Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Mary Jane Hathaway. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Shelby Roswell is a woman on a mission. As a professor of Civil War history at a small college in the South, her sights are set on becoming a tenured faculty member, with every publication and course evaluation an important addition to her portfolio. But it appears her plans will be foiled when Ransom Fielding, a handsome visiting professor in her department, publishes a review of her new book that has the potential to destroy both her hopes for tenure and her reputation within the department. The battle lines are drawn, and the stage is set for a modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice with a southern flair.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What did you enjoy most about Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits? Which character was your favorite? Why?
2. Based on the description of each character in chapter one, how would you describe Shelby Roswell and Ransom Fielding? Which one were you most drawn to initially?
3. Discuss the role that assumptions play in creating conflict between characters throughout the book and the relationship between assumptions and prejudice. How have assumptions impacted your relationships in the past?
4. Compare and contrast Shelby Roswell with Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
5. Which character(s) from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice does Shelby’s roommate, Rebecca, resemble? What role does Rebecca play in Shelby’s life and in the story?
6. In what ways is the vocation of Civil War historian an apt metaphor for the developing relationship between Shelby and Ransom?
7. How does David Whitcomb differ from Jane Austen’s Mr. Collins? How did David Whitcomb’s involvement in the video scandal add a different dimension to his character?
8. In what ways does Ransom Fielding demonstrate the beneficence and generosity of Mr. Darcy’s character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? Contrast his actions with Mr. Darcy’s.
9. What is Shelby Roswell’s fatal flaw throughout the story? In what ways is it the reverse side of her greatest strength? What is one of your qualities that can be both a gift and a curse, depending on how it is used?
10. In what way was Shelby’s experience with the disciplinary committee at Midlands an experience of “the shoe being on the other foot” for her in terms of making judgments about others? Have you ever had an experience where you received unfair treatment? How did the experience impact you?
11. Describe some of the key catalysts that contributed to the transformation in Ransom’s character throughout the story. Describe the changes you observed.
12. On page 302, Shelby “thought of how love shapes a person.” How were both Shelby and Ransom shaped by their growing love for each other?
13. What is the difference between making judgments about a person and prejudice? Can you make judgments without becoming prejudiced? Describe some examples of both that are illustrated throughout the story.
14. How does the description embedded in the stones of Shelby’s engagement ring reflect the journey that Shelby and Ransom have each taken throughout the story? In what ways were each of them on a personal quest to find “home?”
15. If you could spend an afternoon with one character from this story, who would you choose? Why?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch the five-hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Discuss how the seeds of “pride” and “prejudice” are planted and grow throughout the story. Discuss what is necessary for pride and prejudice to grow in a person’s heart and what is necessary for it to be weeded out.
2. Do a thought experiment for one week. Pay attention to the judgments you make about people when you meet them or interact with them (i.e. grocery store clerks, bank tellers, coworkers, family members, etc.). Reflect on the degree to which assumptions versus facts inform your judgments. Discuss possible antidotes for making assumptions about others at your next book club.
3. Read Matthew 23:25–28 and James 2:1–13. What does scripture teach about pride and prejudice?
A Conversation with Mary Jane Hathaway 1. What inspired you to write this series based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
I read Bridget Jones’ Diary and laughed myself silly…. But I couldn’t really share that hilarious reworking of Pride and Prejudice with anyone because there were scenes and words that a lot of my family and friends wouldn’t enjoy. It started me thinking about a sweet version, and I ended up writing the book that I wanted to read and share.
2. How old were you when you first read Jane Austen? What was the first book you read?
I was a Bronte fan first, then graduated to Jane Austen when I was about thirteen. I read Sense and Sensibility and thought it was very funny.
3. Is there a character in the book that you most identify with?
We all love Elizabeth Bennet and I’d love to say I’m most like that ‘fine-eyed’ woman with the razor sharp wit! Sadly, I’m probably more like Mrs. Bennet, blurting out awkward statements at top volume and thinking the world would run so much smoother if I had control.
4. What did you enjoy the most about writing Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits?
Looking up all the Civil War history. I must have missed that section in high school (not completely surprising since I moved to France when I was fifteen) because almost everything I read was new to me.
5. How did you pick “the South” as the setting for this story? Did you grow up in the South?
When I was mulling over the idea for a sweet rewriting of Pride and Prejudice, I knew I needed a geographical place with a truly rich tradition of food, family, and phrases. Part of the joy in reading Jane Austen is her description of the family relationships. I realized that so many of the situations she uses in her plot wouldn’t work today (with the rights that women have gained and the way family expectations have shifted), but with a little tweaking, the South could hold up an Austen plot with flair!
I’m not Southern but I think that’s only an oversight on God’s part. From the moment I walked down Bourbon Street in New Orleans twenty years ago, I’ve thought the South was the most beautiful and fascinating place in America. The more regions I visited, the more I loved it. When I moved to college, my roommate was from Mississippi. In some ways, it was like living with someone from a foreign country. She had different recipes, traditions, family obligations, and a deep pride in her home state.
6. What is the hardest part of writing under a pen name? Do you ever wish you weren’t anonymous?
Well, the only strange moments have come when people recommended my own book to me when they hear I love Jane Austen! Mostly, it’s fun to see ‘Jane’ in my name. I wanted to name a baby Jane, but my husband wouldn’t agree. I suppose, the next best thing is to name myself Jane. As for being anonymous, my kids know who I am so everything else is gravy.
7. What was the hardest part of writing this story for you?
Deciding to combine Wickham and Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is such an excellent character and I could hear Jane Austen rolling in her grave as I made him much more than a sycophantic toady!
8. When do you find time to write novels while home-schooling six children?
Short answer: Between ten P.M. and three A.M.
Long answer: In the summer, I can sit on a bench at the park and scribble notes while they play, but come winter, it’s all about the nighttime hours. My youngest is three, so I’m sure I could get him to let Mama alone while he plays with someone else, but I believe we should be as present as possible to the people in the room. There’s a movement called “Hands Free Parenting” that I think has a lot of wonderful ideas about communicating with our kids. I also think we’ve forgotten how to put down the cell phones and the tablets and have an actual conversation with the humans around us. So, I make an effort to be present to my kids during the day. Not to say I don’t pop into Facebook or Pinterest (I love those sites), but writing takes a different kind of concentration. When I’m interrupted while writing, it’s as if someone started speaking over me in a real conversation. It’s a whole lot easier for me (and for them) if I wait until it’s quiet before I work on a story. Setting boundaries between my writing time and my family time is probably the same as any person who works outside the home. No one would want to take a toddler to the office, and I wouldn’t want to write a book while shushing my kids.
As for homeschooling, we wake up later than most families who are commuting to work or a traditional school. Mine roll out of bed around eight A.M., when other kids might be on the bus by seven A.M. (which means their parents were up at 6AM to get them ready). So, being able to adjust my schedule to accommodate my writing time is one more bonus of homeschooling. We have the whole day to work on projects, meet friends, or go on field trips without the stress of trying to fit in my writing. Working so late is tiring, for sure, but when I’m not writing I get a sort of “mental cabin fever.” So, I’d rather be tired than crazy!
I look forward to the day when I can sleep at night and write during the sunlight hours, but until then, I have the best of both worlds.
9. Do you enjoy Civil War history?
I love Civil War history. I have a whole shelf of books, collections of old photographs, and recording of Civil War – era songs. I didn’t know much about it until I started writing Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits. My favorite history series is Bruce Catton’s American Civil War Trilogy. Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic was the first book I read about re-enactments and I was shocked to think normal folk would spend their weekends bloating in a ditch. I had never read The Red Badge of Courage until a few years ago and I carried that story inside me for weeks. And yes, I named my Shelby for Shelby Foote!
Now with the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, there are new books out like Allen C. Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, the Smithsonian’s Inside the Civil War and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Photography of the Civil War. There’s never been a better time to learn about the Civil War.
10. If you could spend an afternoon with Jane Austen, what would you want to ask her?
I would ask her what she felt was her biggest personal fault. Not because I’m overly curious about other people’s weaknesses, but because it would help me understand how a woman who saw the foibles of humanity so clearly still managed to treat everyone with compassion.
I admire Jane Austen’s wit, but I also admire her kindness. She walks a fine line between humor and sarcasm. She’s never cruel, even to her most ridiculous characters. In Pride and Prejudice, Wickham should have been roasted over the coals, but Mr. Darcy pays off all his debts in exchange for Wickham’s marrying Kitty. In Emma, Frank Churchill annoys everyone with his flirting and lies, but he gets a happy ending with Jane Fairfax. In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby is a complete cad (almost puts Marianne in the grave with a broken heart), but he still marries a wealthy woman, is forgiven by his aunt, and gets a few pages to explain himself to the reader.
So, I think Jane Austen must have been a very humble and compassionate person, which are rare traits. I wonder if her humility came naturally, or was born from a particular moment in her life.
11. Food plays a major role in this story. Do you enjoy cooking? Do you make cheese grits and bayou pie?
Oh my goodness. Does the sun rise? Yes, I love cooking! I’m not the best cook and I’ve been known to produce a few spectacular kitchen fails. I participate in a food blog called “Yankee Belle Café” where I document my exploits in a tiny red kitchen filled with children, often assisted by my trusty vintage mixer, Edna. She has much more experience than I do, but I don’t always take her advice. I probably enjoy cooking because I enjoy eating, but there’s also something very nourishing to the soul about spending a few hours creating a delicious dish from scratch.
Yes to both grits and bayou pie…and more.
12. What can we expect from you next?
Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs is the second in the Austen takes the South series. Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Pickled Peaches is the third book in the series. This book is close to my heart and I can’t wait to see what readers think of it.
Sending a shout out to all the wonderful Austen fans and Southerners I’ve met while writing this series!
Now, I think I’ll make some cornbread.