A/N: This is my second attempt at modernizing Pride and Prejudice but from a slightly different perspective.
Title: Knit 'n' Lit
Summary: Elizabeth "Betsy" Bennet hates her name because she was named after Austen's novel. Mark F. Williamson is a world-renowned Austen expert who is not a "people person."
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife."
-Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
It is a truth less well known but still universally acknowledged by those who are aware of it that living with the name "Elizabeth Bennet" in the twenty-first century can really, really suck.
I speak from personal experience, approximately twenty-four years of personal experience. You see my name is Elizabeth Bennet, Elizabeth Louise Bennet. And I am the second of the five daughters of Joel Bennet and Nina Watkins-Bennet. My father is professor of British literature at the University of Michigan; Dickens and his contemporaries are my father's specialty. My mother's specialty is fussing, worrying, and interfering in other people's lives. But she has a degree in English literature from the University of Michigan to help her along with that.
My parents met in college when Dad encountered Mom sitting in a coffee-shop reading Pride and Prejudice for the ninetieth time. It's been her favorite book since she was thirteen. And he likes it. They bonded over it, got married, and had five daughters. Jenna is the oldest-sweet and docile, then there's me-eternally damned as the second Bennet daughter, Mabel came after me-quiet and studious, Camilla is second from last-always looking for someone else to tell her what to do and how to do it, and then there is Lucy-Maud, determined to be the center of attention and always desperate for a man in her life.
"Betsy, where are you?" Jenna called out as she walked into Knit 'n' Lit, the book and yarn store that I ran with Carlye and Luke Ormond. "Betsy, I need to talk to you. Mom is looking for you."
"Don't worry. My phone is off," I told her, coming out of the back room.
Jenna sighed and sat down in an armchair by the fire. "She'll come looking for you then. She's determined to talk to both of us about something that is 'extremely important' or that's what her text message said."
I sighed. "She's probably found some guy she wants us to meet so that one of us can marry him."
My older sister laughed and shook her blonde head. "It's either that or she wants us to circulate at some department party next weekend."
"Damn," I muttered. "I hate department parties. Everyone always wants to make jokes about my name. No, I haven't met Mr. Darcy yet, but if I do meet him, I'll be sure to marry him just because it would be funny. And I'm not that attracted to Colin Firth."
"Betsy, I promise you that someday you'll meet someone who is amazingly fabulous and will deflect all of those dumb jokes."
"That's easy for you to say. Your name isn't Elizabeth Bennet."
"That's because God loves me more than he loves you."
And then my mother burst through the door. "Jenna, Elizabeth, where are you two? I need to talk to you right away. It's an emergency. Elizabeth, why isn't your phone on?"
"I'm working, Mom," I told her. "I keep my personal cell off when I'm working and I have my work cell on."
"Elizabeth," she sighed. "I don't have your work number."
"Yes, you do," I told her. "I put it in your phone myself when I got my work cell."
My mother wordlessly flipped through her cell phone for a few minutes before gasping. "Oh I do have your number! Silly me, I didn't know that."
"Okay, so what brings you here today?" I asked her.
"Your father and I are hosting a party for the English department this weekend to mark the beginning of the semester and we want all of our daughters to be there. It's nothing major, just a cocktail party. But there are some new male professors from England and they're young and probably handsome. Your father really wants you to meet them."
"What time?" I asked.
"It's at seven at our house."
"I'll be there," I told her.
"As will I," Jenna replied.
"And will Paul be coming?" Mom asked eagerly.
"No, Mom, Paul isn't coming. We broke up back in April when he moved to Nashville."
"You could have gone with him, Jenna dear. He did offer. And he wrote you such beautiful poetry."
Jenna sighed. "Mom, I'm fine. It was four months ago and I don't miss him. He just wasn't the one for me. He's too much of a hippie for me."
"Then you should have set him up with Elizabeth. She's determined to relive Woodstock every day of her life."
Now it was my turn to sigh. "I'm not trying to relive Woodstock. I just like fair trade and organic things."
"But you're always making your own clothes. It's so folksy."
I sighed. "I like to sew. And Mom, I own a knitting shop. I have to knit and crochet my own clothes."
Mom shook her head. "Just look nice on Saturday. It's a cocktail party. And I know you have nice dresses. I've bought you some of them. You look great in dark colors like purple and navy. And wear your hair up and away from your face. You look prettier like that. And don't wear your glasses, either one of you. You're pretty girls. Remember to accent that. I want grandchildren before I die. Well, I have to go talk to Mabel and Milla and Lucy. See you two on Saturday."
I sighed. "We'll see you then."
And then she left followed by the tinkling of the bells on the door.
"So what are you going to wear?" Jenna asked me.
I shrugged. "Sweats and an old t-shirt sound pretty good right now."
She laughed. "Don't let her get to you, Betsy-belle. She's just stressed."
"She's an obnoxious old cow," Carlye said as she walked over to us, carrying a mug in her hands.
"Carlye, she's not that bad. She just worries about us too much," Jenna protested.
"I lived next-door to your parents from the age of eight until I left for college. Nina Bennet is a major pain in the ass."
"Don't worry, Carlye," I told my roommate and business partner. "I'll let you make me hot on Saturday."
"Good," she said. "I'm not agreeing with your mother about this but I think I can hot you up even better than you can when left to your own devices."
"I can pick out a pretty nice and do my hair and make-up."
"Yeah but all that stuff looks better when someone else helps you; it's just a fact of life, Betsy-belle."
"Whatever, if it'll make Mom happy, you can do whatever you want to me."
"Can I dye your hair blonde to make you look more like Jenna?"
I laughed; my dad's colleagues were always asking how my parents had two blonde daughters, a redhead, and two very dark brunettes. Jenna and I were incredibly close but we looked nothing-and I mean nothing-alike except for having the same eyes, our father's eyes.
"I'm never going blonde," I told her. "I love my natural hair too much."
"Weirdo," Jenna said. "Gentlemen prefer blondes."
I stuck my tongue out at her. "Just because I never go out, that doesn't mean men aren't attracted to me. It just means that I'm picky."
"You know it is hard to meet a guy when you work in a yarn store. They don't exactly draw in many straight guys," Carlye commented.
"Except Luke," Jenna said.
"Luke's here for the books and the coffee. He hates the yarn part."
"He would," I sighed. "But at least he helps us with the business part."
"I suck at business and finance," Carlye sighed.
"Me too," my sister told her.
"Yeah but you aren't part owner of a business."
"True story," Jenna sighed.
"Hey, Bets, some board is in classic literature looking for your favorite book and she wants to know which is the best version," Luke Ormond said walking over to us. "I told her I'd send her our Brit Lit expert to help her."
I sighed and stuck my tongue out at him. "Lucas, sometimes, you're an asshole."
"You freaking majored in Brit Lit. Get your ass over there and help her."
"I hate you."
"I sign your paychecks."
"And I sign yours. What does this woman look like?"
"Mid-forties, bland looking, she's probably recently divorced and looking for a good romance to renew her faith in men."
"Knightley is better for that than Darcy," I replied before walking away.
The "bland-looking" woman in her mid-forties was named Cheryl and she was in fact recently divorced and looking for a good romance to renew her faith in men. Luke really is good at reading our customers. And working in a small bookstore I can bond with my customers and help them. "Pride and Prejudice isn't my favorite book," I told her. "But my mother loves it. If you just want to read it, we have several really good, inexpensive editions. But if you want analysis and historical explanation, we have a couple of really good editions for that."
"I want analysis," she said. "I want to understand how they thought and all of that."
I took a book off a higher shelf. "This is really great. It has commentary from a British scholar who has been working at Oxford named Mark F. Williamson. He has a really good, unique perspective on Austen in her historical context."
"But he's a man," she said. "How can a man understand Jane so well?"
I shrugged. "He knows his stuff. I'm really impressed with all of his books about Austen."
She shrugged and took the book from me. "What's your favorite book for getting over a broken heart?"
I laughed. "I have a couple. Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is one. I love reading Atonement by Ian McEwan when I'm utterly broken-hearted and just need to bawl my eyes out. And then, I like various things by Kate Jacobs."
"What has she written?"
"The Friday Night Knitting Club," I said. "It's a personal favorite. You'll laugh; you'll cry. It's great."
Cheryl nodded and shrugged. "I've never tried knitting before. I just came here because one of my friends loves it. She says it's small and cute and cozy. And she said you guys were more helpful than chain bookstores."
I smiled. "We try. We really try."
"How did you learn to knit?" she asked.
"My grandmother," I replied. "She loved knitting and crocheting."
"That's so sweet."
I nodded. "She lived with us when I was a child and taught me then."
"That's so sweet," she cooed. People always have that reaction to learning that my Nana Bennet taught me to knit and crochet and sew. She was probably as much of an Earth Child as my mother is always accusing me of being, but people just always chalked that up to her being an eccentric old lady. But my dad always tells me that I'm a lot like his mother; I take that as a compliment.
"Do you think I could learn to knit?" she asked suddenly.
"Of course!" I replied eagerly. "We have knitting classes here three nights a week. The schedule is by the fireplace if you're interested."
"Oh that would be lovely," Cheryl enthused. And I knew that we had a new customer for life.
Saturday rolled around quickly enough to content most people. Michigan's football team had their home opener-against Western Michigan-and it was a beautiful day. Downtown Ann Arbor was hopping. Around five-thirty, I packed up my things and headed home to get myself all gussied up for my mother's precious party. Carlye was already at home, watching football and doing some research for the bookstore online. She was looking for new books and yarns. We were attempting to find someone local who spun and dyed their own yarn from which we could buy yarn to sell in Knit 'n' Lit. We had some suppliers who from other states but we wanted to promote local business, especially when the economy in Michigan was shit.
By six-thirty, I was wearing a tea-length eggplant colored dress with a cream-colored shrug that I'd crocheted and cream ballet flats. "You look gorgeous," Carlye told me. She'd straightened my normally curly hair because my mom likes it better that way.
I looked at myself in the mirror. "I hate saying this but I just hope it makes my mother happy. She gets way too stressed about these damn department parties."
Carlye handed me a gold necklace and matching hoop earrings. "Put these on. And think about the new professors. Maybe one of them will be into you."
I laughed. "I doubt it. And I don't think I'd want to date an English professor anyway. He'd probably make too many comments about my name."
"What is in a name?" Carlye quoted. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
"And there'd be fewer jokes if my name was Rose Bennet rather than Elizabeth Bennet. I try to hide behind Betsy but Mom always brings Elizabeth, Liz, Eliza, and Lizzy back into the open."
"But you're our Betsy. Those other names don't fit you; you're my pretty Betsy."
I laughed and hugged her. "I'll see you later. And thanks for all your help."
"Anytime, you're my best roommate."
Jenna looked perfect, of course; she always looked perfect. She wore her Little Black Dress with pearls and put her hair in a classy up-do. Grace Kelly would have been proud. She grabbed me as soon as I was in the front door. "Avoid upstairs. Cam and Lu are both having fashion disasters. And Mabel is insisting that she doesn't have to be here."
"Where's Mom?" I asked, stashing my purse in the front closet.
"Upstairs," she replied. "And Dad is in his office talking to someone on the phone. Can you talk to the caterers? You're better with kitchens and stuff than I am."
"Sure thing," I replied. My mom always hired the same caterers and I knew them pretty well. I was often asked to deal with them because I was more "people-friendly" than most other members of my family-or so my dad said. Jenna is way better with little kids than I'll ever be.
"Thanks," she said. "I'm going to deal with Mom and the Terrible Trio."
"The silliest girls in all of America," I replied, quoting our dad.
She laughed. "Who knew that a degree in elementary education would help me with my mother and sisters?"
"Oh, I've always known. I'm secretly still five."
She laughed and went upstairs. And I went to the kitchen.
Around eight o'clock, my dad finally introduced Jenna and I to the two new professors. Kevin Bingham was average height with light brown hair and blue eyes; he was cute and had an adorable British accent and totally not my type. His younger half-sister, Emily, had come with him. "She's going to take care of Mark and me; make sure that two poor bachelors don't starve to death or anything like that," he told us.
And there was Mark as in The Mark F. Williamson who edits all of my favorite editions of Jane Austen's novels. "I actually got my PhD from Cambridge in Austen," he told me. And I noticed that he didn't have a British accent. He sounded really American to me. "I guess I'm supposed to be an expert on her or something."
"You'll have to take that up with my mother," I told him. "Jane Austen is her favorite author."
"She even named poor Betsy here Elizabeth Bennet after Pride and Prejudice," my dad said.
I sighed and took a sip of my drink. God, I have got to start drinking stronger stuff than lemonade at my parents' parties.
"That's better than some things that I've heard," Mark said. "One of my students last year when I was at Vanderbilt thought I should name all of my children after Austen heroines and heroes. Just because I study the stuff, write about it, and teach it, that doesn't mean I'm going to name all of my kids after it."
"Umm, no offense or anything," I said. "But that's not worse than what my mom did to me. See, you won't actually do that to your kids and even if you did, Elinor Williamson isn't a direct reference to Austen. Elizabeth Bennet could be cited and cross-referenced as a direct reference. And I'm stuck with it."
"You'll get married someday and you can change your last name," Kevin said optimistically and sweetly. I liked him. Mark was too confrontational for me.
"I think my mother is half-hoping that I'll meet some guy whose last name is Darcy and then I can be Elizabeth Darcy," I admitted.
"If you ever meet anyone whose last name is Darcy, run the other way," Mark advised. And he had a smile on his face as he said it.
And I couldn't help but to laugh. "I'll remember that," I told him.
"So Elizabeth," Kevin began.
"Please call me Betsy," I interrupted. "I can't stand being called Elizabeth."
"Sorry, Betsy," he said. "So your sister is a teacher. What do you do?"
"I own a small book and yarn store with a café."
"A yarn store?" Emily Bingham repeated. "How quaint, I didn't know anyone needed those anymore."
"Oh, knitting and crocheting are really popular these days," I replied. "Julia Robert knits; it's getting trendy again. And it's a beautiful art. We have hand-spun and hand-dyed yarns. It's really wonderful. And we have books, so many books. We have a great selection of books for every personality and interest."
"Betsy is so talented," my dad said. "She makes hats and scarves and sweaters and so many beautiful things."
"She even made the sweater she's wearing tonight," Jenna added.
"Very nice," Kevin said. "It really is impressive."
Emily just sniffed in a manner that could only be called "huffily." And Mark just nodded and took a sip of his champagne. I could tell that my talents and skills didn't impress with most of this crowd. But I was used to that after a few years of being around my dad's colleagues. Most of them didn't think that they should have to associate with people who ran stores and knitted.
An hour and a half later, I was in the living room talking to one of my former professors when I overheard Kevin and Mark talking. Kevin had been paying a lot of attention to Jenna and she seemed to love it. But Mark didn't seem to be circulating much. "You need to stop hanging on Emily and me," I heard Kevin tell Mark.
"I don't know anyone else," his friend protested.
"So talk to people. Dr. Bennet introduced us to his daughters."
"Kevin, you've got Jenna's attention."
"There's still the other one. She's a knock-out."
"And she's an artist. I don't date artists."
Kevin sighed. "Mark, I'm not asking you to marry her. Just talk to her."
"What would I talk to her about?"
"Books," was the reply.
"She probably has awful taste in books."
"She works in a bookstore."
"Mark, you're pathetic."
Mark sighed. "I just don't want to go talk to some ditzy artist with whom I have absolutely nothing in common."
I shook my head and continued talking to Professor Flaherty. I didn't need to be called a ditz by someone who didn't understand me at all.
And then I heard the clincher. "Just leave me alone, Kevin. She's probably a hippie or something I don't date hippies."
This leaves me with just one question. Why does everyone think I'm a hippie? I shower daily; I just like organic food and homemade clothes. That does not a hippie make.
A/N: Please review.