The original Pride and Prejudice was a comedy because (spoiler alert) everything turned out A-Okay in the end. Everyone falls in love and gets married and lives happily ever after, and then Beyoncé sings while fireworks shoot off.
Okay, that last part doesn't happen, but you get the picture. A comedy has your standard happy ending.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a comedy, too, because our heroine still falls in love and finds her Prince Charming with 10,000 pounds a year. Except this time Prince Charming carries a musket and beheads unmentionables in his spare time. No biggie.
Since this version is a mash-up, you could call it a horror-comedy. Basically, it has scary elements, like zombies attacking and eating people's brains, but as a whole, the book isn't really meant to terrify you. You're supposed to be laughing, not clutching your smelling salts in fear.
In a way, adding zombies to Pride and Prejudice kind of makes twisted sense. Elizabeth Bennet has always battled metaphorical monsters: her own prejudice, society's expectations of her as a woman, her mother's constant harping. Oh, and then there's the looming possibly that when her father dies, she'll be left alone to fend for herself with nowhere to live and no man to care for her.
Holy crud. We might have to sleep with the lights on tonight.
But in this version, Elizabeth gets to take charge and roundhouse kick a different set of monsters right in the face. Reading about it is oddly satisfying. And totally hilarious.
Okay, we've gotta hand it to the publishers on this one: the title on this book pretty much sells it. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? That tells you the whole story right there.
Basically, with a title like that on the cover, when you crack open this book, you know you will be enjoying all the delights of Jane Austen's Regency romance about love and manners…but with some zombies thrown in.
In fact, Seth Grahame-Smith said that the idea for the book originally came from his editor, who thought up with the idea for the title first:
He called me one day, out of the blue, very excitedly, and he said, all I have is this title, and I can't stop thinking about this title. And he said: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. For whatever reason, it just struck me as the most brilliant thing I'd ever heard.
We only wish we'd thought of it first.
Elizabeth is married to her dream guy. Jane is perfectly happy and always will be. And Mrs. Bennet will never, ever stop bragging to the neighbors about any of her family's good fortune. (She might leave Lydia's story out, but hey, whatever.) It's an insanely happy ending, right?
Well, kind of. Yes. Pretty much. But there are issues:
Like so many before it, her ladyship's serum proved folly, for while it slowed some effects of the strange plague, it was helpless to stop them all. England remained in the shadow of Satan. The dead continued to claw their way through crypt and coffin alike, feasting on British brains. Victories were celebrated, defeats lamented. And the sisters Bennet—servants of His Majesty, protectors of Hertfordshire, beholders of the secrets of Shaolin, and brides of death—were now, three of them, brides of man, their swords quieted by that only force more powerful than any warrior. (61.14)
Hmm. So, you mean no one ever found a cure for the plague that was turning everyone into zombies? And the dead continued to rise from their graves and attack the living? Um, yeah, well, we're not exactly going out on the highest of all notes then.
The good news is that this leaves the door wide open for a sequel. We can't wait to see what zombie-slaying antics Mr. and Mrs. Darcy get up to. After all, that's kind of the basis for their relationship, so what would they do if the zombies stopped coming? Play croquet?
Yep, this ending's about as good as you could hope for.
You could spend weeks reading really thick books about 19th-century England to better understand what life was like for the people who lived there. You could also hop on over to our guide on the original Pride and Prejudice to get the deets, too.
But this novel isn't actually about Jane Austen's Regency England—at least not as we know it. In this rendition, Miss Austen's world has been overrun with zombies.
Okay, so, why zombies? Well, mostly because adding zombies to the refined and elegant sitting rooms of 19th-century England is kind of funny. But there has to be more to it than that, right?
Well, for one thing, zombie stories usually reflect the times, and this book is no different. We like to think that Elizabeth Bennet isn't just battling zombies; she's also battling societal expectations of what a woman should be.
Like, a woman should be accomplished, but not so accomplished that she scares off men. She should marry for money and not for love or compatibility. And for goodness' sake, she should always act like a refined young lady.
By creating a countryside overrun with zombies, this story sets up a metaphorical showdown with those societal expectations. The bumbling zombies represent the old order, the way things have always been done, and the Bennet girls are here to drop-kick it all into next week. Bam.
How would Jane Austen feel about all of this? We think she'd be cool with it. See, back in the late 1700s, there were tons of Gothic romances filling up people's bookshelves. Some of the most popular Gothic novels were written by female authors and featured heroines who would find themselves mixed up in supernatural mysteries filled with hidden passages and creepy castles.
Respectable people (i.e., men) didn't take these Gothic novels seriously—or if they did, they didn't say so. Of course, they were bestsellers, and tons of people read them. That's why when Mr. Collins "protested that he never read novels" (14.13), we know that it's not supposed to be a point in his favor. Jane Austen, of course, loved Gothic novels because she wrote her own Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey.
Basically, she was doing horror comedy way before it was cool. Take that, Seth Grahame-Smith.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies borrows pretty heavily from Jane Austen's 1813 original, so it still has some of the difficulty that comes with reading a book that was written long ago and far away.
But, lucky for you, the author has done away with some of the really high-level vocabulary words. Don't worry about pulling out your dictionary too often with this undead update. Let's just take one example. Have a look at this passage from the original, in which Elizabeth is talking to Jane about Mr. Bingley:
"With your good sense to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough;—one meets it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design—to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad—belongs to you alone. And so you like this man's sisters too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his." (4.9)
And now have a look how it's been changed for the zombified version:
"With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! You like this man's sisters, too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his." (4.9)
Gone are all those hard-to-understand words about how Jane just loves to see the best in people. This new version is much simpler. Sure, it's a little less Austen-esque, but we'll forgive the new author for taking some liberties: zombies are afoot. Sometimes you've gotta cut to the chase.
If you thought that zombies were just corpses risen from the dead with a thirst for brains, think again: they're full of symbolism.
Oh, yeah, zombies are deep.
The idea of a "zombie" originally came from Haitian Vodou folklore, but it didn't become popular in literature until the 20th century. That's way after Jane Austen died…and failed to claw her way out of her grave in Winchester Cathedral.
You might have noticed that zombies have been having a bit of a moment lately. They got popular after movies like Night of the Living Dead and games like Resident Evil, but they've really taken off with 28 Days Later, World War Z, Plants vs. Zombies, Shaun of the Dead, and, of course, The Walking Dead.
Okay, but why mesh zombies with Pride and Prejudice? Well, zombies in literature and moves have always reflected on the time period they've appeared in—so why not have them comment on Regency England, too?
As Seth Grahame-Smith said, "the people in Austen's books are kind of like zombies […] no matter what's going on around them in the world, they live in this bubble of privilege." Well, that's definitely true of folks like Caroline Bingley and Mr. Collins: zombies may be roaming around the countryside, but as long as they're protected from the undead menace, it's not a big worry, right?
Zombies may also represent the crippling fear of women's social expectations. Hear us out.
19th-century English society tells the Bennet girls that they're supposed to marry a wealthy man who can take care of them. That's what respectable young ladies do—and it's a necessity, because how else are they going to make it through life? Ladies don't work. So why should these girls pick someone they think is intelligent, or whom they love? They might as well roam around the country looking for men…mennnnnnnnn.
See? It's as if girls in Regency England are expected to be zombies lunging at the first eligible man in their path. Their own individuality isn't that important—they're just bodies who can play the pianoforte.
And that brings us to one more point. Imagine that you're a young woman in this society. Basically, you're at war with all the other young women around you, because you're all looking to get the eligible men. And yet you all have to be completely polite and ladylike at all times, never revealing what you're really thinking.
That's tough. In that way, it's almost like the zombies constantly attacking represent that actual, real tensions of these marriage wars, the tensions that everyone tries desperately to hide.
And you thought zombies were just mindless brain-eating machines.
You need to be packing some serious heat to take out the zombies in this book, and the weapons a character carries tell us a whole lot about who that character is.
The Bennet girls are highly trained in the deadly arts, and so they know how to use all kinds of different weapons. Daggers, muskets, and Katana swords are all part of their repertoire. Being versatile is pretty important, because a lady can't always carry a weapon around in public:
They set off together, armed only with their ankle daggers. Muskets and Katana swords were a more effective means of protecting one's self, but they were considered unladylike; and, having no saddle in which to conceal them, the three sisters yielded to modesty.(7.31)
Wouldn't want to be unladylike while beheading zombies, right?
Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, has a "French carbine rifle" (3.4) that he carries around, but it's obvious that he doesn't know how to use it. Mr. Darcy is usually spotted with either a sword or a musket, and he's able to handle both well. Too bad he's such a jerkface:
Though [Mr. Bingley] lacked Mr. Darcy's proficiency with both sword and musket, such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast! Mr. Darcy was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.(3.7)
Hmm…not sure that everyone would prefer Mr. Bingley's smiles during a zombie attack—but we digress.
Lady Catherine is so confident in her abilities she doesn't even carry a weapon. Of course, she also travels with an entourage of ninjas, so maybe those guys are her weapons. Rich people always have the best toys.
How each character protects him- or herself says a lot about that character's social class and gender, and about how that character moves about in the world of the novel. But, in every case, it's pretty much just bad news for a zombie.
Home is where the heart is: you can tell a lot about a person by where that person lives and how he or she decorates the house. Imagine you walk into someone's bedroom, for example. You look at the furniture, at the walls, at the books on the shelf, at the trinkets—all these things tell you a lot about person who lives there.
That's what Elizabeth Bennet finds out, for example, when she first spies Pemberley:
[Pemberley] was a large, handsome stone building, made to resemble the grandest palaces of Kyoto, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into a natural defense against frontal assault, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where the natural beauty of the Orient had been so little counteracted by English taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something! (43.3)
Compare that to Rosings. That place is sort of gaudy, with tons of rooms and servants and ninjas running around everyone. Pemberley, on the other hand, is beautiful and natural, and it reflects Mr. Darcy's love for Japan. It's not set up to impress and intimidate people like Lady Catherine's house. Mr. Darcy's home is all about the things he loves.
And Elizabeth can't help loving that just a little bit.