I recently devoured Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible. It was fun, fast paced, and a wonderful re-visiting of one of my favorite novels, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
I have a big confession to make before I go any further. I came to Jane Austen late in the game. And in a manner (spoiler alert) that may offend many Austen fans. I’m not sure why I’d never read any of her books. I remember reading Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women. But none of Austen’s books. I hadn’t even seen any of the movies. Not until the movie Bridget Jones’ Diary. (I warned you!)
Second confession of the day. I’ve watched Bridget Jones’ Diary more than once. I loved it. I thought Renee Zellweger was brilliant. And, like many, I fell in love with Colin Firth as Mark Fitzwilliam Darcy. It was Mr. Firth who led me to the wonderful BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (1995) and that in turn led me to the book.
And what a book! Pride and Prejudice will never grow old for me. It’s one of the rare books that I want to start reading again as soon as I finish it. I know it is a universally loved book so it must strike some common chord, or perhaps many, for its multitude of fans. That’s the wonder of a good book. It can speak to many different people in many different ways. For me, Austen’s wit, humor, and irony are pure enjoyment and comfort. I feel immersed in the world she creates and feel some respite from the stresses of my daily life.
But I think it is the consideration of relationship (dare I say love) as a means to personal growth that really pulls me in. (Yes, that is the therapist in me talking!) In self-reflection and openness to feedback from the other, Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are humbled and changed. They see their own foibles and understand that there is no perfect person. And in that realization, comes understanding, forgiveness, respect and love. It is this hopefulness that keeps bringing me back.
I know I’m not alone. With so many books and productions with ties back to Austen’s original work, it is clear that many other’s want to keep coming back as well. I know I haven’t even begun to read all the Pride and Prejudice, let alone Jane Austen, inspired books that are available. My “For Later” list keeps growing longer and I know I will never have time to read all the books I’d like to read.
One ‘follow up’ book I did read was Death at Pemberley by P.D. James. It was one of her late in life novels and I’ve read several less than positive reviews. But I enjoyed it. As I mentioned earlier, (Blog #2: Who Remembers Trixie Belden?) I enjoy mysteries. This book is set at Pemberley six years after Elizabeth and Darcy are married. They are preparing for an annual ball when a murder occurs on the grounds. It was a triple treat for me: Further development of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship and their life at Pemberley; a historical fiction of legal proceedings of the time period and a murder mystery that had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing.
As I mentioned last time in Blog #4: Books about Books, I’ve read Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club. I enjoyed the unfolding of the relationships as well as the discussion of Austen’s books. Other Austen inspired books I have read include Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confession of a Jane Austen Addict; Shannon Hale’s Austenland and Midnight in Austenland; and Elizabeth Eulburg’s YA Novel, Prom and Prejudice.
But back to Sittenfeld’s Eligible. Like many returns to Pride and Prejudice, the parallels were clearly there: The Bennet’s and their five girls, all with personality’s like the original Bennett sisters, Mr. Bennett’s wry sense of humor and detachment, and Mrs. Bennet’s attention to her station in life and her quest to find husbands for her girls. But it was also fresh and modern enough to be a new story. The characters were present day and I didn’t find myself envisioning the actors from past productions. With one exception. Fitzwilliam Darcy was Colin Firth. I couldn’t imagine anything else. I dare say he will always be Mr. Darcy to me.
So, what about you? Are you a Jane Austen fan? Do you have a favorite Austen inspired novel?