So since Tuesday night, I've read two books: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (both New York Times bestselling authors). As promised via Instagram, I’m going to attempt a review of Sittenfeld’s novel. Once I’ve recovered emotionally from Moyes’s book, I hope to also do a review of Me Before You, but let’s be honest, I have zero qualms–seriously, it’s amazing (how much it made me cry). But for now I’ll focus on Eligible, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Eligible is the latest installment of the Austen Project, where modern authors are paired with Austen’s classics to create modern renditions.
I really have very little criticism of Sittenfeld’s novel. It’s funny; it’s witty; and most importantly, it still felt like Pride & Prejudice. I’ll give you a quick lowdown of Eligible before I jump into the little criticism I had (which primarily concerns the portrayal of Elizabeth).
Sittenfeld transports Austen’s characters to 21st-century Cincinnati, where Mr. and Mrs. Bennet live in a Tudor falling into disrepair. Kitty, Lydia, and Mary all still live at home, while Liz and Jane dwell in New York City. The only Bennet sisters with jobs, Liz (38) works as the writer-at-large forMascara magazine, while Jane is a yoga instructor (still relying on daddy to pay rent at the age of 40). The two eldest Bennet sisters are brought back to Cincinnati by Mr. Bennet’s heart attack. Enter Chip Bingley. (I know, “Chip,” right?) Chip, recently returned from LA after his stint on the reality TV showEligible, works as an ER doctor at the same hospital that Fitzwilliam Darcy is a neurosurgeon (how convenient). You might be wondering how George Wickham falls into the mix, but don’t worry; I’ll explain that, too.
Sittenfeld splits Wickham into two characters: Liz’s 14-year infatuation and recent (”openly” married) boyfriend Jasper Wick and Lydia’s boyfriend, Hamilton (such a hot name, I can’t), who turns out to be transgender. Liz’s relationship with Jasper confuses me, because even though he’s in an “open” marriage with his wife (and toddler), I can’t help thinking that the label of adulteress is not one that Elizabeth Bennet was supposed to wear. Plus, Jasper Wick is still the same self-centered jerk who this time was kicked out of Stanford for property damage (with probable racist undertones). I can see how Liz fails to see Jasper’s flaws; he is cut from the same cloth as Wickham: charming, handsome, and friendly.
But since this is a modern Pride & Prejudice, we know she comes to her senses. Enter Fitzy. Liz and Darcy engage in a hate-sex-infused relationship that I half love/half hate.
This hate-sex relationship seems to me to be again against Elizabeth’s fundamental character traits, but how else are you supposed to show an intimacy form between them, giving Darcy the proximity to fall for her. Without these intimate moments, his declaration of love would surely be premature, though Darcy does acknowledge that he could be confusing sex with genuine feelings. So I applaud Sittenfeld for incorporating it. They surely couldn’t date seriously, and a handful of encounters in big groups hardly make for a foundation of love. This hate-sex relationship confuses me less that her relationship with Jasper Wick. The thing that stuck with me at first was how casually Liz initiates this hate-sex relationship with Darcy.
Maybe this is just my circle of friends, but do people actually go around having hate-sex? I’ve certainly heard of the concept but don’t know anyone who has participated in such an arrangement. I secretly hope that someday when I’m 38 and single that I’ll have the audacity and courage to directly ask some hot as hell neurosurgeon, “Want to go to your place and have hate sex?” (Direct quote from Eligible). I mean, who does that? It feels like Sittenfeld used Samantha Jones as her modern inspiration for Lizzy’s new promiscuous side, for Samantha is about the only other woman I can think of who would be so cavalier about sex.
...Samantha...only on Sex and the City.
Alright. I've had my little rant about Liz.
Both Kitty and Lydia are obnoxious in Austen’s original. But Sittenfeld amps it up about 10 cranks. The girls are in their early to mid 20s and still living at home, focusing all their time and energy of CrossFit, while flitting occasionally from a job to nothing, a job to nothing. I have to say, I absolutely hate Lydia. Lydia is more than just her flirtatious, young self; she’s just a bitch. It’s a wonder Ham could put up with her not-so-secret bitchiness towards her sisters. Her unwarranted and downright mean comments have to stem from a place of insecurity and jealousy, right? That’s usually why girls are bitches (or so I’m told). I was so pleased at the end when Kitty breaks off from Lydia and enrolls in cosmetology school.
So as all three of the younger sisters live at home and Mrs. Bennet makes no visible effort to clean, I’m sitting here the whole time thinking, who is doing these girls’ laundry? Which I grant, is a terrible question to be asking in the middle of the book, but they are made out to be so helpless; it’s frustrating. Mary is still at home, collecting Master’s degrees online, and claiming that it would be a waste of space if she were to get her own place (that would involve interacting with other people at a job, gasp) because then her room would be empty.
Now a few of my favorite parts:
- I loved the portrayal of a yogi Jane. She’s sweet and beautiful, though maybe not quite as trusting as Austen’s original Jane, which is good–a too-trusting girl wouldn’t make it in modern NYC.
- I found Mr. Collins (now a tech billionaire named Willie Collins) to be spot-on, and was so happy that we got to see Charlotte and his relationship work out. I definitely felt more of a connection with this modern, slightly-overweight Charlotte Lucas, too.
- Darcy is H-O-T, hot. Sittenfeld had me feeling all the feels that Austen’s original did. When Darcy first declared his love, showing up at her door in scrubs (of all things), I swooned. (I kept picturing Derek Shepard as this yummy new Darcy–he is a neurosurgeon after all. Now that I think about it, Chip as Mark Sloan isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, either.) Whenever Liz had an awkward moment or said the wrong thing, I smiled and laughed, because I never had to doubt that they might not end up together.
- Mrs. Bennet was equally annoying, maybe even more so, considering her discomfort with Jane and Liz’s unwed status–something that is becoming more and more common as time wears on. Marriage is no longer the be-all end-all.
- Mr. Bennet was still as lovely and sarcastic as ever, though not very good at keeping the family finances in order.
- I actually loved Kathy de Bourgh. She’s this amazing feminist icon that Liz gets to interview for Mascara. She was like Gloria Steinem.
Now I’m sure you’ve had enough of me talking about the book. I highly encourage you to go out and read it for yourself. Refrain from judging with too heavy a hand (as I regretfully may have). I truly loved reading this book and applaud Sittenfeld for its entertainment and novel spin on a cult classic.
I know from personal experience (though not nearly the same magnitude of audience) that interpreting works of an idolized and beloved author like Austen can earn you many haters if they decide to disagree with something you write/say. Sittenfeld took a novel written in 1813 and adapted it to fit within the confines of our 21st-century society. The woman delivered a kick-ass modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice, but don’t let me be the one deciding for you. Pick up a copy and draw your own conclusions. (Then tell me what you think, because I have literally no one to discuss it with.)