When I started writing The Start of Me and You, it felt like Pride and Prejudice was all over the media. It often is, in remakes, new takes, references. But what kept catching my attention was precisely what got me when I first read it at age thirteen: the hesitance. Not Elizabeth and Darcy but Jane and Bingley. The longing, the miscommunications. Their conflict wouldn’t even exist if one of them even sort of articulated their feelings. That rang so true for me in high school.
So, in the following excerpt, my main character, Paige, is talking with a guy she’s recently met. They’re doing an in-class assignment about names and nomenclature in advance of a Shakespeare unit. And in asking this question of being a Jane or an Elizabeth, I wanted to set my narrator on a journey toward no longer being hesitant and in learning that none of us is an Austen heroine—not even the one we identify with most at age thirteen. We’re each our own. But, for me? Elizabeth and Marianne and Emma were dear company, and I had something to learn from them all.
The first section read: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
“Full Name,” I read aloud. “Is it Maxwell? Or Maximillian?”
“Neither. Just Max.” His mouth pulled into a half smile. “Max Oliver Watson.”
“Paige Elizabeth Hancock,” I said, watching him write it down. “Okay, next question. Are you named
“My grandfather and my godfather.” He pushed up the cuffs of his shirt. “Although, when I was little, I thought I was named after Max from Where the Wild Things Are.”
I smirked at the idea of Max being anything like Max from the children’s book. Highly unlikely. Max Watson was more “volunteer tutor” than “king of all wild things.”
“What about you? Are you named after anyone?”
“My parents just liked the name Paige, I think, but Elizabeth is because my mom is a huge Pride and Prejudice fan.” I thought for a second. “I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that, actually.”
His head jerked toward me. “Really?”
“Yeah. Guess it never came up. Elizabeth is a pretty standard middle name.”
“No,” he said. “I mean really ‘Elizabeth’? You seem much more like a Jane Bennet.”
My jaw dropped in offense. “That’s kind of mean!”
“No, it’s not! Jane is deeply underappreciated.”
“Because she’s boring,” I said, surprised at how much this bothered me.
“As opposed to Elizabeth, who judges everyone?”
“Jane is also smart. She’s just not critical of other people. And she has much better taste in men.”
“Now you’re insulting Mr. Darcy?” I sat back in my chair, arms crossed. “Well, this should be interesting.”
“He’s mean and moody.”
“He’s misunderstood,” I said. “He has a good heart.”
“Bingley has a good heart.” He laughed, apparently not realizing that his volume was now significantly above the general buzz of our classmates.
I opened my mouth for a counterargument, but people were starting to look at us—because we were heatedly and publicly disagreeing about Jane Austen. Not winning any cool points here. So I mumbled, “I guess.”