Pride and Prejudice on College Lane
Haverford College may not be the obvious choice as the setting for a romance novel, but it works for author Abigail Reynolds, whose new book, The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice, features a marine-biologist heroine who happens to be a Haverford College professor.
Cassie Boulton is a beauty with a “no-nonsense exterior and quick wit” who spends her summers doing research in Woods Hole, Mass. There she meets novelist Calder Westing III, scion of a famous, Kennedy –like political clan. He follows her to Haverford, where he applies for a writer-in-residence post. As love ensues, is thwarted, and finally conquers all, Cassie takes Calder on a stroll to the Duck Pond, teaches a section of Bio 101, gets a paper published in the journal Advances in Marine Biology, and is grilled about her paramour at a faculty meeting.
The book’s tagline describes it as “a modern love story with a Jane Austen twist.” Reynolds is well-known to fans of the booming genre of Jane Austen-inspired fiction for her Pemberley Variations series, which explores “the roads not taken” in Pride and Prejudice.
So how did she come to choose Haverford as a locale for this novel? It turns out Abigail Reynolds is really the pen name of Asja Margulis, Bryn Mawr College Class of 1981.
“For plot purposes, I needed a prestigious college with a strong undergraduate tradition within driving distance of Washington, D.C., but not located in the South or on the coast,” wrote Margulis in an email. “I attended Bryn Mawr during the heyday of bi-college cooperation and knew Haverford well, so it didn’t require research to describe accurately. I didn’t want to complicate the issue by bringing in the question of women’s colleges, so Bryn Mawr wasn’t an option. Haverford’s Quaker tradition of independence was also important because I needed an administration that wouldn’t cave under political pressure.” (The plot features some nefarious scheming by Calder’s senator father to quash the relationship with Cassie, whom he sees as below his family’s station.)
Margulis, a physician with a part-time practice who lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two teenage children, says the choice of Haverford as the place where Cassie teaches is significant for another reason. “One of the themes in the book is about the value of undergraduate education at liberal arts colleges vs. large universities. Cassie chooses to teach at Haverford rather than pursue a research position because she values the opportunity to teach students how to think rather than supervise graduate research by single-minded scientists, and there are spirited discussions and a number of jokes between the main characters on this subject.”