“I guess I’m like Darcy then, not really able to make small talk.” Shelby set the coffeemaker for the morning. “That’s it! I’m Darcy and I just need to find my Elizabeth.”
“My friend, you couldn’t handle Elizabeth.” Rebecca laughed.
(from Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits, page 27)
Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits is the first book in Mary Jane Hathaway’s Jane Austen Takes the South series and is a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set at a small college in Mississippi. Shelby Roswell is Hathaway’s Elizabeth Bennet, a professor and Civil War expert struggling to achieve tenure — a process that has been complicated by a scathing review of her new book by well-known historian and Yale professor Ransom Fielding. Ransom, our Mr. Darcy, comes back home to teach for a year at Shelby’s college, and Shelby’s quick temper means she makes a really bad first impression when she interrupts one of his classes and criticizes his method of handling students.
Shelby has some family issues to deal with, not the least being her mother’s preoccupation with marrying her off, and spends much of her time trying to piece together a mystery for an article she is writing. Her mother’s horrid attempt at matchmaking puts her in the sights of David Bishop, a shady real estate agent who is a cross between Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham. Meanwhile, Ransom begins to see Shelby in a new light, even as he bears the weight of the guilt he feels over his wife’s death. Just as Shelby starts to question her perceptions of Ransom, the Caroline Bingley-esque Tasha comes to town and stirs up all sorts of confusion.
Setting the novel on a college campus and infusing it with Civil War history and southern culture makes for a unique retelling. Best of all, it’s a very loose retelling, so I didn’t know exactly how each plot thread would play out. Some readers may be put off by the fact that it’s a Christian romance, but I didn’t find it too preachy, since Shelby’s faith is an integral part of her character. Because it’s a Christian romance, it doesn’t get too steamy, but one aspect of the story takes a more mature (but not graphic) turn.
Hathaway’s take on Pride and Prejudice is fresh, fun, and funny — a comfort read complete with a couple of comfort-food recipes at the end. I love how Shelby and Ransom are so like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and how Hathaway takes other characters from the original novel and combines them, with Shelby’s best friend, Rebecca, being a cross between Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, and best friend, Charlotte Lucas. The book shows how Austen’s characters and plots so perfectly stand the test of time. The next books in the series — also with cute titles — take on Emma (Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs) and Persuasion (Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin’ Cornbread), and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.
Disclosure: I received Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits from Howard Books for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.