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Doing a Reverse Bowdler

- Abstract

Among the more surprising entries on the New York Times bestseller list in recent years is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a novel “co-authored” by Jane Austen and one Seth Grahame-Smith. Ms. Austen’s and Mr. Grahame-Smith’s book retells the well-known story of Elizabeth Bennet’s relationship with Mr. Darcy as a weird gothic fable in which the bucolic setting of Hertfordshire is overrun not by landed gentry intent on marrying off their daughters but by hordes of brain-eating zombies and the saber-wielding ninjas who must destroy them. The book’s cover art, which depicts the flesh-eaten visage of the book’s heroine, is the reader’s first clue to the subtlety of this particular literary enterprise.

Like the pneumatically enlarged wares on display on the covers of many contemporary celebrity memoirs, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies markets itself as an entertaining enhancement of a lackluster original. It “transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read,” the book’s jacket copy boasts. Evidently the publishers know their audience; the book was an instant success and has been translated into 20 languages and optioned for a movie. There are now nearly 1 million copies in print, and it has been joined on shelves by Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, co-authored by Ben H. Winters.

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