Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s most popular novel, introduces us to the Bennets, a family with five grown daughters whose marriage prospects are bleak due to their limited wealth. This classic novel is a romance at its core, but as I said in Why Jane Austen Appeals to Readers Who Don’t Just “Want a Boyfriend”: “Its historical context, multi-dimensional characters, and commentary on social hierarchy and human nature add weight to the ‘girl meets boy’ plot.”
This novel has inspired countless adaptations, five of which I feature here. What’s interesting is that all five of these books draw from the same source, but they are quite different from each other.
- Epic Fail by Claire LeZebnik (2011)
This modern, young adult version of Pride and Prejudice features the budding relationship between Elise Benton, the daughter of the principal of Coral Tree Prep, and Derek Edwards, the son of Hollywood royalty and a student at Coral Tree. Everyone likes Derek–or at least wants to be noticed by him–except for Elise, who isn’t awestruck by his family’s fame or his dour personality. I did have a few problems with this novel — there are a handful of fat shaming comments, the girls talk too much about boys with each other, and there is a brief strangulation joke that the domestic violence attorney in me will never find funny — but otherwise, it’s a cute story that many lovers of Pride and Prejudice will enjoy.
This new adult version of Pride and Prejudice stars Spring Honeycutt, an environmental science major at Stanford who has no choice but to partner on her thesis project with Henry Knightly, a property developer who is studying law. She loves trees, and he loves to cut them down. Eventually, after many missteps, these two learn they have more in common than they realized. It’s cute, though the characters seem less mature than I would expect for their ages and the novel contained far too many references to 1990s music for my liking (I doubt that will bother anyone else!).
In this Pride and Prejudice-inspired romance, Mr. Bennet is a stern physician working for Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and his overbearing wife is Elizabeth and Jane’s stepmother. The Bennets owe their comfortable existence to Lady Catherine, who insists on arranging marriages for every eligible person in her path, including Elizabeth. Her choice for Lizzy is none other than Mr. Wickham, much to the dismay of Mr. Darcy, who is in love with Elizabeth but engaged to his cousin (according to Lady Catherine). I found certain aspects of this adaptation challenging to follow, but the story was engrossing enough to keep my attention. I enjoyed watching these versions of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy overcome the obstacles in the way of their romance.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern version of Pride and Prejudice delivers the romance we expect (though not necessarily in the way we expect!) and also provides a perspective on how far women have come in the two centuries since Pride and Prejudice made its debut. For example, we see progress in how most of the Bennet sisters react to Mrs. Bennet’s adherence to bigoted values and stereotypes. I enjoyed this novel, though I found the latter half of it less satisfying than the first (see here for a minor spoiler about what I found disappointing).
In this modern, new adult retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is now Megan McKnight, a NCAA Division I soccer star whose mother enters her into the 2016 Dallas debutante season against her will. Megan is irate, believing her mother was only going to enter her twin sister Julia, but she agrees to participate as a favor to her father, who says there will “be no peace around here unless [her] mother wins this one.” Like Jane Austen’s Elizabeth, Megan is independent and fiery, but unlike her original counterpart, she is naive and incredibly boy crazy, which I didn’t particularly like. There are a few references to gender stereotypes that didn’t sit well with me, but nothing that detracted too much from my enjoyment of the novel. I appreciated that this novel acknowledges that the debutante experience is limited to white people from privileged families, a rare mention of race in a modern Jane Austen retelling. Overall, The Season was an interesting Pride and Prejudice-inspired novel set in a context quite different from the others I’ve read.