In five words Cadell condemned Pride and Prejudice to remain, sight unseen, on Jane Austen’s desk for the next sixteen years until it was finally published by Thomas Egerton in 1813.
.. Protecting the identity of the writer, if she, like Jane Austen, wished to be anonymous, was also a hassle, as was the fleshing out of her authorial intentions in order to shed the most forgiving light on the work—for careful manipulation of her public image, even her anonymous one, diminished vulnerability for all involved. Was she writing to save her young, moderately-genteel family from the poorhouse? Was it because she was infirm, and in need of escape? Or was her work just for fun, a trifling diversion, properly peripheral in the life of a respectable female? Her position on this very important issue needed to be extensively elucidated, usually in a long introduction to the book—an extra expense for the publisher—and in every slice of publicity surrounding it
The things that make Pride and Prejudice’s middle sister so unappealing as a supporting character are precisely what make her compelling as a star.
.. In a fantastic essay for The Guardian, Charlotte Jones describes the current attempt to reimagine and reanimate Mary as largely missing the point of her creator’s novel. Austen is not George Eliot, after all; she is neither copious nor comprehensive in her empathies. She is Jane Austen, OG Gossip Girl. Her narrator, in Pride and Prejudice, is judgy. She plays favorites. She mocks. She deploys her wit with surgical strikes.
.. Mary is “the forgotten sister” because Austen chose, on behalf of her readers, not to remember her.
.. How many times have you wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how?
.. And “with nearly all of her sisters married and gone from the household,” The Pursuit of Mary Bennet announces, “the unrefined Mary has transformed into an attractive and eligible young woman in her own right.”
.. The character who once informed her youngest sister that she would not be dancing at the ball, for “I should infinitely prefer a book,” is now an author herself.
That serves as a mild rebuke not only to Lydia—it is hard to imagine such self-fulfillment materializing for Wickham’s wife—but also to Pride and Prejudice’s Mary-mocking narrator.
.. And to all of Jane Austen’s narrators, really, who—being judgmental and cruel and kind and omnipotent and arbitrary—mimic history’s own ruthless whims. They decide, as the victors in battles of everyday banality, who will be acknowledged, and who will not. They take it for granted that some people (the people, often, with the “fine eyes” and the “light and pleasing”figures) deserve attention, while others (the “plain” ones) do not.
.. the current renaissance of Mary Bennet is literary revisionism that suggests a more sweeping ethical project—one that celebrates the dignity of the marginalized.
Why do reality television’s most popular stars so uncannily resemble the heroines of the 19th-century writer’s work?
.. But what’s clear reading Austen today, or watching one of the countless adaptations of her work, is how much the women in her novels have in common with so many of the women on reality television. Her female characters are defined by two primary qualities: their privilege and their powerlessness. Her writing focuses almost entirely on women searching for stability and status, deploying the very limited means available to them. Deprived of intellectual gratification or professional empowerment, they scheme, manipulate, and get bogged down in petty rivalries with each other. Their ultimate endgame is marriage, described by Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice as the “pleasantest preservation from want.” That they do nothing of much more substantive significance (except, some of them, on rare occasions, be kind sisters or daughters) is their flaw, but also, as Austen portrays it, their fate... Caroline Bingley, one of the least self-aware and most pathetically predatory characters in literature, would adapt in a matter of minutes to being cast in any one of the Real Housewives franchises... Almost two and a quarter centuries later, a flourishing television genre peddling “reality,” and fantasy, promotes a vision of women if anything more retrograde than Austen’s, without any of her irony... The Bachelor took the essential principle behind Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire—that women will sacrifice their independence, their bodies, and their dignity to fulfill their ultimate goal of marrying a wealthy man—and wrapped it up in a gauzy veil of romance... “The Bachelor set the mold for how women would be treated on reality television,” says Pozner. “With it, producers and networks accomplished what the most ardent anti-feminist organizations and activists had never been able to achieve. They created a version of the world that was supposedly real, that looked real, but in which women not only appeared to not have any choices, but appeared not to want to have choices.”.. In addition to being gorgeous, they were to be some combination of gullible and calculating, naïve and brazen, stupid and manipulative. They had insignificant careers or livelihoods of their own, and their dual goals were either to safely ensconce themselves within a marriage or to find fame, the financial value of either of which would establish them as an object of envy for all their competitors... Austen, Gilbert and Gubar write, explores the “hostility between young women who feel they have no alternative but to compete on the marriage market,” alert to the ways in which “female anger is deflected from powerful male to powerless female targets.”.. “One of the points Austen is making is that Lady Susan is just what … books advised women to be,” Tomalin writes. “She has perfectly mastered the art of using the conventions of society to get what she wants.” So, too, the best reality-show stars master the conventions of their genre—without ever seeming even slightly tempted to question them.
So while Sittenfeld’s Mrs. Bennet retains the original’s misplaced snobbery and self-pity, she is in this version also a lover of trash television. Her current preoccupations include an addiction to a “Bachelor”-like reality show called “Eligible,” which does double duty as the novel’s title.
.. Meanwhile, Mr. Bingley, the good-natured landowner of “Pride and Prejudice,” is here awarded a new first name, Chip, and makes his initial appearance wearing a pair of doofy seersucker shorts. Chip, an emergency-room doctor, has recently appeared on “Eligible” as the resident bachelor — whether freely or under coercion from his ambitious sister/manager is an open question. He has exited the series still unattached, which makes him, conveniently, a single man in want of a wife.
.. Mr. Darcy is also a doctor, a snooty neurosurgeon from San Francisco wondering why he has pitched up in a place as provincial as Cincinnati. Called Darcy, because “Fitzwilliam” is such a mouthful, he keeps fit by running, a pastime that allows him plenty of opportunities to encounter Liz Bennet so they can flirt, insult, and have satisfyingly explosive “hate sex” with each other.
.. The book begins when Liz and her older sister, Jane, a nearly 40 yoga instructor, return temporarily to Cincinnati after their father’s heart surgery. They find a nest of troubles: The family is heavily in debt; no one is paying attention to their father’s health; the house is sliding into ruin; and their birdbrained younger sisters are unemployed and living at home. Mary is pursuing her third online master’s degree; Kitty and Lydia spend a lot of their time at the CrossFit gym. (“Another source of irritation,” Liz notes, “was that her sisters looked fantastic.”)
.. She’s the one you want to leave the party with, so she can explain what really happened.
.. Austen divided “Pride and Prejudice” into many short chapters, some just a few pages long, and Sittenfeld has followed that format in her much longer book, so that “Eligible” has a full 181 chapters.
.. In one of the classic scenes in “Pride and Prejudice,” Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth that he loves her while also delineating the reasons he shouldn’t marry her. In “Eligible,” Darcy is even more blunt. “You’re not beautiful, and you’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” he proclaims. “You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition.” (“Sorry,” Liz replies, “but I still consider you a jackass.”)