Desert Isle Keeper
A Higher Education
It is a truth universally acknowledged that I will read just about any Pride and Prejudice redux that comes my way. It is also a truth that very, very few of them are worth my time, so imagine my delight when A Higher Education resoundingly was. The small changes made to the original only served to make the story stronger and more directly applicable to modern times, and I found myself falling in love with Lizzie and Darcy all over again.
In this world, Elizabeth Bennet is a freshman at Meryton College. Her roommate, Jane, drags her to a party where she meets campus blowhard, Will Darcy. You know the rest. Well, -ish. In this world, Darcy demands to be called ‘Will’ because Darcy reminds him of his money and his father and neither of those are comfortable thoughts. He’s still best mates with Charles Bingley, who still falls for Jane, and whose sister is still heinous. The other Bennet sisters appear as dorm-mates to Elizabeth and Jane, but the chaos they cause in the original still manages to happen here. We don’t meet Mr. Collins until he is already married to Charlotte, but there is a lovely little aside from Lizzie’s PoV that if she had met Charlotte Collins in another life, they would have been fast friends.
Wickham is still here and still the living worst. There are some minor trigger warnings for his storyline with Georgina (all told in flashbacks, but he’s a drugged-up, power hungry, entitled jerk-wad, so you can imagine how he manipulates Georgina into crossing lines without her true of valid consent), but the way Lizzie resolves said storyline is absolutely wonderful.
One small touch I loved was that Jane is a black woman in this version, and so the class distinctions between her and Charles are only one facet of the drama. It allows Ms. Stanton to expose Caroline as the racist she surely would have been if Austen had inserted people of color into her narrative.
Additionally, this is set in the Carolinas, and the money of both the Bingleys and the Darcys can be traced to the plantation-era. When Elizabeth first stumbles upon Pemberley, there is a discussion about the ethics of that money and how the families handled slavery differently. However, this small piece is the weakest part of the narrative, for the simple fact that it feels under-done. I would have liked to hear more about how Will was going to use his media empire to dismantle – or at least question – the systems which gave him the privilege he was born to – for that is the kind of ethic we are led to believe he has. To set this narrative where it was and then start the conversation but not follow through seemed like a wasted opportunity. If you don’t want to crack open that piece of history, then why bring it up at all?
With that small aside, however, I was delighted by this book. At 560 pages, it’s hefty and longer than most of my usual reads. There were a few times where I was tracking where the plot line was in P&P vs. A Higher Education and I wondered what Ms. Stanton was going to fill the pages with. Answer: lots of hot sex and banter crackles and leaps off the page. As I said at the beginning, this story made me fall in love with my original favorite romance couple all over again. I always viewed Lizzie as a prototypical feminist, so it was fun to see her fully realized as one. If you’re a fan of the original and open to retellings, or simply up for a cracking contemporary romance set in university, but largely sans the NA angst, then I believe this one is for you.