I’m not even going to pretend that I’m a Jane Austen fan. What was once a source of private shame that I had somehow gotten through high school and an English lit degree with minimal exposure to Jane Austen has morphed into indifference. Jane Austen for me falls into the bad reading habit category of the “classics/the canon.” I’ve read and seen countless retellings of her books, but the boredom that I experience 10 years ago reading Sense & Sensibility for a book project has stuck with me so aggressively that I’ve never been inspired to pick up another one of her novels.
Then I stumbled across The Austen Project on Goodreads a few weeks ago. The Austen Project pairs six contemporary authors with Austen’s six novels: Sense & Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park. While searching the Internet for more information, I saw a lot of backlash from readers about the project, many of them saying that it’s just a way for publishers to capitalize off Austen’s work, and that these retellings are turning her novels into “chick lit pabulum.” I was also surprised that a) I hadn’t heard about this project until now and b) that I couldn’t find more about the project as a whole.
I certainly don’t think I’m the best person to comment on The Austen Project, but I find it to be a fascinating endeavor. I’m really interested in adaptations and retellings – On Beauty, a modern retelling of Howards End, is one of my favorite books. I thought The Austen Project was such an intriguing idea that I decided to give Eligible a go (the 4th and most recent installment), a retelling of Pride & Prejudice. I know enough about P&P from other retellings, adaptations, and movies that I felt well-equipped enough to read it. And, I won’t lie, Eligible really appealed to me because Bingley appears on a version of The Bachelor. When I’m done, I’ll read P&P for real and compare them and try to weigh in (although, still, I don’t think I’m the best person for the job). I’m hoping that my 24-year-old self has a greater appreciation for Austen then my 14 year-old self.
My friend saw I was reading Eligible on Goodreads yesterday and texted me asking if it was any good: “I generally dislike people who try too hard with Austen, but everyone keeps telling me this one was pretty good. Oh man, just re-read that and it makes me sound like such a snob. Oops.” But I think her reaction to the series reflects a lot of die-hard Austen fans’ opinions, and I’m really curious to hear other thoughts about it from Austen fans.
A Jane Austen snob I am not, so in some ways I think my cluelessness of it all also makes me a great candidate for this, since I’m pretty objective. I’m about 100 pages in, and I’m wildly enjoying Eligible. It’s genuinely hilarious, witty, and so much fun to read.