Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell, a revised version of Pride and Prejudice set in post-Civil War Era Texas, deals directly with the cultural divisions and misunderstandings, many that persist into the present day, between the North and South in the US. Now while I am a thorough Yankee, I am the only person in my father's entire family to be born, raised, and permanently residing outside of the state of Texas. Not only does my family's heritage put me in a position to understand (and be utterly bewildered by) the unique characteristics of Texans, but, having lived in other southern states, I have also had ample opportunity to observe the ongoing confusion that exist between the northern and southern perspectives. So before I discuss the compelling and exciting manner in which Mr. Caldwell reimagined Pride and Prejudice, I think it essential to address what appears to me to have been the other agenda of this book: correcting many of the persistent myths about why this country went to war with itself.
American History text books tend to rap up their discussion of this bloody episode in a clean and precise manner. The Southern economy was premised upon slave labor, something about states rights, Abraham Lincoln elected, the South succeeded, Gettysburg, Lee surrenders, yada yada yada. The overall message is that the moral North triumphed over a sinful South. Gone With the Wind brings Sherman and romance into the picture, and sometimes teachers dwell on the technological improvements born out of the necessity of war. Mr. Caldwell presents a more complex picture of the conflict, reminding us of the economic complexities that really drove this country to the brink, the horrors perpetuated by both sides, and the crippling costs of war. This book has so much to offer the Civil War history buff, particularly if that buff happens to be from Texas and feels that unquenchable, native pride for the Lone Star State. Texans are a unique breed, perfectly assured of the superiority of their state, still throwing the idea of succession about, and seeing Darcy and Elizabeth recast in this guise is shocking, in a stunning manner, to the senses.
The book follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice relatively closely considering the cultural changes enacted upon it, except that Jane and Bingley, now doctor for the small central Texas town of Rosings, are married right off the bat, and the Wickham and Lady Catherine characters are elevated to a level of such malevolence that their original counterparts seem like perfectly charming companions in comparison. The class divide that separates Darcy and Elizabeth in Austen's tale, while it still does exist, is largely replaced by their regional identities. The Bennet family moves to Rosings from Ohio, and Elizabeth, simply Beth in this tale, holds a particular grudge against the South on behalf of a brother who died in the conflict, while Darcy is healing from the traumatic wounds inflicted by his time in Northern POW camps. The scenario translates surprisingly well, the drama of the original story amplified by the frontier setting, complete with cowboys, outlaws, saloon girls, and, of course, gun fights. I admit to being revited from beginning to end.
A warning for the weary - there are a couple of sexy scenes, but they are suitable to the plot and setting and did not cause me the usual discomfort I feel when reading such details, Mr. Caldwell having painted a world so very alien to that of Austen's. The book is also decided masculine in feel, and I am always enthused by undertakings of this sort by men. Frankly, while I do feel that some of the female emotions were less believable than is usual in the genre, the men burst to life in this text in a beautifully developed manner. It's fascinating to see Darcy's perspective so sympathetically portrayed, while Elizabeth is elevated into the the role of idealized fantasy that he usually occupies. I highly recommend the book and can particularly give it my endorsement as excellent beach reading. If I keep up with my book per day consumption for the remainder of this vacation, it will indeed have proven a most satisfying holiday.