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Most Ardently - Book Review

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by Jennifer Muirhead (subscribe)
I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma. ~ Eartha Kitt
Published November 28th 2019
Pride and Prejudice with lesbians
Most Ardently, Jane Austen, Austen with lesbians, lesbian romance, Pride and Prejudice

Elisa Benitez, the second of five daughters, is off to college for the first time. There she meets Darcy Fitzgerald, a socially awkward heiress. The two do not initially hit it off, since Darcy insults Elisa's unruly younger sisters. However, when Elisa's sister Julietta becomes involved with Darcy's best friend, Bobby, their lives start to become entwined despite Elisa's best efforts to avoid Darcy. When Darcy warns Elisa to steer clear of the charismatic George Sedgewick, or Wick for short, Elisa ignores her, which proves to be a huge mistake.

Most Ardently is a fresh, modern take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in which Darcy is a lesbian and Elisa is bisexual. As an Austen fan, I was initially a bit wary of someone messing with such a wonderful, classic book, but this adaptation is handled well. Honestly, I found the book being set in America more jarring than the romance being between two women, or set the present day, and even that I got used to as I read. While some of the language is changed to suit the modern era, the essence of the more important speeches is retained.

There is a lot of diversity among the characters in this adaptation; Darcy is biracial and Elisa is Latina and bisexual. One of Elisa's sisters, Camilla, is transgender.

I'm not going to bother too much about spoilers here, since the basic plot is from a book that is more than a hundred years old, so if you haven't read the original or at least seen the BBC TV series or the movie, beware. I enjoyed the characterisation of Collin (Mr Collins), who is much more likeable once he gets over Elisa, and definitely does read novels. This makes it more understandable that Charlotte would learn to love him, even if he does listen to Nickelback. Elisa is funny and her mother, Alejandra has a bit of fight in her, and, unexpectedly, a love of horror movies.

The Wickham storyline is darker than I remember from the original, but maybe that's because Austen couldn't spell things out quite as clearly back then. When the Wick enters into a relationship with Darcy's then 13-year-old sister, and later with Lulu (Lydia) Benitez, it is grooming and statutory rape, and he can be arrested for it.

It's a little strange how the stakes are a bit different in this version. Sure, it would be an advantage for the Benitez sisters to marry a rich man (or woman), but women, even poor women, in modern-day America have other options besides marriage. There's not the same sense that the whole family will be destitute if one or more of the girls doesn't marry well. In fact, marriage isn't necessarily the goal at all. The girls pursue relationships, but don't be surprised if this one doesn't end with an actual wedding.

Most Ardently is a great adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The changes made in it might annoy some incurable Austen fans, but personally I enjoyed the story again seen through fresh eyes.

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Entangled Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

October 21, 2019
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