I am thrilled to have Mary Pagones, author of Pride, Prejudice, and Personal Statements on my blog today! Her book sounds amazing and I love that it focuses on high school and college admissions. That’s such a hard time in life and I can’t wait to see how it’s paralleled with my favorite Austen book!
Mary will be discussing some of the difficulties of modernizing and adapting the popular Classic, Pride and Prejudice, and she also provides some new retelling recommendations of her own! Check it out!
GUEST POST – MARY PAGONES
On Adapting Jane Austen: The Elusive Modern Lizzie B
I was a college student when Clueless opened in theaters. During a discussion of Austen’s Emma in one of my classes, a brave soul raised his hand and said to our professor, “I feel compelled to point out that Clueless is a modernized Emma.” The professor (a brilliant woman and fantastic teacher) responded, “Well then. I shall have an excuse to see a mindless film.” Her tone of voice clearly conveyed, you, sir, should not have felt so compelled.
With Jane Austen-level irony, despite my professor’s instinctive disdain, dissertations are now written about Clueless. But Austen’s most famous work Pride and Prejudice has proven to be trickier to adapt. Some people consider Bridget Jones’s Diary to be a worthy successor, but only the bare bones of the original story remain.
Bridget is insulted by Darcy (Colin Firth, still looking fetching in an ugly Christmas jumper) and briefly falls for an evil version of the Hugh Grant character (okay, Daniel Cleaver, but it’s the Hugh Grant character). Yet self-conscious, weight-obsessed Bridget bears no resemblance to feisty, articulate Elizabeth Bennet. I encountered a similar problem when I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s modernization Eligible. While I enjoyed Sittenfeld’s Prep, her idea of Elizabeth—someone who is professionally floundering and so desperate for male attention she’ll date a married man—didn’t resonate with my conception of the original character. Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet criticizes a social system where women must marry to be financially solvent. If Lizzie was unmarried and alive today, surely she wouldn’t be fixated on the need for a man to make her feel complete? What is so captivating about the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship is that each protagonist falls in genuine love with the other person, not simply in love with the idea of love or marriage (or financial support).
But I loved Pride by Ibi Zoboi, which makes the Elizabeth character of Zuri Benitez prejudiced against Darius Darcy because he represents the forces of gentrification encroaching upon her beloved Bushwick. We finally get a worthy parallel Austen’s beloved heroine who is a gifted slam poet. Romance blooms, but it’s not the center of a woman’s existence. The issue of gentrification also highlights Austen’s frustrations of how gender and class can unfairly curtail people’s dreams and aspirations.
My own novel, Pride, Prejudice, and Personal Statements parallels the quest to get into an elite college with the hunt for a man of large fortune during the Regency. Based upon my experience of eighteen years and counting working for a private college application consultant, I’ve seen how getting into a top-ranked school makes hysterical Mrs. Bennets of many parents, and drives students to Miss Bingley-like levels of vicious competition. My heroine, Elisa “Liss” Tennant, isn’t crazy about the cutthroat atmosphere at her school and just wants to go to an intellectually stimulating liberal arts school where she can study her favorite author Jane Austen. But she still can’t afford to ignore the admissions “game,” worries about Wickham-esque levels of student loan debt, and the need to find a job after college. Of course, along the way, hearts are broken. But the Darcy character isn’t who you’d expect in the end…and I hope even the most Austen-astute reader will be deceived by my Wickham at first.
I also hope my novel makes readers think a bit more critically about the fact that studying English literature seems less and less valued in our society today. After all, for many of us, reading is one of the things that make life worth living. Great books like Pride and Prejudice aren’t just mindless diversion. Nor is the genre of romance itself. Romance novels help us to better understand ourselves—how we love and live.
There are some other Pride and Prejudice adaptations that haven’t been released in the U.S. or have only just been released, including Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (which has gotten universally positive buzz in the author’s native Canada) and Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal. So make sure to keep those on your radar in 2019!
Pride, Prejudice, and Personal Statements by Mary Pagones
“A fresh, (not-so) Clueless teen’s-eye view of college admissions!”
Rosewood South high school senior and Jane Austen superfan Elisa “Liss” Tennant just wants to study literature at a small liberal arts college.
But as difficult as securing a marriage to a man with a large fortune may have been during the Regency, the college admissions marketplace of the twenty-first century may prove to be even more perilous to navigate..
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Pagones is a New Jersey-based writer and the author of the five-book series of equestrian fiction Fortune’s Fool. Her latest novel, a stand-alone Jane Austen YA entitled Pride, Prejudice, and Personal Statements is available in Kindle and paperback form on Amazon.