Review: Pride and Prejudice, the Graphic Novel

Pride & PrejudiceJane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Ian Edginton and Robert Deas. Self Made Hero, 144 pages. $19.95 retail hardcopy; also available in electronic editions.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that I’m a huge Jane Austen fangirl. I make no apologies. I made my husband take me to the Jane Austen museum in Bath for my 40th birthday. I own every version of every Jane Austen movie made – retellings too. As a matter of facet, I collect adaptations in every form from the sublime (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Bridget Jones, Clueless) to the abusively bad (Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict is currently in my car’s CD player right now, but I’m powering through because I am not a quitter.) I’ve read Pride and Prejudice annually since I was 19 – and it’s not even my favorite Austen novel (that would be Persuasion, which I also read once a year as well as listen to the ITV Classics podcast version before bed more than that).

Yeah, I’m kind of obsessed with wit and social politics in my period-costumed love stories. Though for some reason, I never thought of reading a comic version of one of Austen’s books. I guess I never imagined a need for one.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if I think Regency-period chick lit is too good for the graphic novel form. I’m a fan of the No Fear Shakespeare series, and don’t tell any of my professors, but I much preferred Marvel’s The Iliad and The Odyssey to studying the actual Homer texts. But while Jane Austen obviously proves to be ripe for pop culture appropriation, I just never figured her characters transferring well into panels. But Self Made Hero made graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice, so I had to try.

The graphic novel version certainly gets points for the plot, but, of course, that’s residual credit for Miss Austen’s storytelling ability. Break it down as sophisticated (the plight of privileged single women, the importance of good parenting, and romance triumphing in spite of polite society) or base (girl thinks rich dude’s a pompous jerk, until she sees his really big house and he saves her ungrateful slut sister) it’s a compelling story that you have to finish once you start. So, in reviewing this I needed to try to take the Austen out of it.

It does stands up panel to panel and writer Ian Edginton (Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Scarlet Traces: The Great Game) did a fair enough job of truncating the story, but it was choppy. It follows our heroine, Elizabeth, and somewhat tracks her sister Jane, but some important story beats are cut. It’s debatable whether the omissions would cause confusion to a first time reader, but what I do know is that it does strip the original story of its flow. I had to ask myself on every page if I was only enjoying it because of my familiarity of the characters and the story. Seriously, how do you review a property you know so intimately and still be fair?

But, the thing is, this cannot have been made for fans of Jane Austen. In what would have been a really cool Dramatis Personae page Mary Bennet was labeled as the fourth oldest sister, when of course it’s Kitty who holds that spot. Drab Mary is clearly the third oldest. Duh. This sin, so early in the game, left me skeptical and I just couldn’t get past it – and trust me, I know I’m not alone.

This is a version for those who just don’t want to read a whole novel, but would like to understand their girlfriend’s Darcy references, or cover their bases for pub quiz night. I bet with the help of Wikipedia and maybe Thug Notes you could totally pull off passing an AP Exam question about Pride and Prejudice from reading this graphic novel.

That being said – I’m totally passing my copy onto my husband because he’s yet to read the real novel and he might like this. So, yes, I totally believe it has an audience. But, as I said, it’s not for the typical JA fan. Because, let’s face it, we live in age with some really hot Darcys (Colin Firth, for example) and no girl is going to get that same weak in the knees feeling for this cartoon Mr. Darcy. He’s stone-faced without the benefit of good eye acting (looking toward Firth on this note as well).

But don’t assume I’m not a fan of Robert Dreas’ (Troy Trailblazer) art work. The characters all seem a little angry, but I like the style. He nails Mrs. Bennet. She was my favorite character to study, while I find I gloss over her in the novel (because she’s hella annoying). I also found the realistic nature scenes fun. Yes, fun. I don’t think they added anything, but then again I don’t turn to graphic novels to set a scene I already have firmly planted in my head. I know what Pemberly looks like because I’ve already imagined it 24 times before and it looks just like the movies.

With this realization, I figured out why I love graphic novels and love Pride and Prejudice, but couldn’t love this graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice. I turn to comics and graphic novels to take me to a specific world found in the words and pictures. I rely on the art and the story to unfold together to show me the author and artist’s combined vision. I don’t have to do anything, but enjoy the story as it unfolds. Having already seen a better version of this story, I can’t really care about the vision unfolding. I’ve had better previous visions, thanks.

Plus, Kitty Bennet is the fourth oldest sister, dammit!