the hardcover of the book is a somewhat misleading marketing strategy. Perhaps it is not against the law, perhaps there is the usual economic interest behind it, but I doubt it is fair, or reasonable, to use the name of Austen just like that. Ah, but if you go the official page of Quirk Classics: Masters of our Public Domain, you meet with a sort of second slogan, and you might easily be made to understand:

Our Mission: To enhance classic novels with pop culture phenomena.

Still, I cannot get tuned in. I know it's all about the public domain, nobody's breaking the law by using the name of Austen, but what is such a mission, if not business? And business at the expense of classics, classics that have been written long ago and whose "remakes" nothing have to do with their actual original authors— which is what outrages me the most. I don't mind Quirk Classics creating "pop-culture" items that will surely sell, or "horrific creatures" that seem to make people want to buy buy buy. What I am trying to stick up for is the classics proper, their essence, the heritage they stand for regardless of any nation where they were once conceived! Why, if you ask me, the expression "remixed classics" sounds a little unpromising for a classic.


What do Jane Austen novels portray if not purely realistic characters, people who speak admirably honest dialogues and frequent the typical social gatherings of the 18th and 19th century? Now yes, it is my belief that the very idea of introducing a fantastic element among the "landed gentry" may be completely out of the question. Far from expanding the story's horizons and enlarging on "P&P"'s drama, the walking dead have a rather detrimental effect upon the credibility of the plot as a whole. And though credibility may not be exactly what the author aspired to when first considering writing this novel, credibility is certainly lost (with the danger of being perhaps lost for ever) for a story that has been fascinating generations on end. In short, this laissez faire, laissez passer that welcomes zombies into "P&P"'s 18th century England feels like bringing Mars Attack specimens into Madame Bovary's Rouen.


Now, for the trailer's record, to watch the film I cannot say that I am ready, and as for the novel... "Not quite, not remotely", in Julia Lambert's words. Take the book's looks, for instance. The mere sight of an 18th-century young lady boasting her gritted tombstone teeth makes me sick. I understand that in a world in which films are constantly based on comics and novels, and novels oftentimes are made out of films, authors find it only natural (and why not, financially tempting) to sell their stories and check out how their characters look on the big screen. Perhaps this is not the case of "P&P&Z", or perhaps it is. In any case, the novel has been turned into a film, or is planned to be done— ah, history never gets tired of repeating itself, does it? The question is, is it that the novel is too good not to be made into a film, or is it that Hollywood's screenwriters are running out of ideas and so they mess with the classics? The issue of ideas is another matter of which I have little more to say, only to pose the question for you.

Back to Grahame-Smith, his book is widely known as an indisputably best-seller. And the usual course of events tends to suggest that when a book sells well, and relies on suficient action, or dialogue (which is anyway turned into action) it is simply a waste not to add a bit of money to the project and persuade the author to say yes whenever the first chance to make it a film comes. It happened with Rowling's Harry Potter, it happened with Cohelo's Veronica, with Sophie Kinsella's Becky Bloomwood (and how bitterly disappointed I've been at her choice!), and it has evidently happened with Grahame-Smith's best-selling novel, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies". 

Not that I am a bore and don't enjoy watching film adaptations of my favourite books. I do love watching them, or at least giving them a try, just like you do. Only that sometimes adaptations come to worsen the book's content, sell the wrong image of the original writer's prose. More often than not, people get an idea and run away with it. So, for someone who, like me, haven't read the book, if I only watch "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", and I happen to dislike it, I will probably never give a chance to the book. There, the harm is done probably for ever! "Ah (a producer of any film adaptation could say to his advantage), "but if, by contrast, you do find it gripping, then you'll probably get the original author's full collection as soon as you come out of the room!"

Amazing how the book and cinema industry have paired for the market's own benefit, hu? As for Grahame-Smith's choice, I can only say I find it, despite my despising it, wise and strategic. The book has already sold far better than well, and the zombies element will doubtlessly secure him and producers a great number of spectators, all willing to check out how Austen's world might look flooded with the walking dead, so... Perhaps this might even turn into a box-office hit, or win an Oscar! My criticism, again, is against the fact that a classic has been seized and its very essence preserved very little. Why mess with a classic? I know, it's probably got to do with the rating thing, with the money, with a marketing strategy. But — what a pity! As a writer, I ask myself, why not create one's own characters instead? Why not introduce zombies in 18th century England and star a different family name, why the Bennets, even if they are now members of the Public Domain?


The trailer available on youtube.com shows a fine-looking Anabella Casanova playing the role of a far too brave, ready-to-kick-asses Elizabeth Bennet. Leaving the zombies aside, to think that all the "Bennet girls", foolish and naive creatures as the youngest ones seem to be would be willing to fight back anything that looks like such creatures sounds even less plausible. 
This is not, however, the first time that a writer undertakes to use a former work on which to base his own. "P&P" has been taken as "platform" countless times now, yet the authors of such works would often be more consistent with the characters' personality traits. Turning Lizzy and her sisters into potentially defiant gladiators, however, is practically not possible within the context presented by Jane Austen. As far as one can decipher from "P&P" characters, most of them are so worried about manners (and morals, though usually second, as Wilde would suggest) so worried about manners that they would probably be more ready to flee from the area under attack than trust their own stamina to bounce back! I can already picture Mrs Bennet, calling desperately for her husband, "Mr Bennet, you must make haste!" her high-pitched voice would run then, "Those— what do they call them? Ah, those... beasts are coming! Call for the carriage, or for Mr Collins' coach! Ah, a very fine coach he has, Mr collins. Have you heard that, Lizzy? The man you've turned down, yes, he himself! Ah, he shall be our rescuer and you... You should have married Mr Collins!"

Even a character as stubborn and harsh in early judgment as that of Elizabeth Bennet might dare hesitate at the prospect of having to risk her life and that of her siblings to do what the Royal Army— not her—has been trained to do. It would be sense, not selfishness, what would probably make her give the sceheme a second thought and eventually give it up. The times and traditions would have called for the population to escape rather than take arms themselves, especially the higher and middle classes.


Of all Jane Austen masterpieces, "Pride and Prejudice" is known as the most popular, the one which has been made and remade for the big screen and TV series format time and time again, over the years and through decades on end. Its theme has been a favourite among women of all ages and times, so much so that it has been featured in numberless versions, from true-to-the-original-timeline to modern, more contemporary adaptations bearing fashionable Lizzy Bennets in modern clothes: "Pride and Prejudice" is a major classic. And it is my opinion that classics are not meant to be turned upside down, or twisted, or to be so deliberately trifled with; one either reads classics, analises them, praises or condemns them, or even ignores them— but they are classics still, masterpieces rated to such an extent that should be untouchable in essence. They are part of a culture, and as such, they make up a heritage. Intertextuality and allusions are all very fine for themselves and their creators. But "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is to me an exaggeration, an outrage for period literature readers. It will surely collect more fans once the film is released, but I doubt former Jane Austen fans might like it.

What with my sheer disapproval of the topic I still wish for its success. Jane Austen advocates will be curious about how bizarre the film presents itself to their eyes, and those who are still alien to the "P&P" paraphernalia (if that is even possible in this century) are likely to grab hold of Grahame-Smith's book, or run to buy a ticket to watch the film as soon as the word "zombies" is read or heard. Why, zombies, vampires, elfs and the like seem to be the fashion nowadays. No wonder the book sells well, no wonder the film will do better. True, I may be a diehard to come back to it, but—little have the sci-fi and gothic genres have to do with the real Jane Austen... Ah, what would her criticism be?


It is fascinating to wonder, isn't it, to wonder... How would Jane have reacted to this product? Would she have sold her title to another author, allowed a recreation of it? Would she have sold her work to a film studio just to get herself and her siblings out of their dreadful economic situation? Would she have blended, submitted, succumbed to the market's pleasures as we all, some time in our lives, seem to have no choice but do? Would she have allowed the realisation of this sort of "satire" of her "P&P" and taken it light-heartedly, laughed at her own characters, just as she shamelessly mocked widespread gothic in Northanger Abbey

What her verdict would have been I cannot tell, but strangely enough I like to imagine she would have set herself strongly against the remake of her "Pride and Prejudice", and against, of course, the realisation of this film, of this somewhat awkward version of her Lizzy Bennet and facts.

"From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers", Northanger Abbey, Ch.V, VOL.I by Jane Austen.



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2 comentarios:

  1. Very interesting article!!! I love Jane Austen's books and this is the first time I read about Quirk Classics. I don't like the idea of mixing zombies with Austen's novels. I think that nowadays writers aren't very imaginative and it seems that they prefer re-writing famous successful books instead of writing new exciting ones

  2. Anifled O'Field7 de enero de 2011, 19:23

    hi sol!!! hope you are having your well-deserved holidays!!!

    thanks for commenting!!! and i believe it's plain from my writing, but anyway, I totally agree with you!


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