Stone Cold Jane Austen
I’m sure many of you have heard about the Pride and Prejudice with Zombies movie that’s coming out.
If not, feast your eyes!
I’m absurdly excited about this movie and before you complain that Hollywood is running out of ideas, let me tell you to shut up your face because it was a book first.
Two books, technically.
I read Pride and Prejudice with Zombies a few years ago and it’s a pretty well done integration of zombies into Jane Austen’s classic novel…pretty big praise coming from me.
I don’t praise attempts at changing or mimicking Jane Austen lightly, which is kind of funny, considering I’m sure she’d be pretty amused by it.
I’m kind of protective of Jane Austen.
As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I am a giant nerd for Austen. I have read everything she ever wrote that still exists for public consumption, I have gone to the Jane Austen museum in Bath, went to the Roman Baths she wrote of in Bath, and watched every film incarnation I could of her writing.
Some things I love, like the Emma Thompson masterpiece of Sense and Sensibility.
Some things I like, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries; which is, incidentally, the most creative retelling I think.
And some things I hate, like the myriad of books and film adaptations I can no longer remember the names of because I got so frustrated with them that I vowed to erase them from my consciousness.
I think part of the reason I love Jane Austen so much, and part of the reason I hate so many of attempts at capturing part of her magic (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, AUSTENLAND) is that when it comes down to it, Jane Austen is writing about far more than a love story.
Films like Austenland kind of fixate on the romance of the period and the romance in the novel, but they leave out the best part of Austen: her sass. Jane Austen writes with humour aimed her society and subtly creates female characters who are more than society would have them be. You could argue she didn’t intend to do the latter, but I think she did and nowhere is her own sass seen as clearly as in Elizabeth Bennett.
There is a reason Elizabeth Bennett is one of the most famous and beloved Austen characters.
Sure the love story there is a fun favourite: Girl meets boy, boy is an asshole, girl says ‘pffft, screw this dude’, guy falls in love with girl and insults her as he declares his feelings, girl is like ‘wtf is dude’s deal’, guy gets all up in her business, girl is like ‘piss off’, girl finds out dude is actually a pretty solid guy and that the asshole exterior is a defense mechanism, girl gets to know guy better and realizes he is a pretty solid dude and she loves him back, magic, puppies, rainbows, the end.
Do you know what my favourite part of Elizabeth Bennett is?
She is sassy as hell.
Now if you don’t understand why this particular moment is impressive or important for a female character (especially one at this time) let me just remind you that in essentially saying “I’m rejecting you and would reject you regardless of how you told me you were into me because you’re kind of a butt trumpet” Elizabeth is throwing away a life of almost guaranteed security.
It’s not like she can just get a job if she can’t find a man to support her. Her family isn’t really in the money, so she pretty much has no choice other than to find a man who can afford to support them both or hope she can live with someone in the family who can do so.
If she marries Darcy, she gets a title and a cushy lifestyle but she determines she’d rather the alternative because she doesn’t like the way he is disrespectful of both herself and her family. Whether or not it’s a smart move is up for debate, but it IS an impressively independent move.
Darcy: You’re not high class enough and your family and friends are all lower class scum, but I love you and you should marry me.
Elizabeth: Dude, WTF?
Darcy: What? You want me to flatter you? You want me to pretend like I don’t think your family is a hot mess of garbage and that I’m just so excited to be associated with such a ridiculous group of losers. Well I won’t, because lying is wrong and also I’m better than you.
Elizabeth: I don’t care that you didn’t flatter me, but I do care that you’re kind of a giant asshole and I don’t care if you’re rich, I wouldn’t marry you if you paid me….which, you know, you kind of would be if we got married, so there’s your proof right there. Suck it.
You could argue that her sass is part of the Pride that comes from the book’s title,but I disagree. Elizabeth is hardly the only sassy Austen character and besides that, she’s witty several times throughout the novel. It’s an integral part of her character.
So, when people take Austen’s work and turn it into a story all about ‘Oh this guy, he’s so amazing’ I get supremely annoyed. Pride and Prejudice isn’t about Mr. Darcy, it’s about Elizabeth.
Beyond the surprisingly strong female characters, social commentary, and just plain wit, there is something special about Jane Austen. I think Emma Thompson sums it up best in a post script to a letter she wrote to the Jane Austen museum after donating a few things:
“Of course the great thing about her work is that no matter when you read them, at what age or station you may be in life, they speak to you ~ when I was ten I fixated on the romance, when I was sixteen I started to get the jokes and at forty I just feel huge empathy with Miss Bates (a friendly talkative spinster from Emma) . I know I shall become Mr. Woodhouse (also from Emma, constantly worries about his health) in later life and swear by tapioca or somesuch.”
Personally, I hope to always aspire to the level of good humour and social critique that Austen’s work exudes and if a movie wants to aspire to the same thing but add zombies to the mix? Well, I am just really OK with that.