Most people know or at least recognize the names Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. What if these characters were reimagined in a way that turns their entire love story on its head?
That is exactly what happens in Most Ardently: A Pride & Prejudice Remix by Gabe Cole Novoa. Readers get a look into the world from the perspective of the second oldest Bennet child as a closeted transman named Oliver, and Darcy as a closeted gay man.
Novoa not only gives the type of transgender representation the world has been looking for from classic novels but also manages to keep the bones of Austen’s original story in a way that still engages and excites.
The Bennet Family
One of the most important elements of the original Pride & Prejudice novel is the overbearing quality that is Elizabeth’s mother and younger sisters as well as the quiet support of her father and older sister. These elements have to still exist if an alternate universe version of the story hopes to even come close to the original content.
Lucky for readers, Most Ardently does exactly that. Mrs. Bennet, Mary, Lizzy, and Kitty are all still extremely exasperating to the point of being uncouth. Oliver, or as the majority of the world knows him, Elizabeth, often finds himself at odds with his family to the point of needing to use every excuse he can to escape.
With Oliver being a closeted transman, the drama surrounding his secret and his eventual coming out could become over-the-top. Fortunately for this story, it all feels natural, and on par with what could ideally happen during this time period.
In fact, the outing of Oliver as a transman actually works in the family’s favor because it means that their home can stay within the family without the added pressure of the daughters needing to get married. Of course, that also comes with its own level of transphobia from both Mr. Wickham and Mr. Collins, but again nothing comes across as too much or drama for the sake of drama.
After all, during this time period, and in current days even, many people aren’t accepting of transgender identities being real or worthy of recognition. So, in a way, this novel is ahead of the curve, considering how accepting Mr. Bennet and Jane are of Oliver’s identity.
Making it Queer
It’s one thing to switch things up and make Oliver/Elizabeth a trans character. It’s another thing entirely to say that Fitzwilliam Darcy will fall for Elizabeth and Oliver, not realizing they are the same person.
One of the more fun elements of watching their love story unfold is when Oliver has to present as Elizabeth at public functions and such. Getting insight into Darcy’s confusion over his attraction to her knowing full well he is gay, is intriguing and leaves readers on the edge of their seat wondering when the big reveal will happen.
Honestly, Oliver going to the secret gay drinking/meet-up establishment for the first time and coming across Darcy there gives us that warm, giddy feeling inside. Especially, if we are reading as fans of the Austen original because we see it for what it is: a slow-burn romance blossoming.
Darcy and Oliver bonding over literature is a beautiful nod to the original character trait that Elizabeth is a prolific reader. These two characters are desperately searching for an opportunity to be seen as they are, not as society expects them to be.
Their love is a slow development of feelings that has that extra edge of being a big secret. Despite all this secrecy, the reveal never comes off as something that pushes the characters far apart, as is typical in romance stories.
Sure, Darcy has a moment of shock, but he fastidiously stands by Oliver and encourages him to come out to his family and allow himself the life that he so rightly deserves. This element is yet another example of why Novoa’s retelling of this story is probably the strongest one to date.
Novoa makes sure that these characters don’t become different versions of themselves just for the sake of making it queer. Instead, the qualities we loved and admire from Austen’s tale remain in Novoa’s but are presented in a slightly different fashion.
Just like in Pride & Prejudice, Darcy and Bennet find themselves developing feelings over time and against their initial judgments of each other. Because that still exists in Most Ardently, fans of Austen are going to love every second of this novel.
The book isn’t a complete rehash of the original moment for moment, but the vibes and general throughline of the story remain the same. By the end Darcy and Oliver still have plans of spending the rest of their lives together, even if it’s slightly different to the traditional “husband and wife” expectation.