NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, December 15, 2015, 12:38 PM
It’s fun to revisit seminal works of storytelling in different contexts, and clearly Lynn Messina had a great idea in “Prejudice & Pride” to update the popular classic “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.
Messina not only moves the setting forward to a modern setting and to the city of New York, but she decided to swap the gender roles of the major characters. Kudos should be given for rethinking the idea of men as the pursuers and women as the pursued.
The Bennet sisters are replaced instead by the Bethle brothers, Bennet, John and Lydon (sans a couple of the middle children); the social-climbing Mrs. Bennet becomes their calculating and embarrassing employer, Meryton, the name of the village in the original novel; and the Longbourn is no longer their place of residence but a small art museum out in the “wilds” of Queens, New York.
The story follows a similar blueprint to the Austen novel where Bennet, this novel’s Elizabeth, his exceptionally handsome older brother John, and the irresponsible youngest brother Lydon are introduced to the fabulously wealthy women, Darcy Fitzwilliam and Charlotte Bingley. The difference here is that instead of the pursuit of “suitable” marriages, the story hinges on Meryton’s pursuit of wealthy donors for their institution.
As the only slightly modified title suggests, hasty judgments of character and over-preening pride in class status are themes throughout as Bennet and Darcy immediately come to antagonize and change each other in the will-they-or-won’t-they back and forth.
Of course, they will, as that’s the point of a romance, but getting there, while at times fun and interesting, relies a bit too heavily on the kind of flowery prose style left to Victorian England as opposed to post-Millennial America. It’s jarring as characters chatter with the diction and pacing of an Austen contemporary, then throw in modern slang and proper names (like iPods) the next.
The style choice may have worked better on me if everything mimicked the Victorian cadences the way Baz Luhrmann kept Shakespearean lingo intact despite the eclectically modern setting of “Romeo + Juliet.” Or, if the outmoded syntax had been left only to the narration while the dialogue featured the way folks talk in New York City during the de Blasio administration. Or, FINALLY, if we did away with the purple prose entirely for something different, a la Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless,” a loose film adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma.”
And the last little complaint is the lack of an exploration of what gender-bending in the modern setting really adds to the story. The stakes that the Bennet sisters had to deal with as women compared to not-actually-poor men today don’t really compare.
I didn’t really feel like these well-educated, handsome, middle-class white men were actually in danger of 19th-century style ruination.
Even with the plotting contrived by Messina that puts some sense of urgency into resolving everything at the end, I didn’t really feel like these well-educated, handsome, middle-class, American white men were actually in danger of 19th-century style ruination.
Hardcore fans of Jane Austen might get a kick out of the change of setting, and honestly, the book is entertaining overall. It could have been a bit meatier in the social commentary department, but hey, at least Messina’s novel doesn’t hate on the lower classes like Jane did in her own book.
“Prejudice & Pride” is out Tuesday.