Braaaaaains…and Jane Austen

I finally picked up Seth Grahame-Smith’s oft-talked about Jane Austen pastiche Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,  because I need some airplane reading. And it really makes me wonder what is the big obsession with Jane Austen right now? In the last several years, we’ve had movies like Becoming Jane and The Jane Austen Book Club. Now there are a dozen books out either dealing with Austen herself or playing fast and loose with her canon. Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre (WTF? I don’t even know). Now there’s Mansfield Park and Mummies. What’s next…? Emma Meets the Wolfman? A Haunting at Northanger Abbey?

I guess my big question is…why Austen? Why not the Brontes? Where’s Jane Eyre re-imagined with Rochester as a steampunk-ish cyborg? Or Wuthering Heights Cathy and Heathcliff as a soul-sucking succubus and incubus? Why not male authors like Charles Dickens or Mark Twain? God knows, some zombies would’ve made Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury more interesting. Why are works based on Jane Austen’s books “hot” right now?

Pardon me while I commit blasphemy, but I’ve never been a huge fan of her works. I distinctly remember skiving off reading Northanger Abbey for a class and bullshitting my way through the related course work. But I still find the “fandom” for her work fascinating…and the fact that it has basically spawned published fan fiction is an interesting glimpse into the future of both fanworks and the publishing industry.

Obviously, this isn’t new. Alexandra Ripley wrote Scarlett, the sequel to Gone With The Wind. Plenty of authors pick up where someone else left off and create new stories in the canon. But I feel like the Austenpalooza is the first time we’re seeing it in bulk. It’s like someone behind the scenes issued a fan fiction challenge and said, “Go!” 

And since zombies move at a rather lumbering pace (unless we’re talking the ones from 28 Days Later), I think we’ll continue to see this amalgamation of classic literature and fan fiction plod along for the next few years. But I’ll be interested to see what happens after that — if works based on more current books, existing TV shows and such, will be allowed to bloom as marketable pieces instead of just existing within the confines of Internet-based archives and fanzines.

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5 thoughts on “Braaaaaains…and Jane Austen

  1. Mala, you’ll be happy to know that someone has come up with Jane Slayre, reinterpreting Jane Eyre as a Vampire Slayer. Also there is going to be Little Women and Werewolves. Funny, we were just talking Monday night about Heathcliff, whether he was a demon, a vampire or a werewolf. I opted for fallen angel but I like your idea of succubus & incubus.

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    • Jane Slayre? Oh, my. Maybe she can make short work of Mr. Darcy the vampyre? LOL. And I don’t know how to feel about Little Women and Werewolves.

      You know, it sort of stands out that this is happening to largely feminine classic literature. I wonder if the “zombiefication” of it is an attempt to introduce it to a male audience? Like, “Hey, don’t like chick books? Well, how about a chick book with zombies and werewolves?”

      Actually, they should start doing that to Nicholas Sparks’ movies. I would totally enjoy The Notebook with zombies.

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  2. I find all these weird remakes of Jane Austen’s work quite hilarious. If I recall correctly Jane Austen was also big in the mid 90’s when all these movie and TV adaptations of her work were coming out. I’ve never read any of Jane Austen’s books so I don’t know whether the fascination with her is justified.

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  3. I appreciate your post because it gave me a new way to think about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I wasn’t a fan because I was expecting it to be inspired by the book more than a retelling (I must have only skimmed reviews) – something along the lines of two Jane Eyre inspired works – Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. PP&Z sticks too close to the source material IMO – it seems to me the presence of zombies should change the structure in some way but I guess I can accept it as fanfiction for those who want to revisit the narrative with a slight twist or others who would never read the original. It also does what most Jane Austen film adaptations do – more fully flesh out and include the pov of male characters because Austen sometimes doesn’t seem that interested in them – which is something I love about her.

    Did you read Anthony Lane’s New Yorker review of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film? He describes that version as Jane Austen Brontëfied – which seems spot on to me. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/11/14/051114crci_cinema Anyway, thanks for an interesting read.

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    • I really loved Wide Sargasso Sea, which is funny because I could never get through Jane Eyre. And PPZ is a similar reading joy, even though the books are definitely of two different types. While Rhys’ book is a prequel and completely alternative telling, the latter inserts things in the existing text that shouldn’t rightly be there. They’re both tropes that happen in fan fiction, but the outcomes are vastly different.

      Either way, I think it’s an interesting thing to do, and I’m definitely enjoying the zombified P&P more than the original so far.

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