By the nature of its title alone, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies primarily attracts two incredibly disparate audiences: those who have read, and to this day still treasure, the Austen original and those who picked it up simply because of the promise of zombie fun. As someone who fits nicely into the latter category, was Grahame-Smith’s update to the Austen classic Pride and Prejudice successful, or did it leave me wishing I too had succumbed to the plague of unmentionables which hath befallen His Majesty’s kingdom?
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies centers on the Bennets, a simple family of meager means in Hertfordshire, England in the midst of a fifty-five year long zombie outbreak. While Mr. Bennet, always the pragmatist, raises his five girls, Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia, Kitty, and Mary, to be warriors in defense of Hertfordshire and His Majesty’s kingdom, the greatest achievement his wife Mrs. Bennet aspires to in life is to see all her daughters married off to men of substantial means. It is precisely this dichotomy of philosophies which exists within the psyches of many of the novel’s most important characters and for which Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice has been hailed many times over as a preeminent tale of young love’s perseverance against all odds.
Do not be misled by the presence of “zombies” in the title: the actual act of reading this n0vel is challenging. For all but the most committed reader, the combination of arcane sentence structure and, by today’s standards, uncommon and nonstandard vocabulary can make for a constant struggle. Additionally, Austen and Grahame-Smith’s novel introduces enough characters within the first 50 pages to make any reader’s head spin. However, while Austen and Grahame-Smith’s prose and abundance of characters form undeniable barriers of entry, it is precisely these two components which carry the novel in its latter stages.
As the reader learns more about all the characters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies truly comes to life. Among the female characters in the novel, Jane and Elizabeth clearly stand out as the strongest and most three-dimensional. They, above all their other sisters, are sensible and not “silly and ignorant like their mother.” However, even the warrior’s mindset and resoluteness of these two is tested as Austen and Grahame-Smith introduce the novel’s primary male characters: Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Wickham. Austen and Grahame-Smith expertly intertwine the fates of these characters, all the while playing on readers’ expectations of their dispositions, characters, and eventual pairings. Elizabeth, the chief protagonist of the novel, undergoes quite possibly the starkest transformation. While other characters’ transformations are mostly due to initial misunderstandings on both the readers’ and Elizabeth’s parts, Elizabeth truly undergoes a marvelous transformation from an insolent girl to a grown woman.
One would be remiss in reviewing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies without spending a little time discussing how the zombies add or detract from the experience. As someone who has never read the Austen original, I can only evaluate their presence within the context of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and not as an addition or reduction to the original Pride and Prejudice. Ultimately, the zombies here simultaneously serve as outlets through which the main characters’ personalities are established and comic relief.
The creatures were crawling on their hands and knees, biting into ripe heads of cauliflower, which they had mistaken for stray brains.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an undeniably tough book to get into. The prose and sheer volume of characters are an obstacle for all but the English Literature majors among us. However, those who actually stick with the novel will find themselves handsomely rewarded. The writing style becomes second nature, the characters become more three-dimensional, and webs of lies and intrigue are established and torn asunder. By the end of the novel, I had enjoyed the romantic writing style and setting so much that I purchased an anthology of Austen’s original works, which is definitely not something I would have expected to do coming into this novel. Overall, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was surprisingly funny, engaging, and endearing; I heartily recommend it.