Pride and Prejudice: The Original and the Others

It’s Valentine’s Day. So, of course, we’re going to talk about Jane Austen!

Nothing can compare to the original, but Hayley and Betsy have been reading some Pride and Prejudice adaptations. Hayley reviews Pride by Ibi Zoboi and Heartstone by Elle Katherine White. Betsy reviews Unmarriageable: a Novel by Sonia Kamal.

Plus, Betsy re-read the original and started to wonder —how would we review P & P if Jane Austen published it today, and we reviewed it at Redeemed Reader?

First, here are some recent adaptations of the classic:

Pride by Ibi Zoboi. Balzar + Bray, 2018. 304 pages. Reading Level: YA/Teen.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.  Zuri loves her Bushwick hood exactly the way it is, and instantly resents the upscale new neighbors who move in —even and especially when her sweet sister Janae instantly falls for Ainsley Darcy. “The Haitian-Dominican Benitez sisters already get enough attention on the street and at school as it is.”

It’s an intriguing premise for a YA novel. Zoboi brings far more love of place than Jane Austen ever lavished on Longbourn. The Benitez sisters stick together even more than the originals —though to be fair, it’s the only way to survive when you all share one room. The story is marred by language, a weird mysticism, and Zuri’s immaturity and bickering with Darcy.

Unmarriagable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal. Ballantine, 2019. 352 pages. Reading Level: Adult.

The plot of Unmarriageable holds few surprises for Austen fans. Instead, what sets this novel apart is the striking similarity between contemporary Pakistani culture and the England of Austen’s day. Restrictions and expectations for unmarried young ladies, social class consciousness, and the overwhelming importance of marrying well dominate both societies. Kamal skillfully creates a very Pakistani feel while the plot and characters are unmistakably Austen’s. Even character names illustrate this juxtaposition (Alysba Binat, Darsee, Wickaam, etc.). Readers interested in different cultures will find this novel fascinating for that aspect alone.

However, Kamal’s prose isn’t as sparkling as Austen’s, and some of the contemporary “updates” are clunky or crude at best, offensive at worst. Alysba is quite the feminist in more strident ways than her predecessor Lizzie Benett. Language, vulgar/crude references, and frank discussion of the longings of unmarried ladies keep this novel from being as universally delightful as the original. One significant caution in addition to the aforementioned profanity/vulgarity is that Georgianna’s character has an abortion after her tragic dalliance with the reprobate Wickaam. (It’s clear that she is not the first girl to become pregnant with his child, but it’s also clear that the abortion is a tragic affair.) While this could indeed have happened in Austen’s own time period, her original novel maintains enough discretion about illicit relationships to afford a wider readership. It’s an interesting read for the cultural and societal critiques, but keep this one for the adults/mature readers.

Heartstone by Elle Katherine White. Harper Voyager, 2017. 352 pages. Reading Level: Adult.

Pride and Prejudice with dragons. An incorrible fantasy lover, the moment I heard this description, I put the book on hold. White does a surprisingly good job of successfully melding the manners, etiquette & characters of Pride and Prejudice into an original fantasy world. A plague of gryphons threatening Merybourne Manor cues the entrance of dragon and wyvern riders: Alastair Daired and his friend Brysney.  Aliza Bentaine does Elizabeth Bennet quite well fantasy version —artistic, opinionated, and vivacious.

While this is the start of a fantasy series and some questions are left unanswered, it works well as a stand-alone. The sequel, Dragonshadow, leaves Jane Austen behind and embarks into pure fantasy with married life, building threats, and a good dose of feminism. By Dragonshadow’s end I was getting tired of Aliza’s astute intuition. I’ll probably read the third in the series, but I would continue to recommend Heartstone as a stand-alone.

And now. Just for fun. How would we review Pride and Prejudice proper?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Original publication date: January 28, 1813.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Clever and witty, Pride and Prejudice is a delightful, Regency-era romance. Much like the classic tales of Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Psyche, a proud, unlovable man is pitted against a proud, beautiful woman. Against their pride and their prejudice, both fall madly in love with one another by the story’s end (spoiler alert!). Family dynamics on both sides plague the lovers, other matches occur, and humorous observations of the class consciousness and social mores of Austen’s day pepper the story. Countless contemporary versions and films have been spawned by Austen’s classic, but the original is truly a must read. Cautions: scattered profanity of the “Oh, L—” variety occur; several illicit romantic liaisons occur thanks to one Mr. Wickham.

We’ve reviewed a few Pride and Prejudice retellings over the years. If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan, check out the titles below, too!

The Queen of Attolia: A Beauty and the Beast Discussion (teen)Prom and Prejudice (teen)Enthusiasm (teen)A School for Brides (teen)Echoes of Eden: nonfiction literary criticism that has a chapter on Jane Austen.See also our Love & Laughter List for more lively, lovely stories.

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