I wasn’t satisfied after I read Eligible and I knew a little of why I was so dissatisfied with Eligible as a Pride and Prejudice retelling.
But it made me nostalgic for other P&P retellings, my favorite of which is the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. So I rewatched it and it only made the problems with Eligible that much more glaring.
And while I think Eligible does some interesting things to the timeless tale, I think ultimately it fails to create a modern context that is proportional to the events of the original Pride and Prejudice. Major Spoilers for both below.
So my first biggest problem with Eligible was how major events were translated to the modern day. Most of them just seemed forced. The biggest one, of course, would be Lydia’s elopement with Ham in Vegas where it was also revealed that Ham is a transgender male. My first problem with that is the way that Ham is revealed to be transgender. It was revealed at the very end of a chapter and written in a way that was very obviously meant to be there for shock factor which is not impressive. Using a person’s identity as a shock factor makes it less about the person in question and more about the reader’s and the other characters’ reactions to the person, using the person as a plot device for another character’s emotional angst, in this case, Mrs. Bennett. In LBD, Lydia’s significant event was the sex tape with George Wickham. I thought this event was really interesting and works so well for the modern day because in the original, Lydia eloping was a huge deal in Austen’s time period, more so because of the blow it would have on Lydia’s reputation as a woman of chastity and serves to emphasize what a money grabbing asshole Wickham was. Eloping now just doesn’t have the same connotation. The fact that Lydia eloped with a transgender person also has nothing to do with her sexual reputation. It feels as if Sittenfeld wanted to throw something out there that felt big but instead ended up feeling anticlimactic because it honestly didn’t change the story that much. This also felt true to me because we really barely got to see Lydia and Ham throughout the book and therefore, we barely got to really know them as characters. In LBD, the sex tape felt like a shocking blow because we’ve gotten to know Lydia and her struggles and so we feel sympathy and pain for her. But the storyline also serves dual purposes to reveal the extent of Elizabeth’s ignorance and dismissal of Lydia as a “slut” and “party” girl. In Eligible, it affects no one except Mrs. Bennet’s acceptance of trans people. Unfortunately, that also makes Darcy’s grand gesture feel not-so-grand. In Eligible, he only is prepared to try and persuade Mrs. Bennet of accepting Ham by saying it is a disorder which in and of itself is a little problematic but in LBD it feels more grand, since I mean he did buy out the whole company for Lizzie (swoon). Darcy’s grand gesture should be a gesture of sacrifice because up until this point we have only known Darcy to look down upon Elizabeth’s family and status but by doing this, he truly shows how much of his status and wealth he is willing to give up for Elizabeth which is what makes it so swoon worthy. The other big event that I felt LBD did better was Collins’ proposal. In Eligible, he’s not really a cousin but he still proposes to her. I really liked the twist that LBD brought to the Collins storyline because it just fits with the modern storyline and still feels relevant to who Lizzie and Charlotte are as characters. Admittedly though, the characters in Eligible are a lot older (late 30’s) so it feels more right that Charlotte would accept a marriage proposal from Collins.
But it still didn’t make as much sense in Eligible because we barely got to know Charlotte as Charlotte. In LBD, we understand why she would take Collins’s job offer, because she is practical and in a financial situation that doesn’t allow her to explore other options but we also understand why Elizabeth wouldn’t want Charlotte to settle for this job when she knows Charlotte has a lot of potential. It fits because in the modern age, we are always at odds with the jobs we accept and we always wonder whether we are just settling or if there was something else we were always meant to do. And, of course, like Charlotte, we often times have family obligations and financial crises that prevent us from pursuing the job that we would have wanted and take the jobs that are offered to us. At least, in my experience, we are less worried about abrupt marriage proposals from people we barely know. If a modern P&P retelling intends to show an audience how the original source material the themes and concepts of social class and social stigma can still translate to the modern day, it is better, to me, if the events themselves were not just inserted into the story but with different names. By making it socially relevant, we can see how P&P has withstood the test of time. Not as major, but the part when Lizzie walked to the hospital instead of getting a ride because apparently there are no ubers yet was kind of dumb to be honest and it felt like something forced to obviously reference to the original Pride and Prejudice and could not have stood on its own without the original source material.
The other problem I had with Eligible was the extent that the characters were explored. Even though the book was long enough to do so, I still felt as though the essence of these characters weren’t explored enough. It’s hard to recapture what is so charismatic and well-loved about Elizabeth Bennet even after all these years later. I did like how in Eligible, we see that Elizabeth is an older heroine (I think 38?) and I thought it was interesting how Sittenfeld interpreted the modern day “spinster” age. In terms of personality, however, I felt as though Elizabeth was just a combination of some of Jane Austen’s Elizabeth’s traits but didn’t develop a personality of her own so she was only a shadow of the original Elizabeth Bennett. I think something that was explored well, however, was her relationship with Jasper Wick (Wickham) who she’s been in a pseudo relationship for some 2 decades. Readers see he is basically an asshole with only semi good intentions but Lizzie doesn’t see that until way later in the book and thought that was really fitting how blinded Lizzie is sometimes. But in terms of her relationships with the other side characters like Lydia and Mrs. Bennet, we can only take them at face value. Mrs. Bennet is just as crazy and narrow-minded about getting her daughters married. In LBD, Mrs. Bennet is exactly the same so we think because everything we know about her is through Lizzie’s perspective. But as you move along through the series, you begin to question whether Mrs. Bennet is really as crazy as Lizzie makes her out to be. And this is such a good case of using the unreliable narrator as Lizzie should be. She is loyal and witty but also very, as you can guess, proud and judgmental. She’s often wrong about the right people and even wrong about the wrong people as well. We constantly see Jane and Charlotte telling her to be nice and pretty much everyone else knows that Darcy likes her way before Lizzie will admit it to herself.
Darcy, on the other hand, is ok in Eligible. As you might expect, he is offhand and aloof and perfectly enjoyable. In Eligible, he is a doctor, in LBD he is the owner of Pemberley Digital, in the original, I believe he is a wealthy landowner, you can see which interpretation I prefer. In LBD, we are constantly reminded that Darcy “always takes care of the people he loves” but of course, to Lizzie, he is anything but. In Eligible, we see that he is mostly misunderstood. But I like that in LBD, he serves as the perfect foil for Lizzie. Lizzie thinks she is nothing like Darcy but we can see that there are a lot of similarities. They both like to think they take care of their family and friends by meddling in their affairs; they are very proud people and are quick to make judgments about people and are hesitant to give second chances. There’s a certain level of truth to everyone’s perspective in LBD. Yes, Darcy was wrong for essentially breaking up Jane’s and Bing’s relationship but Bing was also wrong for listening to Caroline so blindly. In Eligible, I felt as though there was less nuance and I didn’t particularly care if they got together or not, there is less of a foil, less of a pull and push.
In terms of style, they’re both consumable in very short formats. While Eligible has extremely short chapters (some only a paragraph long), LBD consists of 100 episodes, some only 3 minutes long. Because of this format, they’re both very easy and fast to consume. I really love that I couldn’t stop reading or watching either of them. I had to know what happened even though I obviously already knew what was going to happen. I think it’s vital to a retelling that even when you know the story by heart, you still read reincarnations as if this story hasn’t been done before. With Eligible, I was almost just waiting for the events to occur because I think it wasn’t enough for me to only be attached to the characters. In LBD, the vlog format allows me to really know Lizzie as a person and her struggles with being a graduate student etc. etc. However, with Eligible, it seems as though all the set up was used so the relevant plot points (ie Jane and Lizzie’s past relationships and working as a magazine editor for Mascara) could work instead of really building a character. And because of that, I never got a real sense of her deep relationship with her sisters (except maybe Jane) and especially her parents. In the vlog format, I suppose having her mannerisms portrayed on screen is pretty helpful to gauging what she’s like as a person. We know that she likes to hide under the guise of other people’s problems. She employs costume theater so we can get a gauge on what her perception of other people is. Sometimes you do have to suspend your disbelief with the whole who-is-watching these vlogs and there is so much personal information going out in these vlogs that no sane person would probably reveal on camera nowadays but it didn’t bother me too much. I also liked the vlog format because much like the book, other people (like Darcy and Wickham) aren’t revealed until much later in the series so it kind of builds up that anticipation.The important thing is I understand Lizzie’s limited perspective.
And half the fun of reading retellings is finding all the Easter eggs. I really liked reading about both. I read Eligible eagerly anticipating the events that I knew were going to happen. I liked how in LBD, Mary is their cousin and Kitty is actually a kitty, that was cute. I also liked how Bingley was translated as Bing Lee. I liked that Pemberley was the name of Darcy’s manor in Eligible and in LBD, it was the name of Darcy’s company. Just to name a few.
But, overall, I really think LBD’s retelling of P&P was a lot more successful than Eligible’s. Let me know if you’ve watched LBD or read Eligible and if you thought it was a successful retelling. Do you like modern P&P retellings? If so, do you have a favorite, I would love to know because I’ll never get tired of P&P.