Pride and Prejudice | Novel: Jane Austen / Norton Critical Editions | Graphic Novel: Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus / Marvel Comics
Elizabeth Bennet is happy to see her older sister Jane falling in love with Mr. Bingley, a rich young man who has just taken up residence in a nearby home. Unfortunately, in order to see Bingley, Elizabeth and the rest of the Bennets have to put up with his proud, unsociable friend, Mr. Darcy. After being scorned by him, Elizabeth vows to have nothing to do with the man, and decidedly hates him after finding out about the injustice he’s done to another new acquaintance, Mr. Wickham. But first impressions aren’t always what they seem, and Elizabeth may find that she’s sided with the wrong man.
Pride and Prejudice was originally published in 1813, but despite the nearly 200-year gap between its creation and the present day, Jane Austen’s novel proves itself endlessly popular. There is a plethora of unofficial sequels, as well as several movies and a wonderful mini-series from the BBC. The Victorian novel has even been famously readapted to include zombies in the Bennet sisters’ quest for love. So, despite the distinct lack of action or anything else people expect in a comic, it’s entirely unsurprising that someone tried to make a graphic novel out of Austen’s book.
I won’t hide the fact that, as far as classic novels go, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites. Anguished high school students may disagree, but one of the biggest draws of Austen’s novel is the humor. We start right off on a sarcastic note with one of the most famous lines in literature: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Austen spends much of her novel poking fun at society, using characters like Mrs. Bennet (who is basically a caricature) to overemphasize the ideas and expectations of the time, and even by today’s standards her jabs still ring true. But best of all is, of course, the love story: no “love at first sight” garbage, but a gradual shift from hate to affection as misunderstandings and first impressions are slowly overcome.
This may have come from my own warm feelings towards the Elizabeth/Darcy romance, but I had hopes of the graphic novel having a sort of shoujo-manga feel, much like Marvel’s more girl-centered Spider-man Loves Mary Jane comics. The cover in particular tricked me into believing that this would be the case, with its pastel colors and soft shading, along with the cute teen magazine-esque blurbs. The interior art is a different story. The first shot of the Bennet sisters has all five looking awfully sexy and sultry, including Mary, the one often described as plain. Lydia specifically is wearing a heavy-lipped, open-mouthed expression as she talks of the officers in Meryton, as if the artist wants to foreshadow her less-than-desirable behavior still to come. Mrs. Bennet’s large, exaggerated expressions still convey her silliness, and snobby Caroline Bingley wears a suitable pinched expression, but in general the art sucks out much of the lighthearted feeling.
The graphic novel falls victim to over-narration, showing a usual lack of faith in the art to clue readers in to what’s going on. However, there are some cases where the artist shows some sense of how to use a panel layout. When Mr. Collins is proposing to Elizabeth, each row of panels is split between Mr. Collins’ and Elizabeth’s faces; while Mr. Collins is haranguing her, we see on Elizabeth’s face her mounting frustration and annoyance, where in the book we only get her emotions after the speech. We see this similarly again when Mr. Darcy gives his proposal, and her trembling fists show her rage at his pride. But while the graphic novel draws out these scenes, overall the pacing is much too quick. Most of the scenes don’t last beyond a page, if they even get too far, and a lot of very key moments that should have been dwelt on are rushed through.
The characters suffer from the fast pace as well. Many of the main characters escape relatively unscathed—we have a good understanding of Elizabeth’s headstrong personality, and Mrs. Bennet is still satisfyingly absurd. Minor characters do suffer from diminished page time or complete omission: Mary, the middle Bennet sister, only appears on a couple of pages, and Maria and Mrs. Hurst, sisters of other key characters, have been cut out entirely. It’s not big loss, as none of these characters do much to push the plot forward, with Mary only proving an opposite to the rambunctious Lydia and Kitty, and Mrs. Hurst simply echoing Caroline Bingley’s disdain for the Bennets. Unfortunately the downsides of this are greater. We hardly catch sight of Mr. Darcy’s younger sister Georgiana, who doesn’t have a line of dialogue. Even more detrimental to understanding the plot is Mr. Wickham’s diminished page time: his brisk introduction gives us no real clue as to why everyone finds him so initially charming, so the revelation of his past and future immoral behavior isn’t as shocking as in the novel.
Despite the fact that the artist uses some panels to good effect, the two most appealing aspects of Pride and Prejudice—the romance, and the humor—are severely diminished, thanks to a pace that moves too fast and art that just doesn’t match the tone. Marvel’s adaptation is not awful, but it still won’t be appealing to anyone who isn’t already an Austen fan. Even big Pride and Prejudice fans would likely rather chuckle along with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or spend six hours watching the mini-series than spend the 45 minutes it takes to read this adaptation.
Have any graphic novel adaptations you think do a good job? Or a comic you want me to check out for you? Leave suggestions for future columns in the comments!