Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Not really. Actually Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)

Me (Dave) again. Kim is taking the next two weeks.

Today I’m going to talk about Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Well, okay, not really. I’m actually going to talk about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

Why not? Pride and Prejudice may be my favorite Jane Austen novel so far (having read that one, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey thus far), but what would I really have to say about it that hasn’t been said already? Pride and Prejudice was on our list, but we’d already done two Austen novels. Though I think it is a moving story of how imperfect humans (in other words, all) fall in love fully of sparkling wit, manners comedy, and a wonderful depiction of English society at that time, that’s all been said.

So why not let that all stand and look at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies instead?

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was 3rd for Kate Atkinson, 5th for Michael Chabon, 6th for Robb Forman Dew, 4th for Alice Hoffmann, 5th for Norman Mailer, 1st for Claire Messud, 6th for Iain Pears, 9th for Ian Rankin, and 8th for Adriana Trigiani.)

After all, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies pretty much takes the original text and morphs it as it goes along, adding in zombies and such. It isn’t exactly a complete retelling, since so much of the framework is there. It’s more of a recasting, where it’s the background that has been recast as the English countryside overrun with zombies.

To give an example, let us compare the original Austen 3:16 (little wrestling joke there) from Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

with that from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a zombie in possession of brains, must be in want of more brains.

Little differences.

I enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies more than I expected. Grahame-Smith manages to keep enough of Austen’s work alive in this while still creating an interesting new imagining. The framework is pretty much intact, but still creatively done with the addition of zombies.

The zombies can get a bit gimmicky, but then there is the Austen framework to fall back on. Admittedly, it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the heart or wit of Austen’s original, but I don’t think that would have been possible and this certainly wasn’t intended to be that kind of book.

The references to China and kung fu are a bit repetitive and overdone, and Grahame-Smith tries to stick in some sexual humor that seems horribly out of place for the characters. Still, overall I enjoyed myself. I think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies‘s interest is somewhat limited to those who know Austen, as there’s no joke otherwise, but who doesn’t to at least some degree?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies manages to hold a conversation with Austen, and most decent literature is a really conversation with the world in one way or another…particularly with the rest of the world of literature. Grahame-Smith manages in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to do something both interesting and fun.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

For today, I read Persuasion by Jane Austen. Kate Atkinson, Julian Barnes, Mary Gordon, Elizabeth Hay, Valerie Martin and Ann Patchett all listed this in their top ten lists.

I am here to make a confession to you. I’m not very fond of Jane Austen. I know this is weird to hear someone who is literary who is also a woman admit. It appears sometimes that women who read literature just simply, must adore Jane Austen. I don’t. I find Pride and Prejudice a little tedious, and Mr. Darcy does very little for me. I’m hoping no one decides to take away my “avid reader” card for this admission.

Persuasion proved to me yet again why I’m not overly fond of Austen.

Most of her characters tend to be very unlikeable people. And while I know that’s sort of her point, it still becomes tiresome to have over 80% of the people in a book you’re reading be so obviously disliked by the author of the book. In Persuasion, the main character is Anne Elliot. The unlikeable people in the book are Anne’s father and two sisters. Her father cares nothing for Anne and everything for the fair and delightful Elizabeth. Elizabeth is snooty and conscious of her father’s favor, so therefore dotes on him and thinks very little of Anne (often even saying things right in front of Anne to indicate how little she is regarded). Anne’s sister Mary is a selfish, spoiled, hypochondriac who is passive aggressive and feels the need to be the center of attention at all times. She’s not shy about forcing this on people either. Then there’s Lady Russell (who possibly isn’t meant to be unlikeable but ends up so), the family friend whom Anne is close to since the rest of her family are essentially worthless. Lady Russell was a dear friend of Anne’s deceased mother. She is judgmental about those she feels are beneath the Elliots (who are a minor form of nobility) and manipulates things for Anne’s “best interests” but really are just her interests in keeping Anne close to her and dependent upon her company. Then Austen has her “good hearted and kind but sort of simple minded” folk in the Musgroves, Mary’s husband’s family. Everyone from the Navy in here are shown as being great people, even while being looked down on by Anne’s father and the esteemed Elizabeth. Then, of course, there is the love interest. Captain Wentworth, whom years ago was in love with Anne and she with him (she was 19) but Anne broke off the relationship upon the advice of Mrs. Russell who felt that Captain Wentworth (who was not a Captain then, not really anything at that point) was unsuitable as a match for the Elliots. He went away bitter and sad and became wildly successful in the Navy, and making gads of money. He is portrayed as being good and kind and smart and steadfast. He isn’t a brooder like Mr. Darcy.

Now, I will admit to the plot being a good one. Captain Wentworth and Anne part, 9 years previously. Then, at the time of the story Anne’s father, who with Elizabeth has spent a lot of their money pretending to be even more important than they are must rent out the family home. Which they do. To Captain Wentworth’s sister and her husband (an Admiral). Anne, is of course, all a-flutter as she has never lost her feelings for Wentworth. However, Lady Russell wants her to stay with her while dear dad and sister retire to Bath, but alas, the dear woman can’t keep Anne as her obedient lapdog because she just simply has too many places to be. So, at this point, Mary puts in her whiny plea for attention, simply begging Anne to come and stay with her and her family. Anne does so. Captain Wentworth begins to pay visits to Charles (Mary’s husband) family, including Charles’ two sweet, goodhearted (but a little simple, remember?) sisters. Anne fights off the green monster of jealousy (which being the paragon of goodness that she is, she mostly succeeds). It appears that Wentworth is going for one of the sisters, when they go on an overnight trip to Lyme (the Musgrove girls, Charles, Wentworth, Anne and her sister, Mary) and a terrible accident happens (coincidentally they’ve met up with two other Captains of the Navy who are just simply fine and wonderful men). After this, Anne’s time at Mary’s is up and she must trot back to Mrs. Russell’s side in Bath. There has begun to be hints of Wentworth thawing towards her and his possibly still also having feelings for her (of which she becomes even more a-flutter but being the paragon of goodness she is, successfully hides this from everyone in order to not hinder his match with the Musgrove girl). Her cousin, her father’s heir, in the meantime has shown up in Bath, and has reconciled himself to the family (previously, they felt he didn’t want anything to do with them) and Elizabeth and Daddy are just simply enamored of him now. He sets his sights for Anne, but she never quite trusts him. Then! Hark! Wentworth shows up in Bath. And so it goes from there.

While at some points just a tiny bit predictable (women authors have been emulating Austen for 200 years, really), I did enjoy the story itself. However, I also didn’t like Anne very much. I’m sure Austen meant to portray her as likeable, but she just…was too good to be believable.

So, I found it both a little tedious to read and a little enjoyable to read.

If you are an Austen fan, and have not read Persuasion, I would then highly recommend it to her. I am not putting down anyone that likes Austen. I just happen to not like her a lot. I actually enjoyed this way more than I remembered enjoying Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. (Though, I do remember enjoying Northanger Abbey a lot).

But, because of this blog, you will get to hear me talk about Austen and her unlikeable characters again! Soon enough.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

I don’t normally use my quick little Goodreads reviews for this blog, but I’m going to use it this time to talk about Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park:

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by this book. After “Pride and Prejudice” and “Northanger Abbey,” I was looking forward to more Austen. However, I don’t think this should have been it. There weren’t any real defects as such, but I just didn’t see the wit and vitality that I expected from Austen. I also kind of found the characters to be a bit of moral puppets. There was the good but meek, the clueless good, and the rotten. Everyone behaved accordingly and met their ends accordingly. I was appalled by much in the novel, but that is really more from what I find morally reprehensible in the time period as opposed to a fault of the prose. I can’t fault Austen for that aspect, but I just didn’t find a whole lot I really enjoyed about the novel.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 7th for Susan Minot.)

Mind you, I wrote a real review for this one. I started out with the above and expanded. I talked about how though I was appalled by the treatment of women in the book, I understood that was a function of the time period. I talked about how my problem was with how the writing just didn’t seem up to Austen par and how the characters seemed to be simple reflections of their function in the book. I provided extensive textual examples.

However, then I went to write another review. I started from the document containing my in depth review for Mansfield Park. After finishing the review, I noticed that I hadn’t saved it as a new document. No problem, right? I just hit control Z until I had my original Mansfield Park review, hit save, hit control Y until I have the complete new review, and then did a save as and saved it as a new document. I closed the doc and reopened. My new review was in the new doc under the new title. However, when I opened the Mansfield Park review doc, it was still the new review. Word hadn’t saved the fix when I told it to.

To say that I was pissed is an understatement.

At that point, I had to decide what to do. I was mad. Mansfield Park was no longer even fresh in my mind. Given that I hadn’t really cared for it, I certainly didn’t want to write the review twice.

As such, I did exactly what you see before you. I decided to share the saga instead and hope that the quick Goodreads review above tells you enough about the book. Frankly, to me at least, this is more interesting than Mansfield Park anyway. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

Normally, I avoid reading books in a series out of sequence. However, I only became aware that The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope was the final book in his The Chronicles of Barsetshire series (including in total: The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington, and The Last Chronicle of Barset) after I’d started reading. It was too late at that point, though it ended up being fine. Even though I’d read none of the other books in the series, I wasn’t lost at all. This book wraps up a series, but it felt to me as if it stood just fine on its own.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 5th for Jonathan Raban.)

The Last Chronicle of Barset centers on the misfortune of the impoverished, though upstanding, Reverend Josiah Crawley caused by his passing of a stolen check. He is sure he didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t help him much since he can’t explain how he got the check. Without that explanation, he faces conviction as a thief and destruction of his livelihood and his family:

Up to this period Mr. Walker had not suspected Mr. Crawley of anything dishonest, nor did he suspect him as yet. The poor man had probably received the money from the dean, and had told the lie about it, not choosing to own that he had taken money from his rich friend, and thinking that there would be no further inquiry. He had been very foolish, and that would be the end of it. Mr. Soames was by no means so good-natured in his belief. “How should my pocket-book have got into Dean Arabin’s hands?” said Mr. Soames, almost triumphantly. “And then I felt sure at the time that I had left it at Crawley’s house!”

Mr. Walker wrote a letter to the dean, who at that moment was in Florence, on his way to Rome, from whence he was going on to the Holy Land. There came back a letter from Mr. Arabin, saying that on the 17th of March he had given to Mr. Crawley a sum of fifty pounds, and that the payment had been made with five Bank of England notes of ten pounds each, which had been handed by him to his friend in the library at the deanery. The letter was very short, and may, perhaps, be described as having been almost curt. Mr. Walker, in his anxiety to do the best he could for Mr. Crawley, had simply asked a question as to the nature of the transaction between the two gentlemen, saying that no doubt the dean’s answer would clear up a little mystery which existed at present respecting a cheque for twenty pounds. The dean in answer simply stated the fact as it has been given above; but he wrote to Mr. Crawley begging to know what was in truth this new difficulty, and offering any assistance in his power. He explained all the circumstances of the money, as he remembered them. The sum advanced had certainly consisted of fifty pounds, and there had certainly been five Bank of England notes. He had put the notes into an envelope, which he had not closed, but had addressed to Mr. Crawley, and had placed this envelope in his friend’s hands. He went on to say that Mrs. Arabin would have written, but that she was in Paris with her son. Mrs. Arabin was to remain in Paris during his absence in the Holy Land, and meet him in Italy on his return. As she was so much nearer at hand, the dean expressed a hope that Mrs. Crawley would apply to her if there was any trouble.

The letter to Mr. Walker was conclusive as to the dean’s money. Mr. Crawley had not received Lord Lufton’s cheque from the dean. Then whence had he received it? The poor wife was left by the lawyer to obtain further information from her husband. Ah, who can tell how terrible were the scenes between that poor pair of wretches, as the wife endeavoured to learn the truth from her miserable, half-maddened husband! That her husband had been honest throughout, she had not any shadow of doubt. She did not doubt that to her at least he endeavoured to tell the truth, as far as his poor racked imperfect memory would allow him to remember what was true and what was not true. The upshot of it all was that the husband declared that he still believed that the money had come to him from the dean. He had kept it by him, not wishing to use it if he could help it. He had forgotten it,–so he said at times,–having understood from Arabin that he was to have fifty pounds, and having received more. If it had not come to him from the dean, then it had been sent to him by the Prince of Evil for his utter undoing; and there were times in which he seemed to think that such had been the manner in which the fatal cheque had reached him. In all that he said he was terribly confused, contradictory, unintelligible,–speaking almost as a madman might speak,–ending always by declaring that the cruelty of the world had been too much for him, that the waters were meeting over his head, and praying for God’s mercy to remove him from the world. It need hardly be said that his poor wife in these days had a burden on her shoulders that was more than enough to crush any woman.

Beyond the stolen check and Crawley’s misfortune, the book relates in meticulous detail the society that surrounds Crawley, the obsession with his alleged crime, and what those in society do about it. There are a few love interests woven in there (along with some interesting wrinkles such as how a rich Major wishes to marry one of Crawley’s daughters, though such a marriage would pollute his family with the crime if Crawley is indeed convicted), but the majority of the book chronicles the rigid English society and how they handle the indictment of the clergyman.

Now, I certainly would have to take my hat off to Trollope for his ability to render the rigid social structure of his time period in The Last Chronicle of Barset, presuming I wore hats. It reminded me somewhat of a comedy of manners, with perhaps the comedy removed. The number of people and their various interactions are well described and seem to give a comprehensive picture of human life as a whole during the time period.

One thing I kept thinking of as I read was the works of Jane Austen. In comparing Austen to The Last Chronicle of Barset, I personally prefer Austen (at least the works of hers that I’ve read). I really find no fault with Trollope, but I think Austen is a much more energetic and entertaining writer while still capturing the rigid social hierarchy. It is even more to Austen’s credit that she was a generation prior to Trollope and he could look to her work for example.

But, all that is neither here nor there. The fact that I personally prefer Austen doesn’t mean that The Last Chronicle of Barset isn’t a good book. For one thing, perhaps Trollope’s prose style itself more exemplifies the rigid English structure. Regardless, though The Last Chronicle of Barset has much to recommend it, I do admit that it is a little bit of a chore to read.