(originally from All About Romance)
Jennifer Crusie (editor)
2005, Non Fiction
Benbella Books, $14.95, 240 pages, Amazon ASIN 1932100725
Contributors include Jo Beverley, Michelle Cunnah, Karen Joy Fowler, Alesia Holliday, Mercedes Lackey, Teresa Medeiros, Joyce Millman, Shanna Swendson, and Jill Winters.
Jennifer Crusie spends her editorial prologue in Flirting with Pride and Prejudice talking about how she didn’t have the time edit the collection. What with deadlines, her “real” life, and other obligations, she simply didn’t need the extra project. But she couldn’t turn it down.
I felt the same way. I have enough ARCs to satisfy a small nation, two “real” jobs, and a strong desire for some semblance of a social life. But when I saw Flirting, I couldn’t help it. I rushed right on home and ordered my review copy, knowing that I would be putting all my other projects at risk and causing some serious stress for myself in the process. Didn’t matter. I had to do it.
It’s funny, but if we’d been flirting with any other book, I probably could have resisted. But there is something about Pride and Prejudice that goes beyond Colin Firth in a wet shirt. The essayists in the collection agree, and attempt to pinpoint the exact nature of its almost universal appeal.
This is an interesting collection, simply because of the variety of styles and levels of seriousness. Some of the essays in the collection are strict, if somewhat short, academic explorations of various aspects of Jane Austen’s best-loved novel. Others are so wispy as to run the risk of taking off with every gust of air. Most, however, fall somewhere in between. And, as can be expected, some are incredibly strong, some are exasperatingly weak, and most fall somewhere in the middle. Intriguingly, and probably against expectation, it is not necessarily the light-hearted pieces that fail to deliver. In fact, I would argue that light-hearted, “fluffy” writing is harder to write, and succeed at, then academic argument. Academese, after all, can be learned. Making a point with humor? Can’t be taught.
There are 24 essays, split into seven categories, so I’m only going to touch on a couple. Among the academic-minded essays is an excellent exploration of the contemporary concerns of Austen (and her characters), namely the Napoleonic Wars. The author, Lawrence Watt-Evans, draws excellent parallels between Austen’s time and our own – the perils of war, the rise of the military, and an uncertain future – but notes that none of these concerns make it into the novels. There’s an increased military presence, sure, but no real mention of the conflict. Using Austen’s characters as a staring off point, Watt-Evans writes an in-depth examination of how communication methods have changed in the past 200 years – and how they have changed us.
The fictional offerings include Georgiana Darcy’s story, Pride and Prejudice: The Reality TV show, and, in my opinion, one of the best explorations of Charlotte Lucas’s character that I’ve seen. Most readers look down a little on Charlotte, believing that she should have held out for something better, someone like Mr. Darcy. Melissa Senate, however, sees Charlotte not as contra-romance, but as a pragmatist who understands that life is what you make of it. This story also displays some of Elizabeth Bennet’s less desirable traits, sacrilege among the other writers.
There is a strong emphasis on the films, and a lot of work done with the 2005 Bollywood production, Bride and Prejudice. As the most current adaptation at the time of publication, this emphasis is to be expected, however I think the emphasis on film itself was overdone in this collection. There’s a lot to be said for Colin Firth, but the Bridget Jones-style worship was a bit overdone, in my opinion. The collection would have done well to focus more on Mr. Darcy, and less on the actors portraying him.
In short, Flirting with Pride and Prejudice is a stampeding herd of wildebeest. It’s stretched too far and goes on too long. It’s good, it’s strong, but if it had just culled the weak and sick, it could have been invincible.