Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Published: April 2016
Genre(s): Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Summary: In this contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, the Bennets are living a high society life in Cincinnati, OH. Mrs. Bennet is worried about her five unmarried daughters and keeping up appearances at the country club. Mr. Bennet is an apathetic push-over who just tries to keep his wife from getting too worked up about anything, even if that means hiding things from her. Jane and Liz are 39 and 38, respectively, living in New York City. Jane is trying to get pregnant via IVF and Liz is dating a married man. In Cincinnati, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are living at home and not doing much to contribute to society. When Mr. Bennet has a health scare, Jane and Liz head home to help care for their father. This trip home gives them a chance for their mother to cluck around them and they are sent to a BBQ at their friend Charlotte’s parent’s house in the hopes one of her daughters catching the eyes of the very eligible Chip Bingley. Chip recently took a position at the near-by hospital after his turn on TV’s Bachelor-esque show turns up empty for him. He brings along his good friend from medical school, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who works as a surgeon at the same hospital. Chip being new to town is looking to get more acquainted with the city, and Jane is up for the task. Darcy, however, finds the city to be lacking and let’s his distaste be known. The key cast of Austen’s beloved novel are all in tow, with a few new additions and a decidedly modern take on her classic story.
Why I Recommend: If you know anything about me (or if you don’t check out this post) you know what Pride & Prejudice means to me. I typically steer clear of anything that bills itself to be a retelling or a spin-off/continuation of that precious book. Pride & Prejudice is sacred ground. I’ve been circling around this book for a while and just felt it was time to give it a shot. Let me disclaim that this is not a great work of literature, so if you are expecting that, don’t go near it. That being said, I thought Sittenfeld actually captured the spirit of the original story and even helped me to dig into the emotion of it being told in modern times. Maybe I’m crazy, but for me this story amplified my connection to the original plot. Follow me on this for a moment. In P & P, Elizabeth travels with her aunt and uncle to the countryside after she is sort of in shock with Mr. Darcy’s profession of love and the subsequent letter. While out traveling in the countryside, her aunt and uncle realize they are near the famous Pemberley manor, home to Mr. Darcy. They suggest visiting, which of course Elizabeth is hesitant to do given her recent interaction with him, but her aunt and uncle assure her that great men like him are never home. So they go, and the estate is spectacular. Elizabeth is touring around the home of the man whom she just recently shot down in grand fashion, whom she realized after the fact that she harshly judged. Then while touring, Mr. Darcy unexpectedly returns home, creating a scene that makes Elizabeth uncomfortable. In the book I remember feeling maybe a bit of embarrassment, but the whole concept of touring someone’s home uninvited and the flowery prose sort of buried the reality of that situation a bit for me. When I read Sittenfeld’s modern version of that scene I was cringing with embarrassment. It really hit home for me just how crazy embarrassing that moment likely would have been for Elizabeth. The updated version put it into a modern context that I could more acutely connect with that made me revisit how that scene perhaps was meant to be felt in the original story. I also wonder if that scene was read by someone who lived in the same time as Austen if they would have felt extreme embarrassment in the very way Austen depicted it like I did with Sittenfeld’s version in my time. Anyway, that’s just one example of how I felt while reading through some of the more classic and important parts of the original story.
Sittenfeld definitely takes some liberties, but I can forgive her of this because I think this was her response to taking the story from a completely different time that had different lifestyles, expectations, and manners of behaving and putting it into a modern context. Mr. Wickham, for example, gets a complete rework that doesn’t really resemble the original story, but she still somehow is able to capture his character. I also understand that Sittenfeld had to make the Bennet girls quite a bit older because what mother in modern times would think it unreasonable that her 20-year-old daughter was a burden by being unmarried? For that matter, how would Sittenfeld have explained a 15-year-old Lydia eloping? Things like that just needed a lot of work in order to make them plausible in modern times. I think Sittenfeld did a nice job with it and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent within those 500 pages.