Eligible

Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld This is kinda difficult for me to review. On one hand, Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorites, so I really wanted to like this retelling. On the other hand, if Eligible hadn’t been a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, I really would not have liked it at all.


I didn’t feel like the original characters were very well portrayed in this retelling, while a retelling certainly must not adhere to everything in the original story, the most important notions and characteristics should be retained in a good retelling. But most of the main characters were not justly represented, with the exception of Mrs. Bennet, Jane, and Mary; I don’t think that the true characteristics of the rest of the characters came well across.

Pride and Prejudice was as much a parody of life and society of the 18th century as a romance story; Eligible follows that by taking a critical look on contemporary life, especially reality TV and gender roles etc. But where Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful story that gives a well-written, critical, and satirical view on the, then, current times; Eligible is none of that, I found it rather shallow, and it didn’t look in depth at all of the flaws of current society.



Bingley, Chip, is a doctor who appeared on the reality TV show, Eligible (based on the Bachelor), when he, his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, and his sister Caroline move to Cincinnati they meet the Bennet family. Jane is a yoga instructor from NYC, Liz is a journalist for the women’s magazine Mascara (based on Ms?) and also lives in NY. The rest of the Bennet sisters, who are in their twenties, still live at home with no job and no idea what to do with their future. Mrs. Bennet from Eligible is Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, enough said. After Mr. Bennet had a heart surgery the older sisters moved back to Cincinnati to help out and save their hopeless family from ruin.



The characters:
Like I mentioned before, I didn’t feel like the main characteristics where well represented in these contemporary characters. Especially Elizabeth, called Liz in Eligible, was very disappointing for me.

Elizabeth is an amazing and admirable character in Pride and Prejudice, she is a complex and unconventional character who I simply love. Liz on the other hand is hardly interesting, not relatable, or even very likeable. And the book depicted Liz in a somewhat unflattering light, even going so far as to ridicule her:
Lydia Bennet was “The Free Spirit”, Kitty was “The Entrepreneur”, Mary was “The Scholar”, and Liz (oh, how this stung!) was “The Party Girl”.


Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who in Pride and Prejudice is a strict adherent to the rules of society of the 18th century, is modelled in Eligible (as Kathy de Burg) on Gloria Steinem - of whom I am a huge admirer.

I mean what the actual fuck? Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice contradicts those strict and conservative ideas and values that Lady Catherine represents; and Elizabeth is consequently seen as wild for it.

I mean, does the author actually see Lady Catherine as an 18th century Gloria Steinem?

From Pride and Prejudice:
Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us, which becomes herself and daughter. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.

How the fuck does that sound like Gloria Steinem?


And, sorry, but the book cannot make me believe, that just because Liz interviews Gloria Steinem for her magazine, that that automatically makes her a strong, modern character, her character has to be portrayed that way throughout the book to make me believe that.
she felt vague embarrassment that she worked for a magazine that recommended anti-aging creams to women in their twenties

Vague embarrassment? Not good enough. That is not how I picture Elizabeth Bennet!



On to Darcy…. *sigh*
Who doesn’t like Pride and Prejudice’s Darcy? Or love the scene where he first declares his love for Elizabeth?

Well, his character, and the different in their social standing make sense in the 18th century society and do form a gulf between them that must be overcome. So his – rather unromantic – first declaration of love makes absolute sense, seen with Darcy’s character and standing in society.

It really doesn’t work in Eligible. While Darcy does come from upper class society, Liz is in no means destitute, has a good job and lives in New York.


There is no reason for Darcy to feel so superior. This is 2016 for fuck’s sake!

I like to think that we’ve moved a little passed the thinking of 18th century society of marrying out of one’s social circle!


Well Darcy’s character fits much better into 18th century society, in the context of contemporary Eligible, he comes across like one of those assholes who give negative compliments to women to pick them up in bars.
”but I as if I’m in love with you. You’re not beautiful, and you aren’t nearly as funny as you think you are. You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition. And your family, obviously, is a disgrace. Yet in spite of all common sense, I can’t stop thinking about you. The time has come for us to abandon this ridiculous pretense of hate sex and admit that we’re a couple.”




…Great, now I have this image of Darcy portrayed by Howard stuck in my head.



And finally the romance:
Okay, in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth get to know each other over a long period of time. Initially they weren’t close, but got closer to each other over time. It was realistic, it made sense given the time period, and it was a healthy portrayal of falling in love over time while getting to know each other better.



They knew each other a lot longer and better than most other people did their spouses before marrying them in the 18th century, where marriages of conveniences where the norm.

However, in contemporary Eligible, Liz and Darcy know each other for a much shorter amount of time than in Pride and Prejudice before getting engaged and also interact a lot less socially than in Pride and Prejudice . How does that make sense?


In fact, Liz and Darcy know each other for only a couple of weeks, wherein they hardly interact, with the exception of two parties and random run-ins in town, before they hop into bed with each other to have “hate sex” – apparently like friends with benefits without the benefits. Now I had no problem with the sex part, in fact, I thought it made sense given the context. However, that is all they see of each other; a couple of quickies and a little jogging, after which Darcy gives his declaration of love, and Liz realizes that she does have feelings for Darcy after she turns him down. I found this especially ridiculous given this day and age.


I find it really sad that in the historical novel Elizabeth and Darcy know each other for longer and much better before they get engaged than in the contemporary retelling, where they hardly know each other, fall in love, and then immediately decide to get married after a couple of weeks– without first trying out a relationship or even living together.

I mean come on, this is not 1812 people! *sigh*


How is Pride and Prejudice more progressive, modern, and realistic in its depiction of Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance than the modern retelling Eligible!?


Racism and trans-phobia
And finally, this book tried to make me believe that it's diverse and progressive, by including transgender and black minor characters. But it takes more than superficially creating cardboard-cutout characters with no real depth or much agency, all the while sprinkling your book with casual homophobia, racism, trans-phobia, and constantly enforcing gender roles. That's more sad than anything else, especially since I got the feeling that the author was really proud to be totally inclusive or something (Hey, the Bennets are soo tolerant, they are in transgender AND interracial relationships!!)

That's not progressive or edgy!


I would not recommend this book to Pride and Prejudice fans, unless you can overlook these profound things I found so disturbing and annoying.