BOOK REVIEWS     George Justice, Editor

The Hipness of P&P

Flirting with Pride & Prejudice:
Fresh Perspectives on the Original
Chick-Lit Masterpiece

Edited by Jennifer Crusie.
Benbella Books, Inc., 2005. 230 pages.
Paperback. $14.95.

Reviewed by Kathleen Anderson.

If it is raining, and you are bored and decide to curl up with a frivolous, easy book about Austen, you might want to read Flirting with Pride & Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece. The essays in this collection feature titles like “Does this petticoat make me look fat?” and “My Firth Love” and explore the novel and film versions of it through diverse thematic foci, which are frequently applied to present-day American women’s lives in snappy, colloquial language. A section of short stories from the perspectives of such characters as Charlotte and Mary is also included. The chapter “Bennets and Bingleys and Bitches. Oh My!” provides the reader with a quiz, the results of which will determine whether she is a Jane, a Caroline, or a Lizzy. Flirting with Pride & Prejudice is not a scholarly book, which is both its benefit and its bane. Somewhere between this collection and the dullest and driest of scholarship would be my ideal of intelligent, accessible Austenian commentary.

I read these essays in one day, and I cannot recall completing any book-length scholarly work in such a short time. Some of these essays enhanced my appreciation of Pride and Prejudice because they conveyed “fresh” ideas about the novel. Lawrence Watt-Evans offers a particularly intriguing perspective in “AWorld at War,” in which he explains the context of Pride and Prejudice in the Napoleonic Wars and, more specifically, points out the optimism and uncanny accuracy in timing of Austen’s implied prediction of peace in her narrator’s final description of Lydia and Wickham’s future. Jo Beverly analyzes characters’ financial status in Pride and Prejudice; “Gold Diggers of 1813” is a socioeconomic discussion of the specifics of dowries, investment returns, and living expenses, as well as of such broader issues as the dearth of marriageable men in wartime and the pressure to enhance family status through marriage. Jill Winters draws interesting parallels between the characters of Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins, and makes a convincing argument about Mary’s near-absence from the novel. She writes, “Hooking a husband. All of the principal characters in Pride and Prejudice operate within the realm of this context except for Mary: unless she’s there to hook a husband, she’s barely there at all.” In terms of the more “pop” essays, I enjoyed Jennifer O’Connell’s reflections on why women may refrain from sharing reservations with friends about their fiancés and let them walk down the aisle unimpeded, as Elizabeth allows Charlotte to do.

Although the book contains these nuggets of discernment, it also contains pervasive contradictions that detract from its appeal. For example, Lauren Baratz-Logsted asserts, “I have no doubt that if Jane Austen were writing today, she would get labeled as a writer of chick-lit. There is no denying the fact that no matter how far we have come… there is still the tendency on the part of the conventional literary press to deem works written by, about, and primarily for women as being automatically lessthan.” But Baratz-Logsted’s essay appears in a book that labels Pride and Prejudice “the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece.” Indeed, the volume generally reinforces as it seemingly mocks denigrating female stereotypes. One essayist claims that the pressure on soccer moms is the fault of other soccer moms—you know how petty and competitive women are. I reject the term “chick-lit” and the assumption that great novels by women (like Austen) that feature female protagonists were or are intended primarily for a female audience.

 Let me be bluntly critical for a moment. Flirting with Pride & Prejudice contains errors of content, such as the editor’s reference to Charlotte having “the promiseof a future at Netherfield” (does she mean Longbourn?). Contributors make such banal “discoveries” as that “theme” is “the driving force behind her works,” that Austen’s novels are “much more than what their media interpretations portray,” and that one cannot assume the historical accuracy of a film version. More than one contributor describes reaching for Cliffs Notes or the video and then being pleasantly surprised at actually enjoying reading Pride and Prejudice itself. One even has the gall to boast of having read the novel twice. Some of the poor grammar in the essays clearly was not an intentional part of their funky style and undermines the writers’ credibility. Many of the biographical paragraphs following the chapters promote the writers’ books and refer the reader to websites, which may lead one to wonder if marketing supersedes meaning as the collection’s primary agenda. A couple of the writers resort to profanity, but hells and damns do not enhance the wisdom of their remarks or improve their tribute to Jane Austen.

Although I chuckled a couple of times and gleaned a few insights, I would not read Flirting with Pride & Prejudice a second time. It is an entertaining consumable with little substance. One would read this book for the same reason one might pick up a best-selling romance or a Vogue magazine— it will be read once for fun and then recycled and soon forgotten. Perhaps such texts serve as reminders that no one else is Jane Austen and no other book is Pride and Prejudice. But you already knew that.

Kathleen Anderson is Associate Professor of English at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Florida, and the Co-coordinator of JASNA’s South Florida Region.

JASNA News v.21, no. 3, Winter 2005, p. 27

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