The many variations of ‘Price and Prejudice’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 4, 2017

By Laurie Lyda

Rowan Public Library

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader in search of a good story must read Jane Austen. Well, that’s not “exactly” how the quotation goes, but I think it’s still an accurate statement.

I first read Austen when I was 11 and a librarian who saw me wandering the stacks looking for new titles recommended “Pride and Prejudice.” I quickly worked my way through all of Austen’s novels, and while I was much too young to understand the socio-political significance of her oeuvre, I certainly enjoyed the narratives she crafted and populated with memorable characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” and Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth from “Persuasion.”

As I grew older, I returned to Austen’s worlds on a regular basis, and I’ve quite honestly lost track of the number of times I’ve read “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma.” I’ve studied her works as an academic, and I’ve taught them as a professor. When teaching, I usually assigned the same classic I’d started with as it has become such a pop culture touchstone, and I often included film adaptations and books inspired by “Pride and Prejudice,” too.

The rise of transformative works and their increasing mainstreaming invites so many more individuals into the audience for Austen’s narratives, and there’s a version to suit so many different literary palates now. Here are a few of the works I’ve recommended:

First published in 1813, “Pride and Prejudice” is superficially a classic novel of manners. Dig a little deeper and discover the author’s wry and subversive humor as she satirizes social conventions and expectations. No matter how closely you interrogate the novel (or don’t), the stories of the various couples navigating their way across the dance floor, through the parks, and down the marriage aisle make for an enjoyable read.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1940 version of “Pride and Prejudice” is a classic, but don’t look to it for historical accuracy or adherence to the novel. From the costumes to the narrative, ideas are conflated and rearranged to fit the then-audience and the 118 minute run-time. Greer Garson portrays Elizabeth and Laurence Olivier delivers a Darcy for the ages. This film is part of RPL’s circulating collection.

A&E’s 1995 mini-series “Pride and Prejudice” is a masterpiece of an adaptation – at 300 minutes, it’s also a monster-sized one. It’s well worth the time investment, though, with carefully chosen aesthetics and dialogue that’s loyal to the novel.

Jennifer Ehle gives us a memorable Elizabeth, and Colin Firth’s portrayal of Darcy (and the wet shirt scene that is a slight deviation from the novel) launched his status as a leading man. The entire film is a delight and is part of RPL’s circulating collection.

Inspired by Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (1996) is cheeky, British humor, and a diverting read. After Bridget crosses paths with Mark Darcy, comedic shenanigans ensue as she learns what she values in life and in a partner.

The backstory of the novel is also fun to explore: It began as a column in “The Independent” and has now grown into a multi-novel series. Perhaps most exciting for fans everywhere: Fielding fashioned the Darcy character with Colin Firth (who was fresh off his success portraying Fitzwilliam Darcy in A&E’s “Pride and Prejudice” adaptation) in mind. For him to actually play Mark Darcy in the film adaptions of Fielding’s books is an explosion of fandom goodness. Fielding’s books are part of RPL’s circulating collection, though you have to look elsewhere for a copy of the R-rated films. (RPL’s film collection only includes G, PG and PG-13 titles.)

More recently, adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” have taken on a new twist: the incorporation of monsters — specifically, zombies. Years ago, when I first heard of Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” I rolled my eyes. “Why,” I wondered, “would anyone add zombies to Austen’s meticulously crafted narratives?”

When I finally read the monsterized adaptation, I learned why: It’s entertaining. For those interested in cultural theory, it’s also intriguing to consider how the now-popular monsterized versions of classics (many put out by Quirk Books) reflect anxieties about our own society and mores.

And when you juxtapose those theoretical ponderings with Grahame-Smith’s accounts of how he wrote the novel — which involved, in part, using a full-text version and adding zombiefied bits in red to each page — you can conjure some very fun explorations of the writing process, the reflection of social change, and our culture’s love affair with horror.

Plus, whether he fully intended to or not, Grahame-Smith participates in Austen’s witty social critique, too: The image of a clueless Mr. Collins and his zombie wife Charlotte Lucas says so much about the machinations of marriage in Austen’s time. The novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Grahame-Smith and Austen is part of RPL’s circulating collection.

Though the 2010 graphic novel version of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” isn’t yet available through RPL’s circulating collection, I recommend it as well. The artistic renderings of the novel’s adapted events, combined with the narrative’s conversion into bite-sized bits, offers a fantastic gateway into discussion about the reading process and how we interpret visual narratives. (Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art” (1994) is an enlightening supplement, too.) Perhaps most importantly, though, the graphic novel is simply a lot of fun.

The 2016 film version of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which is part of RPL’s circulating collection, is on my own to-watch list. Starring Lily James and Sam Riley, the film’s stylized aesthetic and energetic adaptation of Grahame-Smith’s narrative looks like it’ll be popcorn-worthy fun.

Also on my list of new adaptations is Jenny Hubbard’s upcoming theatrical adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.” Hubbard is a reference librarian at RPL Headquarters and the author of the novels “Paper Covers Rock” (2011) and “And We Stay” (2014). Tickets for the Lee Street Theatre production will go on sale June 20. Play dates are July 20-23 and 27-29. RPL East Branch Supervisor Emma Rose has been cast as Elizabeth Bennett.

While this is far from an exhaustive list of Austenian adaptations, it hopefully offers a starting point for exploration. It’s important to remember that while Austen’s prose may not be for everyone, the modern transformations of her classic novels offer translations that wider audiences can enjoy.

For example, fans of Alicia Silverstone’s 1995 “Clueless” don’t always realize that it was inspired by Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma.” So, even if you never want to read the original novel, by watching “Clueless,” you’ve been exposed, at least in part, to a representation of Austen’s satirical commentary on, among other themes, how socioeconomics shape the institution of marriage.

To locate Austen’s works or additional adaptations or even criticism about these titles, visit You can also visit your nearest branch and ask any RPL staff member for assistance.

Summer Reading Registration: Ongoing. Three age categories: Children (newborns-rising fifth-graders), Teens (rising sixth- through 12th-graders), and Adults (ages 18+). In addition to tracking reading hours, 2017 Summer Reading festivities include special programs and a variety of prizes. Contact your nearest branch for full details.

Movie Nights at East: Monday, 5:30 p.m., East Branch, Rockwell. Make sure you’ve seen the first “Cars” movie before the third opens in theaters on the 16th. A hotshot racecar named Lightning McQueen gets waylaid in Radiator Springs, where he finds the true meaning of friendship and family. Come back Tuesday, June 6, for the second film in the series. Star racecar Lightning McQueen and his pal Mater head overseas to compete in the World Grand Prix. But the road to the championship becomes rocky as Mater gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own. Both movie nights are free and open to all ages.

Teen Summer Reading: Welcome to the Team. June 12, 3:30 p.m., East Branch; June 13 at headquarters; and June 15 at South Rowan Regional. This summer is all about teamwork, so you’ll meet your group and get to know them by playing high-energy games. Snacks will be provided.

Adult Summer Reading: A Breath of Fresh Air. June 12, South Rowan Regional, China Grove. Brian Magi, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at UNCC, will discuss air quality science, air quality in the Piedmont, and what kind of effects climate change will have on the air we breathe. Topics will also include how citizen science is playing a role in learning about our atmosphere. This program is free and open to the public.

No-School Cinema: Captain America marathon, June 14, 1-8:30 p.m., South Rowan Regional, features “The First Avenger,” “Winter Soldier” and “Civil War.” All three films are rated PG-13 and have runtimes of, respectively, 124 minutes, 135 minutes, and 147 minutes.”The First Avenger” begins at 1 p.m.; “Winter Soldier” at 3:30 p.m., and”Civil War” at 6 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public. All ages are welcome; however, an adult must accompany children ages 13 and under.

Displays: Headquarters, music box collection (Jennifer Hands) and Plein Air art; East, “Build a Better World” summer reading celebration; South, stained glass.

Gallery at headquarters: Photographs and glass work by Maria Hall.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.