The 19th century marks the beginning of a great many things, but among them is the advent of print culture. Like how digital is the hot, new medium for our 21st century society, the increased distribution of books via periodicals and the newly-invented libraries made literature a hot commodity in the 1800s. The writing style of the time reflected the dominance of books—the quick-hitting medium of movies did not exist yet so books went on for as long as possible in order to provide days of entertainment. Now that our society has forms of amusement that lay outside of the reading and card games ever-present in Jane Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice, our preferred method of reading has shifted and graphic novels are increasingly more appropriate for an audience that requires pictures to break up the text.
This makes Robert Deas and Ian Edginton’s adaptation of the three-volumed Pride and Prejudice into a graphic novel an interesting experiment, indeed.
Any adaptation has two unique challenges. The first is the requirement of some level of faithfulness to the original text. While cinematic adaptations may take an enormous amount of liberties with this, a transfer of a novel to a graphic novel demands a higher level of similarity. The second challenge is that the adaptation must take on its own form and become an enjoyable and comprehensible text for the reader in its own right.
The conclusion: while this adaptation remains faithful to the original Austen novel in its barest form, it is so thoroughly abridged that it loses much of the novel’s plot and themes.
What many people don’t realize is that Pride and Prejudice is often not read as a classic love story. One popular interpretation is that it is a satire of the courtships and socializations of the upper class of Jane Austen’s time. One of the best lines is said by the protagonist Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet’s father: “For what do we live, but make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” This line, along with nearly all mentions of the Bennet family’s reputation and sense of propriety do not appear, leaving the graphic adaptation as only a straight-forward, and perhaps cliché, love tale.
But readers do not get the full benefit of the love tale either. No reader who only reads this adaptation will come away with a thorough understanding of why Mr. Darcy and Lizzy’s relationship is one that is rooted for even by modern day novel-readers. Mr. Darcy’s character arc is completed via the novel’s last most important plot point, but in Edginton’s script many of the fine details that highlight Darcy’s evolution are cut.
This weakens the case that Austen builds that Darcy is not truly as rude and pretentious as he seems upon first appearance. On the other hand, Lizzy’s arc manages to remain intact while it is unclear why she loves her other half (the telling line, “I believe I must date [the day I fell in love with Darcy] from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley” is excised—although this is a given since the graphic adaptation fails to give cultural context for the entire story, never mind that line).
One must wonder why Edginton was elected to write this adaptation since its assembly does not seem to have come after a deep study of the original text. The removal of the more interesting topics of Pride and Prejudice implies that he either did not notice them or did not deem them vital enough to include. But if Edginton’s goal was only to depict one of the most famous relationships in Western literary canon, why didn’t he include the parts of the character arcs that most demonstrate the two main characters’ devotion to one another?
Deas does not prove that he looked to take the most advantage out of the original text either and the art suffers for it. His main weakness lays in the rendering of his characters. For instance, Jane is supposed to be by far the prettiest Bennet sister, but nothing about her face or clothing stands out in comparison to every other woman portrayed. Lizzy’s “fine eyes” in the original novel are often emphasized in connection with her extraordinary mind, but Deas fails to make them stand out. On the other hand, Deas does better with capturing Mrs. Bennet and her frequent frustration—one panel where she runs to get her husband shows the most dynamism in the book, her screaming of his name used to underline the immediacy of the sequence.
On the other end of the spectrum, Deas’ backgrounds contain too much detail. Whenever his simply illustrated characters go for a walk or look out the window, the nature that surrounds them is photorealistic. The stylistic contrast is jarring; when these backgrounds are inserted it looks as if there are two different worlds drawn into this comic instead of a single cohesive universe. Several scenes, such as the town portion of Netherfeld and the Collins’ home (the latter of which was surprisingly close to how I had imagined it) benefit from Deas’ background skill, but one wonders why the emphasis in the images is on the external world while the plot is based on the characters’ interiors.
Furthermore, the lettering, which goes uncredited, can’t be ignored in this review like it blatantly was in the production of the book. Deas often forgets to make room for the speech bubbles so they end up covering parts of the images they shouldn’t, including a plot-important letter. This letter is not Mr. Darcy’s, but when Mr. Darcy’s letter is finally depicted (rightfully in a spread of its own), his “handwriting” looks like a font pulled straight from Microsoft Word. Perhaps readers can read Austen’s words more easily in such a font, but the choice the publisher makes in utilizing it sacrifices realism and presumes that original font can’t be both artistic and comprehensible.
Readers who pick up this graphic novel may do so in order to see why this great classic remains so beloved. However, between a writer that doesn’t transfer over the novel’s smartest ideas and an artist that emphasizes the wrong features, this adaptation is a mere shadow of the expectations that the title Pride and Prejudice conveys. For an introduction to Pride and Prejudice, potential readers would do better to perhaps seek out the film adaptations before hopefully laying hands on Austen’s masterpiece.