Some classic literature just seems to work in the graphic novel format. The plays of Shakespeare, for example, seem to respond particularly well: second only to actually seeing a play acted out, the ability of the comic format to visualise emotion and help distinguish between a large cast of characters, holds significant benefit over a dry reading of the script.
Despite originating as a novel rather than a play, this graphic adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice shares many of the same benefits. It’s a character-driven piece, set mostly in the reception rooms of middle class England in the late 18th Century. A romantic comedy, it’s Austen’s wry take on society, based on her own experiences as a young woman with little to do but wait for the right husband to come along and take her as his wife.
Needless to say her protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, has enough of Austen’s wit and gumption to avoid falling for the first man who whirls her around the ballroom floor. Instead she embarks on a love-hate relationship with Mr Darcy – an aloof but spectacularly well-off bachelor – who finds Elizabeth’s gutsy, spirited character to be strangely attractive, albeit as unsuitable as her lowly middle-class status.
Ian Edginton’s script feels like an honest, reverent adaptation – much has been taken out as a necessity to the length, but the core story is there and the dialogue feels mostly Austen. If anything he’s drawn out the book’s more entertaining elements, giving the characters the voice to speak for themselves without leaning too hard on narration and philosophising.
The character design of Robert Deas complements this. He trades on family resemblance but gives his siblings enough distinguishing features to ensure there’s never any work on the part of the reader to remember who is who. His characters appear simply executed but are sophisticated in their refinement, honed down to the basics of feature and expression. The illustration has a very modern feel to it though – some of the computer-rendered backdrops start looking out of place, a little too pristine and perfect perhaps for England in the 1790s.
It’s a thoroughly entertaining read. Given that the last time I touched Pride and Prejudice was as an A-level English Literature student, twenty years ago, and that I’ve religiously avoided adaptations of the story ever since, I enjoyed this far more than I was expecting. Edginton’s script will have you chuckling at the sharpness of Elizabeth’s wit, while Deas’s art will lead you through the characters with an expert hand. It may not do justice to the full literary merit of Austen’s novel, but it’s an accessible and enjoyable route in.