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Pride and Prejudice and GRIT

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: Cindy Murphy, Jane Austen, Books, GRIT community,

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

Pride and Predjudice and Zombies cover

Just as it is universally acknowledged that nearly everything written about Jane Austen must start with a variation of the opening line of Pride and Prejudice. I recently read the bestseller (and soon to be movie) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, co-authored by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I found it a hilarious spin on a classic piece of English literature. It was not exactly a parody; Grahame-Smith didn’t totally rewrite Austen’s 19th century romance novel to suit the zombie plotline; approximately 85 percent of Austen’s original text remains. The addition of zombies is a sub-plot to the familiar beloved story of the Bennet sisters, now skilled in the deadly arts as zombie-slaying warriors. As overtly ridiculous as the premise sounds, it was pulled off with much of the same sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant sarcastic humor prevalent in all of Austen’s books.

I followed it up with Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen, and Austen alone, without the help of Grahame-Smith or zombies to add excitement to the book. I’ve always like Jane; those that don’t, vehemently deny the contents of her stories have much worth. I've read more than once that you either like her, or don't – there's really not much of an in-between. Often criticized for ignoring issues of worldly significance, she always stuck very close to home, and wrote about what she knew.

Some complain that nothing much happens in a Jane Austen novel. She grew up in a close-knit family in a small hamlet in southern England, and lived through the American and French Revolutions, and tumultuous period of disorder in the Napoleonic era. Her stories, though, contain not even a mention of the turbulence of those times. There are no political upheavals or secret plots to overthrow the government; neither can you expect to find action-packed chase scenes, murders, or blood and guts (except for the occasional dozen or so zombie slayings).

What you will find is a rich tapestry of life as Jane knew it. It is the excitement in the ordinary – the drama of everyday living. Her scenes are mostly rural, never venturing far beyond the tranquility of English village life. It was a life marked by the simplicity of time moving at a much slower pace than it does now – and the contentment and amusement found in such a life.

Her writing is a social commentary of the time, of both its virtues and its shortcomings. She has a keen observation of people and everyday life, coupled with a wry wit that can't help but make me smile. This is just the reason her stories have remained popular with so many for nearly two hundred years – they make a person smile.

Unlike the Grahame-Smith’s slaughtering of the famous opening line of Pride and Prejudice, the following quote remains in its original form in the zombie version as it first appeared in Jane’s:

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

Pride and Predjudice cover

I thought this was interesting, probably because I’ve never really thought of vanity and pride as being synonymous. You can strut your stuff and be proud as a peacock and be so vain you probably think this post is about you. Vanity is definitely not a virtue, but is pride so immoral?

According to some, pride is considered a cardinal sin – one of the Seven Deadly ones, right up there with wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy, and gluttony. The bible claims, in so many words, that pride comes before a fall.

The dictionary claims “pride” is first, a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value and self-respect; second, it is pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association, such as parental pride. Mixed in with the list of definitions are words such as “conceit” and “ostentatious displays.”

But aren’t conceited, ostentatious displays more of vanity than pride? Merriam Webster’s says vanity is “inflated pride in oneself or one's appearance.” This would follow Austen’s quote that vanity is how we portray ourselves to other people. But can you have an inflated sense of pride if there's no one around to impress? If a lumberjack fells the biggest tree in the forest, and no one is there to hear his boast, and “ooos” and “ahhhs” over his feat, is it really that impressive? Can he just feel satisfied and proud of a hard day’s work without being condemned to hell for feeling such things ... or in the least, not made the subject of a Carly Simon song?

Of course he can. There can be no vanity without pride, but all pride does not constitute vanity. It seems though, that the focus is often on the kind of stubborn pride which causes us to refuse to admit we were wrong, or on the arrogance that comes with vanity. Check the multitude of inspirational quote sites on the Internet. While quotes about Jane Austen run fairly equal; there are nearly as many negative things said about her writing as there are positive; quotes about “pride” are overwhelmingly lopsided. The vast majority of them attach a negative connotation to pride, with only a handful depicting pride in a positive light.

Two in that handful are Margaret Thatcher’s contention that “disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction,” and an unknown author’s thought that “pride is a personal commitment. It is an attitude which separates excellence from mediocrity.”

It doesn’t sound so bad does it?

“Community pride” and “hometown pride” have almost become buzz terms, as people strive to make their small towns and large cities better places in which to live and raise their families. Without this pride there lies the danger of indifference. Detrimental to success, indifference breeds a stagnant community which fails to keep its current residents or attract future ones, and then the community itself, fails.

At the nursery, we take pride in providing quality plants, gardening advice, and a high level of customer service; I take pride in performing my job to the best of my abilities. Both exceptional students, one with quirky humor and funky style, and the other with a quiet, unwavering love of nature, my daughters are my “pride and joy.” I could not be more proud of them.

I am proud too, to be a part of the GRIT community and share this blog section of GRIT’s website with a wide range of interesting people. It strikes me now, how much GRIT and a Jane Austen novel are alike. No, I don’t think I’d ever open the pages of GRIT and find in it that it’s been universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in need of a wife. Neither would I expect to find in-depth war coverage, political analysis, or a study on economics; I can go to Time and Newsweek magazines for those topics. There is no action-packed drama of high-speed chases (except for the occasional runaway pig). But there are similarities. While I would be really surprised to read a blogger has attended a neighbor’s ball, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find she has been invited to a meal to share in her neighbor’s harvest (where hopefully homegrown brains are not on the menu). I will find bloggers who share their simple joys found in the ordinary, and I will read of their successes and disappointments in every day living. Here, I will find a celebration of life that moves at a slower pace in a world that sometimes seems as if it’s spun out of control. There will always be something to make me smile. And zombies aren’t needed to make me do it.