Pride and Prejudice with a Side of Grits by Jane Austen and Mary Calhoun Brown

I give this writer credit for trying to bring P and P into the American South, but the effort might be misplaced. By the end of chapter 1, I was annoyed by the southern dialect (which doesn’t happen when I actually am in the South) and by the shift from classy to country. Part of what we love about these novels is the sense of decorum and the subtlety of the language. Here, by contrast, Lizzy offers to “spit-shake” her mother and warns her sister that a man “ain’t gonna buy the cow if he can git the milk fer free” (16, 13). Flo (Mrs. Bennet), describes Dutch (Darcy) as “thank[ing] he’s hot snot on a silver platter” and says Benny (Mr. B.) should have joined them at the hoe-down to see Buford (Bingley), who “wuz all over Janie like flies to shit” (12, 11). We’re not in Austen’s land anymore.

The similes go too far—and too often, so that instead of capturing the essence of southern speech, they perpetuate stereotypes. Whether it’s Buford thinking “all the girls wuz jest as purty as puddin’ pie” or Dutch thinking the “town folks looked dumber ‘n a box of rocks, and the girls wuz so rough that maybe the dog had been keepin’ ’em under the porch to chew on,” I solely missed the non-figurative language of Austen (14). The language here was crude and unnecessary. I knew it was a bad sign when Mary sounded like the smartest one in the crowd. The narrator says Mary “always talked fancy,” which here just seems to be, like a normal person (16). The similes are constant: “It wuz so dry the trees wuz beggin’ the dogs fer a waterin'” (58). “Lizzy’s eyes flew open like two buckeyes in a barrel of buttermilk” (58). Some similes are repeated, especially “happy as a dog with two peters” and “serious as a heart attack” (142, 155, 214).

There are also a lot of clichés. Buford’s sisters wouldn’t wish one of Mrs. Benny’s visits “on their worst enemies” (18). Even Mr. Benny uses them, as when he tells his youngest daughters, excited about the Army National Guard coming to town, that they “don’t know shit from shinola” (23). When her weather predictions are validated, Flo “jest grinned like a fox in a henhouse” (25). Tammy (Caroline Bingley) “hated Lizzy with the heat of a thousand suns in the desert with no shade to be found” (44). “Benny’s daughters fell fer [Joe Wickham] hook, line and sinker” (55). When their “ain’t Fern” (Mrs. Philips) invites Joe to tea, “you couldn’t keep the girls away fer all the tea in China” (56). In a single paragraph, we’re given both “chew the fat” and “spill the beans” (58).  There’s even an occasional double simile, linked to a double cliché: “Lizzy’s face burned hot as the hinges of hell, red as a firetruck, and she wanted to jest crawl up in a ball and die on the spot” (74). We’ll leave the split infinitive (and other grammar errors that are not intentional, such as “the gravy Flo had made hid it’s game-y flavor” 49) out of this. Sometimes there are strange, contradictory back-to-back simile clichés, as in this instance: The narrator says “Lizzy wuz cool as a cucumber ’bout goin’ to Dutch’s farm,” but then the next line (in the next chapter) says “Lizzy was wound up like a top when they pulled in beside the Pembrook Farm sign” (160-61). In yet another seeming contradiction, one paragraph says “they listened fer the phone and nearly jumped out’a their socks when it did ring, but the next describes them missing a call when they’re “all out on the stoop drankin’ Jack ‘n Coke” (189). Cooter leaves four messages, which means the phone rang on four occasions, none of which the people supposedly waiting with bated breath (normally, I’d avoid the cliché, but here it seems appropriate) heard?

The people are kind of, um, gross. Even Buford “chuck[s] his chaw into the bushes so Janie wouldn’t have to look at it all brown in the side of his jaw” (18). Dutch, meanwhile, nearly gets “a woody thankin’ bout the way [Lizzy’s] hips moved when she walked” (19). Charlotte is “so skinny she had to run ’round in the shower to git wet” (15). Benny sends the girls to their aunt, saying he “wuz already stiff as a poker, and he couldn’t wait fer some ‘alone time’ with Flo” (57). Wickham says not getting the security job “fer the gov’ner of Kentucky” made him “so blue [he] wuz peein’ ink” (60). Getting the sisters to tell Lizzy about Janie’s condition “wuz like a-tryin’ to plait live eels in a bucket” (27). Yeah. I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds like it should be gross. Some lines are especially bad: “‘I’ll be all over her like stink on dog shit ’til she gets better,’ her tone as cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra” (32). Really, it’s my own fault: I should have put the put down at that point. Or how about this one? “Janie knew all her hopes wuz dashed like a cardboard box full of baby kittens on the highway” (94). Flo hates “Billy Lucas so much that she wouldn’t piss down his ass if’n his guts wuz on fire” (91). This is not why we read Austen.

Maybe it’s my own lack of comprehension that is to blame. I never quite understood these four: Wickham “looked good enough to make you wanna smack yer granny” (57). DeeDee’s “voice wuz as quiet as a popcorn fart” (111). “She could’ve clapped her ninnies to thank that she had created feelin’s so strong in any man” (131). When Jane learns Joe’s real history with Dutch, she says that “Joe needs to paint his butt white and run with the antelope” (150). Here are the ones I think I at least figured out: Apparently needing to see a man about a horse means using the bathroom (126, 223). A guy who has “got sugar in his tank” is gay (147). And, according to, “suwanee” means, in essence, “I swear.” You’ll need that one since it is used repeatedly (though with a single, rather than a double “n”).

Mr. Collins (Cooter) is especially bad here. His first reason for marrying, for instance, is that “it’s better fer a preacher . . . to git his milk from his own cow” (78). (The milk thing appears several times, 97, 122). But Lizzy’s response is—groan—”I’m the wrong person fer this job, honest Injun” (79). Do people talk like this?  Mrs. Philips is Fern, who had “been lucky enough to snag the Assistant Manager of the Piggly Wiggly,” and Mr. Gardiner does “right well” selling “appliances in Nashv’lle” (23).  The Gardiners are Guthrie and Tildie. This time, Tildie sees right away that Wickham “wuz a bad egg” (you weren’t surprised to see a cliché, were you?) (99). Charlotte moves to Knoxv’lle. London is Nashv’lle. The promise of a tour of the Lakes here becomes the promise of Kentucky horse country, which makes Lizzy “happier ‘n a dog with two peters!” (106).

The writer does do a decent job matching up details. Dutch picks up a copy of Field and Stream Magazine, and Tammy picks one only “be’cuz Dutch wuz readin’ an earlier issue,” for example (40). Brown does a really good job following the structure of the original—even what happens in which chapters. I could follow the story because I know the story. Elizabeth, for instance, “didn’t know whether she hoped for or feared that Dutch would poke his head in fer a howdie” (172). The attics at Purvis Lodge, which you recall Mrs. Bennet saying are dreadful, become “a whole attic full of bats at that abandoned house on Wolf Creek,” but this house, Flo says, is salvageable (198). The accent and casual nature work nicely for the scene in which Mr. Bennet knows he will have three daughters married. Benny says, “If’n any fellers is out there waitin’ to git hitched to Mary or Kitty, send ’em on back. I ain’t got nuthin’ else to do but git rid of me some daughters” (243).

But there are also many changes that don’t seem warranted. Tammy, for instance, says she thinks “music’s too loud at most parties,” and Buford says he supposes they “could skip the music, but then it wouldn’t be much of a dance” (41). The original conversation is between Mary and Elizabeth, and the switch here seemed random. Lizzy actually says her mom is “’bout as dumb as a bucket full of rocks” in front of her mom, Dutch, Buford, and Tammy (34). Our Lizzy never does that. In this version, Mr. Collins’ calling his home “his humble abode” nearly makes Katie Jo—the Maria Lucas character—”wanna pee her pants fer laughin'” (107). On the walk to Miz M’s (Lady Catherine’s), the narrator explains Lizzy’s ease this way: “Lizzy had heard so much ’bout Miz M that she wuzn’t bothered by any of it, she jest wanted to have a face to put with the name” (111). The comma splice aside, this explanation doesn’t make sense. Katie Jo and Billy have heard the same details, but he keeps “fidgitin’ with his string tie,” and she is “bitin’ her fangernails clean off” (111). During Lizzy and Dutch’s conversation about the need for practice, she doesn’t say the key part: she holds herself responsible for not being better because she won’t take the trouble to practice! Without that, the resolution makes little sense (119). Miz M is less awful than she should be. When she’s dissing Lizzy’s fiddle, she interrupts herself (realizing the impoliteness of what she’s saying), and she says people “jest cain’t educate a child without good teachers” (112-13). She uses her knowledge of the community to make things better; when she hears of “somebody beatin’ their wife,” she makes Cooter address the topic in his sermon (115). Lizzy is worse, saying to Miz M, “Do you honestly b’lieve I’m gonna tell you my age?” (113). After the first meeting, Tildie says the opposite of what Mrs. Gardiner says: “they’s somethin’ ’bout the way Dutch hold his mouth that makes me thank he’s not as good as he lets on” (168). Their last name is Ledbetter? Why? Also illogical: “once years ago [Mr. Bennet, here Benny, had] saved ’bout five thousand dollars, hopin’ to give some to the girls when they got married, but how would he divide it”? (197) Um, how about a thousand each? Then, suddenly, “his little nest egg was long gone” (197). Why?

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the text, because, once I got used to the language and the coarseness, it was entertaining, and I give Brown credit for knowing the original well, but maybe crass, profanity, and regular comments about defecation have as much place in an Austen novel as, say, werewolves, vampires, and mummies.

Published in: on January 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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