Letter from Jane Austen to Seth Grahame-Smith
I have recently become acquainted with your work as a novelist, while I believe your acquaintance with mine is of a much longer standing. Nevertheless, I do not scruple to use the term acquaintance to describe your relation to my work, despite the fact that it was the base for your own, for, in your attempt to re-envision my novel, you showed how soundly you had misunderstood it.
I hope my words do not bring you distress, but I believe them just, and will endeavor to explain to you my dissatisfaction with your manuscript.
Before offering any further critique, allow me to state that I was neither offended nor confused by the existence of your novel: I understand the value of satire and, indeed, have flirted with it myself. I opened your re-working of my novel with eager delight, ready to be amused and perhaps horrified (in the best and most proper way caused by any worthy Gothic novel). While I cannot say that, in the course of reading it, I was never amused, the only scenes which evoked horror were those in which you departed so incredibly from the intent and meaning of my characters and story–nay, from reality itself–that I could scarce apprehend your meaning or keep the blush of shame and vexation from my cheek.
I am not so obtuse as some critics will say, and do not always flinch from plain speaking. I hope you will not condemn my forwardness in speaking plainly now, as I cite you specific examples of the indelicacy of expression and occasional want of taste which your words displayed.
Firstly, the frequent and unrepentant manner in which you not merely alluded but rather expressly referred to matters of the bedroom was beyond every measure of good sense and dignity which one might reasonably expect a literate man to possess. A gentleman might read such things as he pleases, of course, though never in mixed company; but a lady might not. Since your novel was not published for gentlemen only, one must assume your readership to be general; and to that conclusion, I have but one comment: it will not do, sir. Such wanton disregard for propriety simply will not do.
Secondly, I object to the heavy influence of the Far East on such a wide variety of characters. Had it been restricted to one extremely well-traveled person–Colonel Fitzwilliam, perhaps–I might have borne it better. But it is simply impossible to believe that a gentleman of such modest means as Mr. Bennett contrived to convey his entire family thither not once, but several times; moreover, it seems out of character for a gentleman, even one so careless, to expose his wife and young daughters to such a taxing, unhealthful journey and such an uncivilized environment. Nothing but dire necessity could compel a man to undertake travels of this nature, and I did not see there being any dire necessity despite the strange plague, for reasons to be explained directly.
I found myself wondering, you see, why English means of dispatching these unmentionables were so inadequate–and why the entire population engaged in hunting them seemed confined to the same means of doing so, and which they had been obliged to learn half-way around the world. Where were the fortitude and ingenuity for which the English are famous, sir? Would it not have made more sense for them to make use of the tools at hand: scythes, shovels, hammers for the farmers and smiths; pistols for the ladies, who might carry them in their reticules and thus never be without protection–even knitting needles might work, in a close encounter; packs of hunting dogs who have been trained, not for foxes, but for these zombies, for the country gentlemen, along with fowling rifles; swords for the militia men, and perhaps field artillery for very large-scale attacks; rapiers for the coxcombs and idle men about town, who might duel the unmentionables and not each other and thereby do society a service, no matter the outcome, in sending to the grave some-one who added nothing to our consequence as a nation and perhaps considerable detraction; and so on for every man in his place and station. You might have added some variety to the firearms carried, as well, to make subtle denotations of wealth and status. I felt, for example, that Mr. Darcy ought to have carried a Manton piece, while the simpler and more common Brown Bess might have been sufficient for a simpler man, like Mr. Bennett, or a less enthusiastic one, like Mr. Bingley.
Finally, with your treatment of two items in particular, I must take umbrage. The first is the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, which you so cavalierly destroyed by means of a tawdry affair on the part of her. This idea is insupportable. The Gardiners are Elizabeth’s sole example of domestic felicity; if they are not content with each other, then she must have no object of finding matrimonial harmony for herself: she would believe such a thing impossible. Your decision to introduce adultery into their marriage leaves me no choice but to quote my own text and declare that I cannot help but think you have entirely misunderstood [their] character[s]. Likewise I must assume you mistook the character of Pemberley. The truth of P is that it is an old estate, and a graceful, tasteful one. Its nature reflects that of Mr. Darcy’s family and pride–an ancient lineage and a tradition generations old of good taste and true elegance. To give P a jade door is to remove everything it stood for. By your accounting, the zombie menace began 55 years ago; therefore, so must the craze for Eastern means of killing them. Thus P was either built or remodeled no more than a half-century before our story–from which follows that it is no longer an old and timeless house but rather a modern home at the mercy of the whims of fashion. It might as well have been built by a merchant. Your Pemberley, sir, I am sorry to say, is none of mine.
As a general sort of criticism, I feel compelled to add, as well, that I found the parts of the story containing your particular contributions to read quite differently from mine. I will not presume to state whether my mannerisms are to be preferred; simply, yours were quite obviously not the same, despite the appearance of an attempt to make them so. I found this inconsonance rather jarring, but perhaps a reader less acquainted with my own words than myself might not find it so.
I hope you will not conclude from this enumeration of my disappointments with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that I take myself too seriously. I do not. I was fully prepared for a comical work shining a glaring light onto the flaws, eccentricities, and foibles of my style and mode of expression. I can laugh at myself as well as anyone, I assure you; so long as a laugh is warranted. My amusement, unfortunately, was never derived from the satire, and that, I believe, was my biggest disappointment in the whole of this affair.
Your faithful correspondent,
Look, Jane was pretty hard on the guy. I guess she has a right, since it was her novel he was using; and while I kind of agree with her criticisms, I also want to make a couple things clear:
First, I don’t know what his intention was. Maybe he wanted to fuse bad kung-fu and zombie B-movies with JA, because he considered her to have written a bad B-movie romance. If that was the case, he succeeded. But if his intention was a truer sort of satire, the kind that draws on a profound understanding of the subject matter to create a humor that is at once incisive and wickedly funny, then he needed more time with JA, because he missed a lot of the subtleties.
Second, I am very over-educated when it comes to JA. I had read all her novels before I started high school, I took 3 courses at university in which I studied her, I wrote a 35K senior thesis based on one of her novels: I am not the average reader, and in this case that makes all the difference.
For the average reader, this book should be a lot of fun. It is basically an abridgment of Pride and Prejudice with zombies, ninjas, and sex jokes thrown in. If you like all of those things, you’ll probably enjoy this book–regardless of whether you like Pride and Prejudice itself. Obviously, if you do like it, this book will be an amusing way to revisit the highlights. If you don’t, and maybe suffered through reading it in a lit class at some point, then this will be a way to get some of your own back by reading something more in line with your own sensibilities. Either way, it’s light, blood-spattered, and, as the publisher’s name promises, quirky.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.