Austen for Singletons
Sex and Sensibility
By Rosemarie Santini. Saint Books, 2005.
256 pp. Paperback.
Dating Mr. Darcy: A Smart Girl’s
Guide to Sensible Romance
by Sarah Arthur. Tyndale Publishers, 2005.
xxiv + 192 pp. Paperback.
Reviewed by Nora Nachumi.
We might as
well face it: Jane Austen is dead. This fact has caused a great deal of
inconvenience for those of us who wish that she had left us many more
novels. Austen fans, however, are an ingenious lot. Over the past
several years, a number have written (and more of us have bought) books
infused with the “spirit” of Austen.
Sex and Sensibility by Rosemarie Santini and Dating Mr. Darcy by Sarah Arthur
are two such endeavors. Both use Austen as a lens through which they
examine romance in the twenty-first century. However, each owes its
allegiance to entirely different definitions of “spirit.”
Spirit can mean “life force” and in Santini’s
case, this force is decidedly sexual. As its title suggests, Sex and Sensibility is a novel that
is equally indebted to Sex and the
City and to Jane Austen’s fiction. This pairing makes a great
deal of sense. Both concern the romantic experiences of marriageable
young women; both offer portraits of specific communities; and
both—with varying degrees of success—are rife with social satire.
Santini pays homage to both inspirations via the story of Elizabeth
Parsons, a freelance film critic, who negotiates dating in
twenty-first-century Manhattan while yearning to live her life like one
of Jane Austen’s heroines. In practical terms, this means that Lizzie
spends a great deal of time having sex (à la Sex and the City), or thinking
about it while wondering, “what would Jane Austen do?” In her spare
time, Lizzie attends meetings of JANO, a group that believes that “Jane
Austen is part of human nature, that if you read her novels as a sort
of bible your life will be replenished and soulful.” For Lizzie, this
means figuring out how she can overcome her own intimacy issues (her
father, you see, abandoned her when she was a child) in order to
achieve happiness with her editor-in-chief, Harry Archer, to whom we
are introduced as he performs oral sex on the narrator. “His lips,”
Lizzie tells us, “were sort of exploring a part of my anatomy not
usually offered for public consumption—or should I say pubic
consumption? “Except for those who relish bad puns, lines such as these
are neither sexy nor funny. Neither is the book, which suffers from a
lack of adequate characterization (Lizzie’s ironic sensibility is
primarily manifested by her use of “veree” for “very”). In the end,
Lizzie’s intimacy issues are quickly resolved via a letter in which her
father apologizes for his past behavior (he was an alcoholic, you see).
No longer distrustful of men, Lizzie finds happiness and GREAT SEX
(!!!) in Harry’s arms (Lizzie likes exclamation points). To be fair, Sex and Sensibility does not
pretend to be great literature; it aspires, I think, to be light frothy
fun. However, in channeling Austen via Sex and the City, Sex and Sensibility ultimately
demonstrates that sometimes the parts are greater (and funnier) than
While Santini’s characters spend much of their
time rolling around in various states of undress, Sarah Arthur’s
readers are encouraged to stay fully clothed at all times. Subtitled The Smart Girl’s Guide to Sensible
Romance, Dating Mr. Darcy takes as its premise that “the pursuit
of romantic attachments in the twenty-first century is eerily similar
to what young people went through in Jane Austen’s time.” In the
introduction, Arthur proudly identifies herself as one of those Austen
fans (and members of The Republic of Pemberley) whose life was changed
by Colin Firth’s performance in the BBC/A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Thus inspired,
Arthur demonstrates that the novel (and the series) can be used as a
guide for single women who are attempting to negotiate their way
through the “Relationship Market,” panties intact.
The book is divided into several sections, all
of which use the novel as—to quote Santini—“a sort of bible” for
living. In a chapter called “Family,” Arthur observes that Elizabeth
and Darcy’s familial relationships determine much about how they treat
each other. In “Friends,” she uses Lydia’s story to underscore the
importance of maintaining healthy friendships while dating. Arthur’s
goal, she explains, is to teach readers how to evaluate their partners’
“Darcy Potential” or “DP,” their own “Elizabeth Potential” or “EP,” and
(you’ve probably guessed it) the “Pemberley Potential” or “PP” of the
relationship. To this end, she follows observations about the novel
with questions like: “What about your prospective Mr. Darcy? How well
does he stay in touch with his loved ones?” Dating Mr. Darcy also
concludes with a workbook in which the reader is asked specific
questions about her own character, family, friends, and faith and that
of her “Darcy” in order to gain a better understanding of herself and
Arthur is a perceptive reader of Austen and
some will find her book helpful and entertaining; others, however,
(this reviewer included) will be put off by the fact that, in this
book, the “spirit” of Austen is decidedly Evangelical. “Take care,
girlfriend,” writes Arthur.
Just because a
guy steps inside the building for an hour on Sunday morning… doesn’t
mean he follows Jesus during the other hundred and sixty sevenhours of
the week. You need to consider: “Does this guy walk his talk? He speaks
all kinds of religious language, but is he really living like he
Unlike Austen, Arthur is determined to preach
by the pen. In her opinion, the “most awesome guy [is] a committed
Christian who lives what he believes.” Statements such as these will
pose a quandary for many readers: is Arthur suggesting that our own Mr.
Darcys need to be Christian? Must we convert in order to discover our
inner Elizabeth Bennets? To be fair, Arthur may be writing for a select
audience composed of Christians, the thick-skinned and the forgiving.
She may be unconscious of the bias that permeates her book or not mind
it at all. Regardless of her intentions, however, by expressing such
narrow-mindedness in a book inspired by a novel entitled Pride and Prejudice, Arthur has
created an irony worthy of Austen.
Nachumi is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Stern
College for Women/Yeshiva University, New York City. She is writing
about Austen criticism, popular culture, and the Internet.
v.21, no. 3, Winter 2005, p. 26
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