Q&A: A Feminist Take on "Pride and Prejudice" -- with a Christmas Theme

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe jacket.jpg

Melissa de la Cruz is known for her books for young adults, including her best-selling The Island of the Lost and Blue Bloods series, which has been published in over 20 countries. Her anthology Because I Was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages, which features essays by trailblazing women, appeared earlier this fall, and her new adult novel Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe has just been published by St. Martin's. She spoke with The National Book Review’s John Valeri about her Jane Austen-inspired novel.

Q: What inspired you to reimagine Pride and Prejudice as a gender-swapped, holiday-themed novel?  

A: I was always annoyed that Lizzie Bennet had no options in the original story, the world for women was so constrained that if Darcy did not love her, she had no other option but to become a spinster or marry the boring Mr. Collins. That seemed so unfair, so I thought what if Darcy was a girl and she had the world at her feet? That excited me. And the holiday setting was fun too, to show my Miss Darcy coming home, when she had neglected her family for so long.

Q: You are a self-professed “Austenite.” Why do Jane Austen’s works remain popular and relevant today? How have her books influenced you?

A: Jane Austen was a sly and sharp observer of human nature and I think that’s why we love her work so much. People have not changed, and her observations are just as relevant today as during her time. I love writing about society and people trying to impress other people, and in that way she’s really influenced me.

Q: Your protagonist, Darcy Fitzwilliam, has ambition and self-respect (and, yes, pride). Though celebrated in men, women who possess these traits are often viewed as snobs, or otherwise negatively. Why do you think this double-standard persists and do you hope that the novel might change this a bit?

A: Sigh, we have a long way to go to accept people—men and women as they are. Men can be nurturing and women can be aggressive and ambitious. I think it’s always easy to simplify gender roles, but what we have learned now as a culture and society is that there are so many ways to be human—and that’s a great thing. I hope my story helps young girls see themselves in the Master of the Universe role.

Q: When Darcy rushes home from the New York City to quiet Pemberley, Ohio, she is forced to confront the familial misunderstandings that have largely shaped the person she’s become.  Do homecomings lend themselves particularly well to moments of reckoning, and how does the juxtaposition of big city life with suburban living serve to enhance this theme?

A: I think when you go home you have to confront your past, and who you are before you started layering on the armor, so to speak. And you’re around people who knew you before you went away and became this huge success, so there’s this feeling that maybe they know the “real you.” I sort of think the real you is always the person you chose to become in the big city, so I wanted Darcy to be proud of that too—of who she made herself become.

Q: You have written for audiences of all ages. How does your target demographic guide your approach/process? And can Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe serve as a bridge between YA and adult readers?

A: Honestly, I write for myself and my own entertainment, but yes I think this book bridges the gap as it’s playful and fun and also young people have to read Pride & Prejudice in school, so they can compare and contrast this version with the original.

Q: Given that the holidays are upon us, tell us why you think books make for meaningful gift-giving. Also, do you have any advice for how givers can go about getting the right book(s) in the right hand(s)? 

A: Sharing books is sharing a part of your soul. But books are also such personal choices for each reader.  So, the ideal gift of a book is a combination of the tastes and desires of the giver and the receiver.

This interview was edited for publication

John B. Valeri wrote about books for Examiner.com from 2009 to 2016. He currently contributes to the Big Thrill, Crimespree Magazine, Criminal Element, Mystery Scene Magazine, the National Book Review, the News and Times, the Strand Magazine, and Suspense Magazine. He made his fiction debut in Tricks and Treats, an award-winning anthology published by Books & Boos Press in 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com.