What’s next for literature’s enfant terrible, Jane Austen?

Are you familiar with Jane Austen? She’s a promising young female writer with a strong following, perhaps best known for her seminal work Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Turns out that she’s taking the idea of olde timey romance and turning it on its head! Her first gambit is the zeitgeist shattering book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which effortlessly shoehorns a zombie infestation and battle into a perfectly serviceable story about a group of women who must be married off at all costs to rich landowners in order to save their silly mother’s face. It must be successful, because I’ve seen at least three women reading it in public.

That’s what they’re all over these days: Edward Cullen and Mister Darcy. The latter, of course, is a master in the art of zombie killing and all around uptight jerkface with a heart of gold. So popular was this young upstart Austen’s genre bending that she managed to claw her way to number three on the New York Times’ best seller list before they realised that, as a woman, she didn’t have the agency to warrant such a spot.[1]

Austen has decided to follow her surprise success with the release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, which will apparently be about two recently impoverished sisters who seek love and heartbreak … and something else that I think the title hints at but I’ve yet to get an actual idea of. Austen is moving up in the world, though: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is an infinitely catchier title that doesn’t even rely on the crutch of memes as a cynical grab for readers.

Okay, I just considered Jane Austen as an actual meme hound, even – gasp! – a channer, and my brain exploded. I was surprised to see so many copies of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in real life. In my estimation it’s the sort of book that you hear tell of online and then never again. Serious, unironic reading of a romantic classic spliced with zombie combat. I was surprised when I found out that this book is more than just a cash-in, because further reviews have revealed “(w)hat begins as a gimmick ends with renewed appreciation of the indomitable appeal of Austen’s language, characters, and situations…”[2]

It’s a relief, really. I’ve got nothing against messing about in the public domain: my mother and I enjoy a good bonnet drama, and this year the ABC televised Lost in Austen, a BBC miniseries about a woman who accidentally trades places with Elizabeth Bennet, “ruins” the story of Pride and Prejudice as it was supposed to happen, and falls in love with Mister Darcy herself after they both over what an arrogant prig he is.

It’s a knee jerk reaction to automatically think that zombies are a bad idea in this day and age, but one can’t really blame me. All of the cool things – pirates, monkeys, zombies, vampires, and ninja – have been spoiled by an internet hungry for something that I’m not entirely sure of. That this seems to be done with a sort of love and respect warms the cockles of my heart, and other such disposition changing cliché.

I didn’t have that instant reaction to Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. It may be that I’m getting less uptight in my old age, or it may be the fact that the open and gleeful stupidity of the title caught me entirely off guard. I’m not an Austen fanatic; in fact, I’ve never read one of her books, but I’m now comfortable in the knowledge that she’s in safe hands. Sometimes the appearance of stupidity can mask a deep and abiding love, and  one that the world is just a tiny bit better for.

[1] Blatant sexism meant in jest; this “article” is a bizarre mishmash of satire and whatnot. I thought this would be obvious but I don’t want people missing it and tearing me to pieces. Women continue to remain talented and valuable members of society.

[2]Donna Bowman, AV Club, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, April 15 2009

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