Today marks the start of my latest blog event, titled “Austen at War: Love is a Battlefield.” I’m really pumped up about this event, because in so many ways, the word war conjures up for me the real-life events that surrounded the lives of Austen’s characters throughout her work.
During her lifetime, the Napoleonic Wars played a huge impact on the lives of millions of people throughout Europe as intense pressures and overwhelmingly violent conflicts dominated many parts of Europe.
Austen didn’t focus her work on this war, although she includes soldiers in many of her stories and she did allude to events from the war in parts of her novels.
Finally, let us remember that though Pride & Prejudice was written during the Napoleonic Wars, Jane Austen envisioned within the novel the end of war and a lasting peace in her ending, something noticed astutely by fantasy author Lawrence Watt-Evans, in an essay on the subtle and often neglected military background of Pride & Prejudice. At the very end of the novel, Wickham and Lydia’s living situation is said to be very irregular even after “the restoration of peace .” As Watt-Evans notices, this ability to foresee an end to war even after warfare has taken up almost her entire adult life is a remarkable sign of optimism, even though he half-jokingly cautions that Austen never says who won the war . Austen’s ability to foresee the end of war and its failure to reform Wickham and Lydia’s behavior is itself a telling moral statement, though, and shows that war is an often neglected aspect of her work.
Some interesting facts about war in Austen’s novels (1):
Throughout Jane Austen’s life, there was war and unrest throughout the Western world, as European powers maneuvered for control. In fact, her life was bookended by war:
- She was born the year of the Battle of Bunker Hill (1775).
- She died two years after the allies defeated Napoleon at Waterloo (1815).
As a well-read and educated woman, Jane Austen was well aware of wars going on in the world at large, as well as being personally affected by them:
- Her sailor brothers Frank and Charles fought in the naval campaigns against France.
- Her brother Henry was a member of the Oxford militia which protected England against the threat of French invasion.
- Her cousin Eliza married a French count who was guillotined during the French Revolution.
Yet, Jane Austen has been criticized for not depicting the impact of war on Regency society in her novels. In fact, she does depict it as it would have affected the lives of those she was committed to representing in her novels. Soldiers and sailors move in and out of the pages of her novels:
- The presence of the militia in Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion is crucial to plot development and provides a vehicle for Jane Austen to comment on its effect on societal mobility.
- In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon’s travels during his military career have widened his knowledge of the world.
- In Emma, Jane Fairfax’s father is killed serving in the military.
- In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney and his son Frederick are military men.
(1) : Crossref-it
Jane Austen is well-known for writing about ideas and subjects that she herself was well-acquainted with during her lifetime. Obviously, she wasn’t a soldier and had little to no first-hand experience with the Napoleonic Wars; yet I like to think of the sparring and the witty bantering she had her characters take part in as they interacted with each other at the grand estates and the joyful ballrooms and the lush countrysides, as her form of “war” between the sexes.
Readers, this type of “war” has been the inspiration for this blog event, “Austen at War: Love is a Battlefield,” which launches today with my review of “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.” Get your gear ready for a great virtual event, all enjoyed within the location of your choice! Check out the Pinterest board I made for this event too… It’s filled with lots of great photos, military uniforms, beautiful artwork and historical information for you to peruse at your leisure.
“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies/ A Review
Can the landed gentry of Regency England restore peace and prosperity back to England when a zombie apocalypse threatens the country?
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
I hate to be so severe on any form of Jane Austen Fan Fiction, especially one that has been lavishly produced by a major movie company, and yet, here I am with very little to recommend about the movie “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.”
I went with an open mind and a tremendous love and respect for all types of JAFF, which warranted my decision to attend the opening night of this movie on a rainy Thursday evening. The theater contained, to my surprise, only about ten people, and males outnumbered female attendees by 3:1.
Within approximately 25 minutes from the opening scene, I had lost most of my good opinion regarding this movie. It took that long because the opening scene felt promising, as a brooding Sam Riley, aka Mr. Darcy, received a full body scan, sans clothing, before he is admitted into a local soiree to locate and kill what he suspects is a zombie hiding amongst a group of local people in Hertfordshire.
After this “deadly” scene, we meet the Bennet sisters, who are reputed local warriors, and they are certainly all dolled up for us, so that they are prepared not only for battling zombies but also ready to attract and locate an eligible gentleman with their killer physiques, which are generously on display throughout the entire movie. This display of female “arts and allurements” didn’t surprise me and was done in pretty good taste. It just didn’t help the storyline.
I certainly appreciated the visual effects of the movie. The costumes were beautifully created for all of the Bennet sisters. They were the perfect combination of Regency elegance and zombie-warrior-combat style. The ladies looked splendid and the men were also quite handsome in their costumes. I did lament the absence of a well-styled white cravat on Darcy throughout the movie, and his trenchcoat felt a bit too modern for my tastes, but I can’t say he didn’t carry an air of gallantry and style in his appearance and mannerisms.
The scenery and the lighting were also well done, as the atmosphere of the locations and the dim lighting typically provided the necessary mood and atmosphere for each scene, except for Lady Catherine’s ridiculous “throne,” which felt way too comedic and amateurish in its execution. I understand it’s a nod to her pompous attitude, but the structure of this set up felt too stiff and formal for me. The buildings that were used throughout were really lovely and the carriages and other supporting details added to the overall visual enjoyment of the movie. In my opinion, the movie’s greatest assets were these visual representations of this story.
However, after a while, I just couldn’t stay engaged with the plot with the type of intensity and interest a well-developed movie would normally hold for me. This was mainly due to the development of the storyline. There are quite a few changes and deletions from the book. Okay, I think viewers can forgive that decision. It’s a movie adaptation and we know how adaptations work. However, the story was so unfocused, it really lacked the proper cohesion and flow it needed to tell a well-developed story. I felt that for a movie that lasted under two hours, it tried to be too many things to too many viewers. It was like watching a movie with two titles, one which was “Pride and Prejudice,” and the other which was “Jane Austen’s Zombies.” Due to this lack of focus, I felt like I couldn’t get immersed in either storyline to care enough about how it all ended for the good people of England.
Austen’s words from “P&P” are tossed in for good measure, but for me, they felt awkward during most scenes. Many of the characters didn’t feel comfortable within their roles, with the exception of the ridiculous Mr. Collins, who does offer some light-hearted and humorous moments, and at times, Lily James came across as a worthy Elizabeth Bennet. Sam Riley was certainly a brooding and reticent Mr. Darcy, however the chemistry between Lily James and Sam Riley was pretty non-existent. I just never felt the passion Darcy is supposed to feel building towards Elizabeth throughout the movie. I enjoyed the proposal at Hunsford, which was done as a lovely “battle of the sexes,” but besides that, it was hard for me to muster up any real love for this Darcy and Elizabeth. I guess one can never underestimate the fact that Firth and Ehle were romantically involved when they filmed the 95 Andrew Davies BBC “Pride and Prejudice!”
For fans of 95 “P&P,” there is a scene where Riley jumps in a pond in a white shirt, and there’s also Elizabeth watching Darcy out of the window as he is training, instead of Darcy watching her. There’s also at least one Austen quote thrown in for good measure, but the essence of Austen’s story gets quite smashed up in between the battle scenes.
Lady Catherine’s character felt so out of place, I just couldn’t connect with her at all. She was so young and beautiful when compared with my images of Lady Catherine, I didn’t understand the decision to cast her this way. While Lena Headey is gorgeous, she seemed more like a swash-buckling pirate than Lady Catherine de Bourgh to me.
I am sorry to offer a review that sounds this dismal. I have read and loved so many JAFF variations, that I certainly felt I would’ve enjoyed this movie if it contained a well-paced and interesting story. I’ve been able to suspend my disbelief throughout lots of JAFF and enjoy Mr. Darcy as a shape-shifter, a vampire, and a werewolf, just to name a few of his transformations. Yet, this latest role as a zombie hunter didn’t strike the right chords for me and for this, I really am truly sorry.
True to Jane’s work, the movie does end with a gratifying wedding scene, even though by this point, it held little interest for me. It did, however, point to the hopes of the movie’s producers, as the ending contains a glimpse into the possibilities of a possible sequel, which I believe will only occur if movie sales for “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” do well. If most viewers share my thoughts and feelings, their good opinions, as well as a future sequel, are probably lost forever.
I think it’s great that Austen is getting her day in a major movie film, but as someone who’s read over 150 JAFF books, this was probably not the best story to bring to the big screen to get people to realize how much fun and how brilliantly conceived the Jane Austen Fan Fiction subgenre is within the book world! I do hope it opens up other opportunities for future and better conceived JAFF adaptations, but I’m not so certain about this either.
I think most JAFF and Austen fans will still want to see this movie and check it out for themselves. Perhaps, when I see it again on DVD it will improve, just like Mr. Darcy, upon further acquaintance. But for a first viewing, I’d recommend that you include a nice dinner and some good company to make the evening worth your time.
If any Just Jane 1813 readers can include some highlights they enjoyed from the movie, please do share them below. I know I’m not the only person who should have her share in this conversation!