My Favorite Austen Heroine (Classic Remarks, Guest Post by Michael @ My Comic Relief)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)



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Why Lizzy Bennet is my favorite Austen heroine

It’s always exciting to write a guest post for one of my favorite blogs and today – as I take over hosting duties on a Classic Remarks post (!) – I get to write about something truly iconic. Jane Austen is an author with legions of fans through the ages. She has her own category at the PCA/ACA conference on popular culture every year. There’s so much to her and to her work. Getting to chat about my favorite Austen heroine then is stepping into vast and sacred literary waters. I’m excited! Are you excited?! I KNOW. Let’s just jump right into it.

Who’s my favorite Austen heroine? Lizzy Bennet. She’s in Pride and Prejudice. Have you heard of that? I read the book. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, too. And I’ve seen the Keira Knightly film a lot, but I’ve never watched the Colin Firth one because it’s a miniseries and that feels like too much of a commitment.

Now, you may be rolling your eyes because I’ve picked arguably the most widely known of all Jane Austen characters from the most widely known of all Jane Austen novels. You may even be wondering if I wrote this piece the day it was due – with ideas flowing from my mind immediately onto the typed page before being emailed to Briana and Krysta. Both of those presumptions would be true. But Lizzy’s still my favorite and I’m ok with that. And here’s why.

It’s a pretty iconic story. Plucky young heroine has to chose between security and following her heart. She makes the bold choice, throwing aside societal convention, and love finds a way! Happily ever afters all around! It’s so good it’s the inspiration for like seven different Hallmark Christmas movies (one involves pets (and I think a pet hotel (but, full disclosure, I only see the parts that are on when I visit my parents (or brother (or aunt (or cousin (or Grandma when she was alive (or anyone/everyone else in my family who watches Hallmark Christmas movies nonstop from October through the New Year (so while I’ve not seen any from start to finish I’m kind of a tangential expert on Hallmark Christmas movies (and nested parenthesis (not to brag))))))))). Pride and Prejudice is a classic for a reason. Lizzy Bennet is a classic for a reason. And I dig the story and I dig her character.

I think though, as the internet has allowed us to find large pockets of fans who share our obsession about the things we love, making the minutiae we adore seem more mainstream, sometimes we feel bad about liking the main character (or maybe I’m projecting). It can feel like loving the most minor of side characters with a passion that yields an encyclopedic knowledge of them somehow proves you’re “a real fan,” or at least a better one. And that’s simply not true. Don’t get me wrong – I love the deep dive. I can still name more He-Man characters than I can algebraic functions (Mech-a-Neck! Stinkor! Teela!). I absolutely respect (and am kinda in awe) of the knowledge how the kid at Little Caesar’s puts me to shame with his knowledge of Doctor Who, both Classic and Nu. And I MAY’ve bought collections containing dozens (and dozens :8) of Harley Quinn comics once I watched her animated show on HBO Max and decided I wanted – nay, needed – to know more about her. So I love all that! But encyclopedic knowledge of side characters and minute plot points doesn’t prove my love of something. It just shows I’ve read a lot of it…or that my brain remembers cartoons more than math…or both.

All this is to say, in a room of diehard Austen fans and seasoned Austen scholars, I could feel a bit intimidated to say Lizzy Bennet is my favorite Austen heroine. Or, I could feel a bit intimidated to say Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel – and that it’s the only one I’ve ever read. But I shouldn’t be! I’m not claiming encyclopedic knowledge. I’m just saying I read a Jane Austen novel and Lizzy was my favorite character.

Plus, I’d argue this is how it should work or at the very least Jane Austen would be stoked to hear this. To say I love the main character best is another way of saying the author did their job really well. I’ve identified with the main character! I relate to them! I’m inspired by their journey!

And Lizzy Bennet is fantastic. And she’s inspiring. And I love her for it. I think many of us stay in relationships we shouldn’t because they’re safe. As a result, we sort of coast by. We settle. We’re happy…but never as happy as we could be. Things could be better. Our needs could be met with greater attention. Yet, looking for all that can be scary. Why walk away from something that is good enough? Why walk away from something stable? Why give up the dream of the married-with-kids-in-a-nice-house that culture tells us is the real goal? Why risk all of that just to follow something as mysterious and potentially ephemeral as our heart?

Lizzy shows us why in an example that has echoed down through the centuries. Why give up something safe and stable to seek the mysterious desires of the heart? Because we’re worth it.

The fact that Pride and Prejudice is such an enduring classic, seeing so many revisions and retellings and sequels and prequels says something. It says the story speaks to us. I’d argue part of the reason it speaks to us is because, deep down, we know we’re worth it. Lizzy’s a heroine who gives us permission to follow our hearts and offers a model as to how we do it. And for that, she has my heart and respect and I’m proud to admit it…no matter how mainstream an answer that may be ;D.

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Michael J. Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief but he tweets sporadically at best because social media can be exhausting.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen


Goodreads: Mansfield Park
Series: None
Source: DailyLit

Official Summary

(Penguin Edition)

Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new, post-colonial light), Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

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Mansfield Park is the first novel by Jane Austen I’ve read (shocking! I know), and I was warned by various friends that it is frequently considered by readers to be Austen’s worse book.  I was confused by this judgment for a large portion of the story, as I enjoyed reading about Austen’s characters, their hopes and secrets and foibles and found the setting and plot generally interesting.  However, my opinion plummeted in the final chapters of the book where Austen seemed to have some characters take wildly unexpected actions to conveniently further some plot points and then rushed the interesting aspects of the conclusion.  I also had to finally admit that Fanny Price is an incredibly bland heroine.

Now, my experience is that if you mention Mansfield Park to someone, after they too mention that Fanny is kind of boring and goody-goody, they’ll generally tell you that what they most remember about the book is that it involves the characters putting on a play—and that this is to some degree what is “unique” about it among Austen’s works.  I found this true.  The play occupies a significant portion of the book and takes a particular place of prominence in the minds of the characters.  To them, the play is either everything they adore about Mansfield Park or everything that ever went wrong.  I found this overblow.  I get the general emotions of the characters on the “inappropriateness” of the play as they were conveyed, but I think this does not entirely translate to modern audiences.  I understand that Fanny and Edmund were shocked, appalled, embarrassed, but I don’t fully see why beyond the general objections that people who were not engaged were practicing love speeches together.  (And also they took over a room without permission to start actually building a theatre, carpenter and all.)  So while this part was interesting, I think it thematically fell bit short for me and took up more of the story than I would have liked.

I enjoyed the other parts of the book more, even if they were more mundane—people going on walks, completing their work, having chats.  Austen gives readers detailed looks into the minds and personalities of a variety of personages, and I think this is one of the things she does best.

It’s just unfortunate that the main character is the most boring of this cast of characters.  The primary thing that anyone has to say about her—and it is said repeatedly—is that no one can find fault in her deportment.  She’s basically faultless.  Even if someone does blame Fanny of some misstep, the readers can see it’s unjust.  Fanny is just blandly good—unless you count her tendency to think about others have clearly less good conduct and thoughts.  Much of the story hinges on the fact that her rival in the love triangle simply does not have the moral ideas one would wish.  It’s dull.  That’s not to say Fanny ought to do something bad or shocking, but she doesn’t even seem to have any hobbies or interests besides “being of help” to others.  Her hobby is being a nice, polite person.

I honestly think Henry Crawford, one of the love interests, is the breakout star of the book.  He has a much more interesting temperament and a gripping character arc.

My only real wish is that Austen would have sustained her characterization till the end.  As I mentioned, I found the end rushed, and I think the characters made choices because Austen found them expedient, not because they really made sense.  The book overall is good, and I think Austen’s prose and insight into human nature win her admiration from me, but I have to take some stars off my rating because of the rushed ending.

3 Stars Briana

Emma by Jane Austen


Goodreads: Emma
Series:  None
Source: Gift
Published: 1815


Emma Woodhouse is determined never to marry.  That, however, does not prevent her from attempting to set up the men and women of her parish.  Then one day the charming Frank Churchill finally arrives for a visit.  Will there finally be a match for Emma?


Emma may be my favorite Austen work.  It is a deliciously subtle book, one that delights in showing the irony of Emma’s own feelings about class and propriety while describing her censure of others for being proud and vain.  But though Emma’s desire to be cleverer than others often leads her astray, her open nature makes her lovable all the same.  I long for her to find her happy ending every time I return to her world.

Part of Austen’s charm is, I think, her assumption that readers are in on the joke while the characters remain oblivious.  To achieve this, some knowledge of the social customs of Austen’s day is needed, which makes a good edition with footnotes invaluable, though casual readers are likely to pick up many social cues even without annotations.  Hearing Mrs. Elton chatter on about the wealth of her relations, seeing that Emma refuses to associate with the newly wealthy Coles while the rest of her acquaintance have no such scruples, and listening to Emma chastise Mr. Knightley for not using his carriage more often as befits a gentleman are all amusing circumstances.  Intimate knowledge of various types of carriages and how much wealth is needed to keep one is not strictly necessary, though it can often be fun.

Rereads are also delightful as they allow readers a greater opportunity to be in on the intrigue.  Although an astute reader may pick up on the secrets the various characters hold, the certainty of knowing the outcome holds its own charm.  The silences, the looks of characters take on deeper meaning and readers can again feel satisfied and smug.  Emma, with all her cleverness, makes many mistakes.  But we the readers know better.

Something about reading Austen is always deeply satisfying.  It is an experience that enables the reader to feel as if they share Austen’s powers of wit and observation, while also enabling them to enjoy the feeling that they are moving in high circles.  Though many of her characters face financial uncertainty, a good number of them are also concerned with no more than which suitor they ought to choose.  Entering her world is both amusing and wish fulfilling.  After all, we also hold the certainty that the heroines will always end up with their perfect match.  And some income to boot.

5 stars

Darcy Swipes Left by Courtney Carbone, Jane Austen


Goodreads: Darcy Swipes Left
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Publication Date: Sept. 2016


Courtney Carbone retells Pride and Prejudice through a series of texts and social media posts.


I think any fan of Jane Austen and anyone who enjoyed The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will find this adaptation amusing.  Mrs. Bennet posts awkward musings on her daughters’ relationship statuses, Lady Catherine refuses to use anything but proper grammar in her texts, and Lydia posts selfies with soldiers.  Much of the retelling is rather clever, and who likes what status update can be quite telling.  Best of all, Lizzy and Darcy both take notes about their days, so readers can see the story from Darcy’s perspective.  I’m not entirely convinced Darcy would troll Miss Bingley by repeatedly telling her over text that he finds Lizzy #hot, but, all things considered, it’s a fun and imaginative retelling.

My first main criticisms have to do with how the social media aspect is handled.  The summary tells us we are to imagine what would happen if the characters had had smartphones, but does not indicate whether the story is updated to a modern setting.  If it is, why are they still using carriages?  Why does Lydia “living in sin” matter to the family and their reputation?  Why can’t the girls inherit their father’s property?  The only thing updated is the fact that the story is told through texts and emojis.

And the story doesn’t always translate well when being retold this way.  Why on earth would Mr. Darcy propose over text?  Lizzy should have written in her diary about what he said to her.  And, as with LBD, it’s sometimes unclear why these conversations are taking place publicly.  Some are private texts, but some are public status updates.  Would Lady Lucas really post that she wants to go over to Longbourne to measure the dining room, now that Charlotte is married to Mr. Collins?  We know Mrs. Bennet doesn’t care about what she posts, but surely the others do.  And I’m not convinced Lady Catherine would ever text anyone.

Finally, I don’t know anyone who texts the way these characters do.  They use emojis the way Highlights uses rebus puzzles.  It sometimes took me half a second to figure out what the characters were trying to say.  Does anyone really use a suitcase emoji to say “suit” in the middle of a sentence?  If’s almost as if the author trying to modernize this text doesn’t actually know how the young people talk these days.

Further, I think that if the author is going to retell the story this way, she should take advantage of her own medium.  Why not add more private conversations between Lizzy and Charlotte, for examples?  Or between Bingley and Darcy?  Why adhere so closely to the original material when there are so many interesting things one could do with the text?  I can’t believe Lizzy and Charlotte essentially never interact with each other when they are supposed to be best friends!

Altogether, however, the book is a fun read and Austen fans will likely find it amusing.  I don’t know how well it would translate for readers who haven’t read P&P yet–they could follow the story but would miss all the in-jokes, which is half the fun–but it seems unlikely you’d pick this up unless you were already interested in Austen.  A delightful way to spend a few hours.

3 starsKrysta 64

Classic Remarks: The Funniest Moment in Pride and Prejudice

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What do you think the funniest moment in Pride and Prejudice is?

The Funniest Moment in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Not everyone seems to realize just how funny Jane Austen can be.  Yes, she writes about people from the past who engage in courtship rituals that readers find either incredibly romantic or amusingly old-fashioned.  However, her books aren’t entirely wish fulfillment, the gratification of seeing the right pair fall in love, often against all odds (read: financial odds).  Beneath the surface runs Jane Austen’s keen wit, which pokes fun at the social conventions of her day as well as the foibles of her characters.  Some consider Austen to write comedies of manners.

My favorite comedic moment occurs when Mr. Collins arrives at Longbourne to determine which of the Bennet sisters he shall marry.  After Mr. Collins delivers a compliment, Mr. Bennet innocently says, “It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”  The question is, of course, meant to poke fun at Mr. Collins’ lack of imagination and general superficiality.

Mr. Collins, however, is so convinced of his own good taste that he does catch the implied judgement.  He answers Mr. Bennet very seriousy: “They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”  Without any self-consciousness, Mr. Collins admits he does not possess the wit and intelligence to come up with a compliment on the spot. Rather, he prepares them ahead of time in the hopes of presenting himself as socially smooth.  But he’s not smooth enough to keep up the charade when questioned.  Indeed, he is so socially inept that he readily admits that his compliments are canned without realizing that this is rather an insult to the ladies who receive them from him!

It’s easy to laugh at Mr. Collins, of course, but Pride and Prejudice is full of such subtle moments.  Austen’s trick is that the readers have to feel that they are on the intellectual level of Lizzie Bennet to get the joke.  Because you have realized what Mr. Collins has not, that compliments ought to be spontaneous and for the individual, you the reader can feel assured of your social grace and chuckle a little.  Jane Austen just made you laugh by making you feel clever.

Krysta 64

To Like or Not to Like Emma Woodhouse? (Guest Post by Cinderzena)

Classic Literature Event

This July Pages Unbound is celebrating classic literature with a collection of guest posts. We asked other readers to tell us what one of their favorite classics is and why we should read it.

See that girl in the home sewn ball gown, watching BBC’s documentary on Victorian England whilst sipping on a cuppa tea, pinky finger out and shoulders back, thats me – the classics buff. My readers know me as Cinderzena, to my friends its Zena and to my family I’m just that daughter/sister who reads too much.


Here are 8 things you should consider first…

It is a question Austenites, classic buffs and random readers alike have been asking themselves these two centuries past. Do you like Emma, or do you not? Jane Austen herself described Emma as “a character whom no one but me will much like.” Yikes! That’s a tough choice for us readers to make, especially when her creator herself deemed her possibly unlikeable. XD Talk about harsh!

Yes, I was one of you; I disliked Emma with a passion. Confession: I’m a full-on Austenite, willing to walk around Bath in air sucking corsets, having itty bitty cakes for tea possibly, having my eye on a gentleman in breeches who bags a thousand pounds per year. Yes, that very one half of Meryton hates.

Emma Woodhouse; a spoilt rich girl or just your over friendly bff? We have all met people of her personality in our own lives, minus the corsets and parasols.

Here are 8 aspects about Emma Woodhouse you should consider:

1. She’s definitely your bff and ultimate support system.

She has Harriet’s best interests in mind, and is so infatuated with the thought of setting her up, for her friends pleasure and happiness of course, that she doesn’t realize Harriet’s suitor was actually falling for her, Emma. :O Oh Mr. Elton, you and your charades. Friendships indeed!

2. She’s a wonderful daughter in every way.

I think this is something we have to talk about. Living with invalid elders, or even just elders for that matter is no laughing matter. It requires so much of love and patience and good nature to keep at it, especially as she is her only companion, given the departure of her sister and governess. It’s delightful to see her make sure her father’s needs are looked into first before she goes about her activities even her marriage.

3. Sister goals?

I should have just said she’s an all-rounder in the family / friends department. A wonderful host, a faithful friend and supportive understanding companion to them all. I think any of us would be lucky to have a sister like that. If anything, Austen stresses so much on sisterly love, it’s wonderful.

4. Don’t shame her for flirting with Churchill.

If you’ve got the talent to keep up the banter, you go girl! If she knew about the Fairfax-Churchill relationship, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have gone off the deep end to possibly become a bit attached to him. In her defense, who wouldn’t fall in love with a character like Frank Churchill. He’s charming, good natured, kind and good looking too mind you. Like I said, Who wouldn’t, even a tiny bit? I guess Austen needed to show Emma what jealousy felt like to make her ready to come to realities with her own unmarried situation and that she couldn’t go on being by herself forever. *Awe*

5. She is known to exhude snobbish rich girl vibes …. Sometimes. *Hmprgh!*

I’m going to go ahead and say, I hate people who are snobbish. End of story. Emma did get on my nerves when she kept treating Jane and the Bates like she did, especially at Boxhill. Who agrees?

I really cannot wrap my head around a Jane-Emma friendship. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so strained if jane too has let lose a tiny bit. I do think Emma most probably would have played the I’m bigger than you card XD and frightened poor Jane Fairfax away.

Miss Bates, though, finally learnt something about herself that only Emma could teach her. Can I also take the liberty to point out that Miss Bates taught Emma something too, something only she could have! Mr. Knightley simply put it into understandable words for her. Can we call it a win win situation?

6. She talks and thinks, a lot!

And sometimes without her common sense screening her words for any red light phrases. Can we judge her? Should we think of ourselves first? She is surely the mistress of taking words beyond their face value. Not everything is a charade Miss Woodhouse!

7. Can we talk about the gentlemen?

I cannot believe Knightley had to wait for some long lost son of the town to return to finally realize Emma’s worth.



*Rolls eyes*

Emma’s worth as an interesting, intelligent human is thus validated.

8. After all the drama, does she change in the end?

I think her way of thought definitely changes. She might tend to be more concerned with others feelings. As to her nosy nature, I don’t think that would have been aborted for good, may be at best, controlled under the watchful eye of Mr. Knightley. >_<

Now that we have assessed some aspects of her character, has your opinion changed or is it still the same. I initially loathed the book with a passion. It was difficult to get into, she was too full of herself, and I was very much put off. I wonder how I could dislike any work by Austen, and was very disappointed in myself too.

I guess destiny had a different story. I reread it a few years later, and I am currently in love with it through and through. Especially Emma, her faults and all. I feel her character fits perfectly amidst literature and character portrayal today, as we are veering towards being diverse and more human, thus flawed individuals.

Does Austen’s warning to us mean anything? Are we meant to scrutinize and judge Emma on her actions? What are your thoughts? Do let us know! 🙂

Mini Series Review: Emma (2009)


Emma Woodhouse considers herself a fine matchmaker after seeing her governess married to the man she believes she chose.  When she begins to take an interest in the affairs of others, however, from her new friend Harriet to the dashing Frank Churchill, she may find that her gifts harm more than they help.


Reviewing Emma can seem a little pointless.  Either everyone knows the story and already has an opinion on it, right?  And if you’re an avid Austen fan, surely you’ve seen the 2009 BBC mini series already.  You don’t need me to tell you that you should watch it as soon as possible.  The costumes, the actors, the scenery, the story–what perfection!  From the creepy Mr. Elton to the charming (but somewhat aggravating) Mr. Knightley, this adaptation got it right.

I still love talking about Emma, though, both because it vies with Pride and Prejudice for  my favorite Austen romance, and because it was this adaptation that caused me to see Emma in a new light.  I had read Emma before seeing the mini series.  And I understood why Jane Austen thought no one but herself would like the titular character.

When I read the book, I saw Emma as manipulative and somewhat vain about her supposed matchmaking powers.  I thought the way she meddled with the lives of others like they were her playthings was terrible.  She ruined Harriet’s life and felt no remorse–other than, perhaps, feeling stung that Mr.  Knightley didn’t approve, couldn’t agree with her that she is always right.  As Jane Austen predicted, I didn’t like Emma.

But Romola Garai plays Emma as youthful and high-spirited.  Her machinations seem less like, well, machinations, than mistakes (albeit pretty bad ones).  She’s only seventeen.  She thinks she’s right all the time.  She thinks it’s fun to match make and to flirt and to be a little indiscreet at times.  In short, she, like so many others her age, thinks she’s indestructible.  And then she finds out she’s wrong.  She has a heart.  And the people whose lives she toys with have hearts, too.

The 2009 mini series is a reminder to me of the power of storytellers to transform a story–that, in turn, can transform us.  I might never have read Emma as anything more than mean, had I never watched Garai’s performance.  But now that I have, I see everything differently.  Like Emma, I’ve come to see that first appearances may not be a true measure of a character at all.

5 StarsKrysta 64

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the StarsInformation

Goodreads: For Darkness Shows the Stars
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2012


Years ago Elliot North refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart Kai because she believed her duty lay with her family’s estate.  After all, as a member of the upper class, she has a responsiblity to care for those affected by the Reduction–the genetic mutation that caused the world to crumble and nearly all scientific advancement to stop.  Now Kai has returned as a successful explorer and Elliot suddenly wants to share his world, the world that embraces change and dares to think that the Reduction is finally over.  But Kai remains bitter and distant, and Elliot fears to leave all her old values behind.  A science fiction retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.


For Darkness Shows the Stars provides a fresh take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion by locating the characters in a post-apocalyptic world where a genetic mutation caused the cessation of all scientific and technological development.  Now the descendants of those people who did not carry the mutated gene–a segment of society known as Luddites– rule over the descendants of those did–these latter call themselves the Post-Reductionists, or Posts, believing that the mutation has now disappeared.  But the Posts still labor on Luddite plantations at best as tenant farmers and at worst as slaves.  They are not supposed to leave and it is said that those who did encounter only hardship and death.  All this sets up the forbidden romance between Luddite Elliot North (Persuasion‘s Anne Elliot) and the Post boy Kai (Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth), who labors on her father’s estate.

It is not exactly a new formula–rich girl meets poor boy–but Peterfreund keeps it fresh by introducing ideological differences between the two.  Whereas Kai dreams of a better life and of a world improved through the kind of technology and medicine it once enjoyed, Elliot fears to break from her family’s position and embrace progress.  Elliot is far from some paranoid conservative, however.  Her perspective gives her balance, allowing her to recognize the potential dangers in unchecked experimentation where Kai would accept all progress without questioning the ethics involved in the methods or the uncertainty of positive results.

These debates  are the strong point of the novel and far more interesting than the troubled romance between Elliot and Kai.  Like many literary couples, their troubles begin through a miscommunication that need never have occurred in the first place had Elliot been articulate or had Kai bothered to ask for clarification.  I find this premise weaker than the one offered originally by Austen–that Anne did not want to go against her family’s wishes–but I suppose it’s supposed to make Elliot look high-minded and moral.  The path of their romance only gets increasingly rockier, however, and I found Kai’s waverings inexplicable.  One moment he’s maligning Elliot to all his friends out of bitterness and the next he’s trying to woo her.  I questioned whether Elliot should even take such a man back.

The depiction of the other characters is also slightly troubling.  Elliot’s father is a cruel man who treats the Posts on his estate like slaves.  Because Elliot is secretly kind to the Posts, however, they all love her and serve her cheerfully and even refuse to run away to a better life because, if they did, poor Elliot would be all alone.  I could understand if a segment of the Posts feared the unknown and preferred the trouble they knew to the one they didn’t.  I could understand if some of them did not want to leave their own families.  But I think we have moved past the point where it is acceptable to portray characters who are, in all but name, slaves as happy with their lot and willing to give up a better lot for the love of their masters.

So, in the end, I have mixed feelings about this book.  I loved the concept of a science-fiction-type Jane Austen retelling, but I could not swallow the romance and I found the depiction of many of the Posts troubling.  The sequel is a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel with a female Pimpernel and I find that intriguing and am thus willing to try it.  I hope, however, that the introduction of a different society will mean no  offensive depictions of lower-class members.  And I hope the love interest is actually kind.

If You Like Pride and Prejudice, Then Read…

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.  Or click for books inspired by Jane Austen! 

Pride and Prejudice

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Years ago Elliot North refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart Kai because she believed her duty lay with her family’s estate.  After all, as a member of the upper class, she has a responsiblity to care for those affected by the Reduction–the genetic mutation that caused the world to crumble and nearly all scientific advancement to stop.  Now Kai has returned as a successful explorer and Elliot suddenly wants to share his world, the world that embraces change and dares to think that the Reduction is finally over.  But Kai remains bitter and distant, and Elliot fears to leave all her old values behind.  A science fiction retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

At twenty-nine, Valancy Stirling is single and living with her family, who treat her like a child.  Then her doctor informs her that her heart complications mean she has only months to live.  Determined to find happiness in the time she has left, Valancy strikes out on her own and even proposes to the man she has come to love.  But can romance thrive in a marriage based on pity?

Middlemarch by George Eliot

As England prepares to vote on social and political reform, the inhabitants of Middlemarch find their personal lives in upheaval.  The idealistic Dorothea Brooke sacrifices herself in a loveless marriage while newcomer Dr. Lydgate finds himself ensnared by the town’s flirt.  Young Fred Vincy pines after his childhood friend, but she refuses to have him until he decides on a career.  Peter Featherstone’s relatives wait for his death while Mr. Brooke’s friends fear his public disgrace.  Meanwhile, the arrival of a young man of questionable heritage throws the entire town into panic as they consider the consequences his presence could have on the reputations of some of their leading men and women.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

Six years after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Lydia arrives on the doorstep of Pemberley screaming that a man has been killed in the estate’s woods.  A quick investigation puts Wickham on trial, but is he truly capable of murder?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

After growing up in a neglectful household and a mismanaged school, Jane Eyre finds employment as a governess at Thornfield Hall.  Though she enjoys the company of her new employer, Edward Rochester, mystery surrounds both him and his house: sinister laughter, a ghostly walker, and violent attacks on both Rochester and his guests.  If you already know and love Jane Eyre, be sure to check out our recommendations for “If You Like Jane Eyre“!

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Goodreads: Austenland
Series: Austenland #1

Summary: After a dozen failed relationships, Jane Hayes has given up on men and accepted that none of them can live up to the expectations she has gained from watching Colin Firth play Mr. Darcy.  She believes that a vacation at the exclusive, and somewhat mysterious, Austenland will be her one last fling with romance before she packs away all her dreams.  There women can enter a world where they live like Jane Austen’s heroines, down to their Regency dresses and their flirtations with eligible young men.  At first Jane has trouble entering the play; she is all too keenly aware of how awkward it is to have a fake romance with an actor.  However, as time passes, she begins to wonder if some of the romance might be real.

Review: Looking at Austenland, one cannot help but wonder why no one thought of this concept before Shannon Hale.  It combines Austenmania—and the well-known obsession of women with Colin Firth—with a sympathetic protagonist whose despair at finding love mirrors that of countless readers.  Jane Hayes thus serves as a sort of screen onto which women can project themselves and their fantasies.  Through her, they live the life of a Jane Austen heroine.  They find themselves clever, witty, pretty, and engaging—in short, desirable.  They can associate with handsome men dressed in breeches and cravats and do nothing all day but read or paint.  Jane is in some respects better than Elizabeth Bennet, however, because she allows women to bring the fantasy back into their own world—thus strengthening it.  She is a single, career-minded girl living in NYC who ultimately proves that Mr. Darcys still exist.  The only problem is that this ultimate message seems to contradict the theme of the story.

At the beginning of the book, Jane seems to admit that her longings for Mr. Darcy have ruined her real-life relationships.  Readers find out later that most of her boyfriends actually deserved to go based on their own infantile/disrespectful/downright scandalous behavior.  However, Jane’s thoughts suggest that she might not be happy even if she found a nice, upright man who respected her.  Thanks to countless hours spent watching Colin Firth, she wants a man who wears top hats and says romantic things with a British accent.  Readers simply cannot know that she would accept anything else.  She, at least, seems to think she will not.  Readers now have the dilemma of a chick lit announcing that reading too much chick lit (or watching too many chick flicks) can prove unhealthy.

Of course, readers know that the genre demands Jane will end up with a man.  The question is not whether Jane will find love, but how Hale will make her do it in a way that defies the norms of chick lit and makes this one somehow superior to the rest.  Hale does not pull it off.  Jane falls in love exactly the way anyone would have predicted.  She finds a nice Mr. Darcy-esque guy in the most improbable of places, they hit it off quickly, some obstacles occur, they end up happily together.  But wasn’t the moral of the story that women should not expect Mr. Darcy’s to fall into their laps?

The book, of course, never implied that good men do not exist or that women will never find them.  It did, however, suggest that women should not live in their daydreams.  Yet the book is exactly the type of thing it condemned for leading women into these daydreams. It is perhaps even more successful than most due to the inspired combination of Austen with the modern-day world.

The story is fun, the characters are likeable, and the mystery of Austenland is intriguing.  The book has wide appeal for those who like Austen, romance, or chick lit.  However, the attempt to warn against chick lit strikes a jarring note throughout the book and ultimately just proves baffling.

Published: 2007

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