I think everyone is probably familiar with the idea of this novel, which is the original tale of Pride and Prejudice set in an England beset by a plague of zombies (or “unmentionables”). I’d been meaning to see how this story worked for some time now but, sadly, it was a little disappointing. The basic story is the same, except that the Bennett’s 5 daughters are all highly trained zombie killers, who spent years under the tutelage of a Shaolin Master Liu in China, and are pledged to His Majesty to devote their talents to killing zombies until they marry. Elizabeth, particularly, is a vicious and bloodthirsty killer, used to eating the hearts of her human enemies, who sees violence as the solution of every problem. Darcy is also a famous zombie slayer, the militia are in town to kill zombies, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh is also (supposedly) a trained zombie killer, who maintains a personal squad of 25 ninjas and sneers at the Bennett girls’ inferior education in China. The zombie menace, and this twist on the original characters, provides for some entertaining alternative interpretations of famous scenes in the original story, but these original interpretations do not change the plot. So, for example, Lydia’s elopement with Wickham doesn’t change in essence, though some aspects of its resolution are tweaked to suit the setting.
I read the book constantly hoping that the plot would take a turn away from the original story, for example towards some kind of Victorian-era survivalism, or a revelation that Lady de Bourgh was experimenting on humans, or something… but it just folllowed the original plot, with these occasional zombie references thrown in to the original text. The zombie references – and the references to the girls’ training and combat skills – were largely well done, fitting both the style and substance of the story, but this left us with one big problem: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is, at heart, Pride and Prejudice. Which means that it’s a shit boook.
Jane Austen’s work is fundamentally shallow, boring, and useless, and her books have the rare distinction of being easily improved by being set to film, because their content is itself so lacklustre and wan. Furthermore, there’s nothing in the characters of her stories to appeal to either the broad populace of their time, or to the modern reader. What about the shallow, empty lives of a bunch of silver-spoon middle class loafers can possibly be of relevance to the modern reader? These people don’t work, they have “three thousand pounds a year” and spend their days at such leisure that the only real entertainment they have is fevered imaginings as to who is going to marry. Somehow, in Sense and Sensibility, when Edward Ferrers is disowned of his fortune, we are supposed to have the utmost of sympathy for him because he will have to find a job. How is the modern reader supposed to relate to this? And looking at their lives, it is obvious that this round of marriages and inheritances and worries about position in society is nothing but a great big ponzi scheme, supported at the bottom by a huge pool of the real “unmentionables” of Victorian society – the lumpen proletariat, who slave away in the harshest conditions so that these rural “gentlemen” can have the privilege of never having to do a moment’s work. Is this the lost rural idyll that was destroyed by the first world war, and that Tolkien pined for? Good riddance to it, and the sooner the shallow ravings of the Victorian chick-lit writers (the Brontes and Austens &c) can be forgotten along with that cruel and unusual period of British history, the better. Though the dialogue in these novels can at times be charming and carefully crafted, they have nothing else to recommend them, even as historical documents. Comparing these works to those of Thomas Hardy, it is clear that the Victorian England that he saw has nothing in common with them – nor do the rare attempts at description in an Austen or Bronte novel compare in any way with the genuine literary prowess of Hardy. They are simply moral tracts, advertisements for a new image of marriage as a binding contract that wraps love and property together for the first time in British history – and in Hardy’s work, again, we see that this new model of marriage was not yet so popular with those real “unmentionables” whose face is never seen in the Austen novels.
As my reader(s) are no doubt aware, I’m fond of finding parallels between real political and social issues and the zombie threat, but in this case I sadly could not see much evidence that the “unmentionables” in the revised novel have any symbolism to be drawn from them. I think this is partly because they aren’t central to the plot, being only rarely inserted into the original story, so don’t have much power in the tale; and also the original books are so self-sufficient in their conceited dwellings on trivial Victorian romance, that the zombies just can’t stack up against the central “love” story. Certainly I don’t see the “manky dead” in this story taking on any imagery, for example, of the true British underclass. And perhaps this is why the two page “reader’s guide” at the end of the book (intended as a set of questions for the literary student) contains questions that are largely quite weak – because the zombies just aren’t that persuasive a part of the book.
So I see little reason to soldier through this romantic waffle if I don’t have to, and I had really hoped that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would give me a completely fresh take on the novel – whether it be in plot, in resolution of the key stories, in interpretation of the Victorian world, or in politics. But it just scratches the surface of the possibilities, so that what we are really left with is – Pride and Prejudice. Against which – despite my enjoyment of the films – I must, I am afraid, remain prejudiced. So, don’t read this book unless you really are capable of suffering 325 pages of Victorian chick lit, with the odd zombie thrown in.