Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favorite writers. Her American Wife is one of my favorite books ever. I was excited to hear about Eligible, her latest book, which is part of the Austen Project. The Austen Project involves a modern retelling of some of Jane Austen’s books, and as a part of that, Eligible is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice. I’ve never been an Austen fan, though I have read a few of her books. Yeah, I know, I was brave enough to say that, and feel that I’m not alone.
The premise of the Pride and Prejudice story here hasn’t changed. The cast is the same, it’s just updated. There is a Mr. Darcy, who is coy with his affection for Elizabeth Bennet (Liz). She and her sister Jane live in New York, and are called back home to Cincinatti when their father falls ill. There are five unmarried sisters, three of whom still live at home. There, in a crumbling, over-mortaged house, in a setting somewhat reminiscent of the English countryside. They collectively nurse their father back to health. Their mother, who somewhat successfully raised 5 daughters seems helpless, and clueless that they are about to lose their home.
While the two New Yorkers are back in town, they meet two young men who are new to the city. Jane, who works as a yoga instructor, meets Chip Bingley, a doctor who just starred in a season of Eligible, a TV dating show similar to the Bachelor. This is just one of the fun updates the Elizabeth Bennett story gets. Liz is a successful journalist, who meets Chip’s friend and colleague Fitzwilliam Darcy. Darcy is also a doctor, and as Liz gets to know him, he seems increasingly hesitant. Her Darcy is similar to the original Elizabeth’s Darcy. Reserved, snobbish, and sometimes distant. She doesn’t even like him at first, and it seems as if the feeling is mutual.They both seem like odd couples, especially given the Bennett family drama.
Like the original Elizabeth and Darcy, they are destined to be together. In this version, Darcy is from San Francisco and is not that impressed with the Cincinatti – the city itself, its people, food, and culture. And when they first meet, he describes his early impressions of the city:
“Here’s what I’ve learned about the people in this city…They grade women on a curbe./ If someone is described as sophisticated, it means once during college she visited Paris, and if someone is described as beautiful, it means she’s 15 pounds overweight instead of 40. And they’re obsessed with matchmaking. They act like they’re doing you a favor by conscripting you to have coffee with the elementary school teacher from their church during the two free hours you might have in an entire week. I’ve lost count of how many of my colleagues’ wives have tried to set me up.”
I really liked Eligible, everything I didn’t like about Pride and Prejudice was updated. I loved the modern Elizabeth, she had a voice, a career, options. If Austen’s original story was a criticism of the time period, Sittenfeld’s version is too. This adaptation proves that finding love in the 21st century has changed quite a bit, but I love that Liz and Darcy still manage to find each other.