ASPEN, Colo.—Curtis Sittenfeld is writing Pride and Prejudice. Sort of. The novelist (Prep, American Wife, etc.) is participating in The Austen Project, which pairs six contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works, asking them to re-tell the stories, often in contemporary settings. "Taking these well-loved stories as their base," the project explains, "each author will write their own unique take on Jane Austen’s novels."
So Sittenfeld got assigned to Pride and Prejudice. Which is a challenge from a personal-pressure perspective—Pride and Prejudice is the most well-known, and probably the most beloved, of Austen's novels—but also from a logistical one. The plot centers around the politics of the entail, the system of inheritance that passed property down only along the male lines—a problem for the Bennet family of Pride and Prejudice, given its five daughters. Marriage, in Austen's novel, is fraught with competing incentives: financial security, family welfare, social status, love.
Which is why Mrs. Bennet is obsessed with getting her daughters married off—and married well. And one of her many sub-anxieties concerns the age of the eldest Bennet daughters—an alarmingly advanced age, in Austen's telling of things.