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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Being Bennet(t)

When I read fanfiction that updates Jane Austen’s stories to contemporary settings, I often find myself exasperated by the names. Specifically, by the use of Jane Austen’s character names with no acknowledgment that, here in the twenty-first century, they are bound to ring some bells.

I mean, really: If you were a lawyer named Elizabeth Bennet practicing before a judge named Fitzwilliam Darcy, or an aspiring rock musician named Elizabeth Bennet touring with a guitar god named Fitzwilliam Darcy, or even a magazine writer named Liz Bennet exchanging icy banter with a neurosurgeon named Fitzwilliam Darcy, wouldn’t you expect some giggles from your friends? Some irritating wink-wink-nudge-nudge about how you two must be meant for each other? Some off-hand references to Colin Firth’s wet shirt?

But no—typically, these stories play out in a Bizzaroworld identical to our own in every particular except for the strange, universal amnesia about a book called Pride and Prejudice.

And so I greatly enjoyed a recent first-person account on the British news website by a young journalist and consultant named Elizabeth Bennett. With a marked lack of poetic justice, this Lizzy—actually, she goes by Biz--is neither a Janeite herself nor the daughter of Janeites: Born on the cusp of contemporary Austenmania, just five years before the airing of the BBC’s iconic P&P, she was named for relatives, rather than for Our Heroine.

As a fifteen-year-old high school student, she read the novel featuring her namesake for the first and only time. “The jokes from classmates about Mr. Darcy got a little tiresome,” she admits. On the other hand, when she went to a Barcelona police station to process required working papers, the officer in charge turned out to be a Janeite, and Bennett got her forms stamped in record time. Karma, I guess.

The Bennett story is part of a Metro series about living with a celebrity’s name. Be sure to check out the hilarious video entry from April, “Hello, my name is. . . Jane Austin,” featuring a middle-aged woman whose parents considered naming her Beverley or Chantelle but decided to go for something less. . . flashy.

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