Monday, July 11, 2016

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

I always love to read modern spins on classics, in particular, on Jane Austen novels.  Eligible is a modern rewrite of Pride and Prejudice and is the fourth in the The Austen Project which is a series in which all six of Austen’s novels are being rewritten by prominent contemporary authors.  I have read and enjoyed American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld in the past and was excited to be able to see how she treated Pride and Prejudice.

Liz Bennet is a 38 year old writer for the magazine Mascara in New York City.  Her 40 year old sister Jane also lives in New York City and is a yoga instructor.  Jane has given up on finding Mr. Right and has started a series of in vitro fertilization procedures to become a mother.  Both sisters head back to their home town of Cincinnati when their father suffers a heart attack.  At home, Liz finds that her family is in dire straits.  Her younger sisters Kitty, Lydia, and Mary are all unemployed and living at home.  Mrs. Bennet has a shopping addiction, an obsession with her country club, and a keen interest to marry all of the girls off.  They live in their family estate, but are almost set to lose it due to bad financial planning on their father’s part.

Liz has a complicated love life with her married boyfriend, Jasper. It gets even more complicated with she meets Fitzwilliam Darcy at a fourth of July BBQ.  He is a neurosurgeon and seems to disdain all that Cincinnati has to offer. Although she hates him, sparks seem to fly whenever they are together. Jane is smitten with Darcy’s friend, Chip Bingley.  Also a doctor, Chip has recently appeared on the reality TV dating show, Eligible (i.e. The Bachelor).  He was unable to find true love on reality TV, but may have found it with Jane.  When complications come around, Chip fast leaves town and both Jane and Liz are left to wonder was it really love?  

I thought that was a great modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  Sittenfeld captured the spirit of not only the story, but of all of the characters as well.  They were all true to their regency counterparts.  That being said, the one part of the novel I didn’t like was the blatant racism and homophobia of the Bennets.  Lydia is constantly badgering Mary about being a lesbian and makes a lot of cringe worthy comments.  This does seem true to the characters, but I didn’t like how we see their crassness through typical homophobia and racist jokes. I’m sure they could be crass in other ways. I thought the transgender character was a cool guy, but I don’t know how he would have been able to stand Lydia and the Bennets.

I loved the setting of Cincinnati.  You could tell the author herself had a love/hate relationship with her home town and the love really stood out as well as the ability to make fun of it as well.  I also loved that Chip was on a trashy TV reality series – that stands in well for the new wealth and underlying crassness it entails in the original novel.

I also wasn’t a fan of Darcy and Liz’s “hate sex.” I know I’m old fashioned, but I’d really like the romance to develop before they tumble into bed for “hate sex.”

My favorite quotes (most of them go to one of my all-time favorite characters, Mr.  Bennet):
“My dear,” said Mr. Bennet, “if a sock puppet with a trust fund and a Harvard medical degree moved here, you’d think he was meant to marry one of our girls.”

“I don’t suppose that any of you can appreciate the terror a man might feel being so outnumbered, “Mr. Bennet said.  “I often weep, and there are only six of you.”

“In recent years, Charlotte and Liz hadn’t spent time together beyond Christmas parties or lunches scheduled during Liz’s trips home from New York, but they still took immense pleasure in each other’s company.” – I feel this way about my best friend Jenn

“One of the virtues of the Tudor was the privacy offered by its capacious dimensions, and though Liz suspected that this fact reflected poorly on her, she was at times most able to enjoy her family members when she could sense their presences nearby without actually interacting with them.”  Ha – who doesn’t feel this way sometimes?

Overall, Eligible captures the spirit and humor of the original Pride and Prejudice, but be prepared to see the Bennet family display racist and homophobia tendencies.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library


  1. Thoughtful review. I've been on the fence about this one as I have been so underwhelmed by The Austen Project this far...but I'm tempted.

  2. Laura,
    Thank you for your well-written, honest review. I am not pleased to hear that the Bennet family displays racist and homophobia tendencies in this rendition of the story.

  3. I was sad about this book. I thought Sittenfeld really caught the essence of what made each of the family members tick in the original novel, but the homophobia and racism were hard for me to read. I know I have family members that may make such comments, but I don't want to read it if I don't have too. The Bennet family in the original didn't display hatred, they were too busy having a good time!