The Japanese seem to be fond of Jane Austen – there is a Jane Austen Society of Japan, a Japanese scholar spoke at one of the Jane Austen Society of North America conferences I attended, and JASNA’s journal has covered Austen’s Japanese reception. So perhaps it’s no surprise that we now have a manga Pride and Prejudice.
I know too little about graphic novels to intelligently critique these three as examples of the genre; to my untutored Janeite eye, though, all the heroes and heroines look far more like supermodels than real people. (Although perhaps that’s simply a way of saying that they don’t match my mind’s-eye images of the characters.)
What I’ve never quite understood is the point of these renderings – abridgements that inevitably dilute the crisp, witty language and complex characterizations of the original. I suppose you could say the same about movie versions of the novels (and I have!), but for me, the disconnect is greater when the new medium into which the work is being translated is so close to the original. Why read a Jane Austen whose clever turns of phrase have been truncated to fit into a speech bubble? Why not just read Jane Austen?
The creators of graphic-novel renditions of Austen and her fellow Great Writers (the Manga Classics line already includes Hugo’s Les Miserables, and works by Dickens and Hawthorne are on the way) always speak of them as a way of encouraging teenagers to read classic fiction. That’s a worthy goal, but one that I would think is better accomplished by giving teenagers, you know, the actual books.
Maybe I’m naive. Maybe today's youth must be bribed, lured and manipulated before they'll try anything that requires a longer attention span than a round of Candy Crush Saga. I admit that my own case (I fell for P&P at ten) proves nothing: I was a weird, nerdy kid who read voraciously from early childhood and stubbornly refused to be put off by long words or even longer sentences.
But I persist in believing that, perhaps with wise and enthusiastic adult guidance, kids can learn to love the classics as they are. In other words, without pictures.