When I was about 12 years old, I walked into a video rental store with my dad on the search for something for the both of us to watch together. An employee in her mid sixties insisted that we rent Pride and Prejudice, a movie that had just come out starring Kiera Knightley. We rented it. We hated it. But don’t worry! Three years later in my English class, I found the book. I read it and loved it. I watched the movie the lady at the movie rental store recommended and have since watched it enough to almost memorize every movement. I even took a class called Jane Austen in Film when I was in college, and I wrote a detailed paper on the 2005 film. Pride and Prejudice is one of those timeless stories to me, which is why I jumped at the chance to read a modern retelling called Eligible. I liked Curtis Sittenfeld’s book, but not as much as the original. However, let’s be honest- it had a lot to live up to. I wouldn’t read it if you’re looking for any type of surprise; Sittenfeld follows the plot very carefully. Therefore, there are spoilers ahead because all of the major plot points occur in the retelling.
At times, Eligible was a little heavyhanded, but this is to be expected with satire. Like in the original, the characters and their hobbies were a bit outlandish. Lydia and Kitty are Crossfit junkies. Calm, level-headed Jane is a yoga instructor. Mr. Collins, known as “Willie” in Eligible, is a step-cousin with a proclivity for tech startups. The most humorous and thought-provoking twist was the inclusion of reality television- Chip Bingley is on a dating show that eventually airs his wedding with Jane Bennet.
An interesting turn in the book was the take on the character Wickham. Instead of Wickham being a quasi-love interest for Lizzy and Lydia like in the original, Sittenfeld divides him into two men. Jasper Wick is Lizzy’s love interest at the beginning of the book; he is married, but both he and his wife participate in extramarital affairs. He knew Darcy when they both attended Stanford, and Darcy was on the board that got Jasper kicked out during his last semester. When Lizzy finds out about his misdeeds, she basically ghosts him by ignoring his texts, which seemed slightly immature for a 38-year-old woman. Ham Ryan is the other half of Wickham; while he never shows interest in Lizzy, Ham is the owner of the Crossfit gym Lydia attends. Like in the original, Ham and Lydia run away together and elope. The translated drama from the original is Ham outing himself as transgender to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Instead of being a marriage of convenience (they had to get married for the sake of their propriety in the first book), Lizzy observes that they genuinely seem happy together and in love.
Many people see Pride and Prejudice as a representation of the social customs of its time, which makes me wonder- since the original is a “novel of manners,” is the world of reality television the manner in which we live now? Will people look back on this generation and use reality television as a label?