Someone needs to brush up on her Jane Austen

After reading Maureen Dowd's column this week, I had to wonder: Has she actually read "Pride and Prejudice"?

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I read Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times Sunday; I guess that was my first mistake. Beyond her politics, MoDo has some grating stylistic quirks that really get under my epidermis — her love of puns, her tendency to shoehorn cutesy analogies into her columns.

Case in point: “Mr. Darcy Comes Courting,” her latest, in which she compares Barack Obama (“clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious”) to Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and that novel’s beloved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, to America itself (“spirited, playful, democratic, financially strained, and caught up in certain prejudices”). An excerpt:

In this political version of “Pride and Prejudice,” the prejudice is racial, with only 31 percent of white voters telling The New York Times in a survey that they had a favorable opinion of Obama, compared with 83 percent of blacks.

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And the prejudice is visceral: many Americans, especially blue collar, still feel uneasy about the Senate ‘s exotic shooting star, and he is surrounded by a miasma of ill-founded and mistaken premises.

So the novelistic tension of the 2008 race is this: Can Obama overcome his pride and Hyde Park hauteur and win America over?

It has been a while since I read Austen’s book, but this sounded to me like a bit of a stretch. So I sought the counsel of Salon’s own esteemed book critic Laura Miller, who was quick to respond:

“It is a stretch,” Miller wrote me by e-mail. “Darcy initially comes across as cold and stiff, not cool and charming, and he actually is a member of the landed aristocracy — though he hasn’t got a title, the name is Norman (D’Arcy), while Bennett is Anglo-Saxon, so his money is also ‘old.’ Obama doesn’t come from hereditary privilege, and Dowd is being a right-wing patsy to paint him that way, however archly. Racial prejudice is not the equivalent of someone making a bad first impression! It’s true that Darcy has to keep trying to prove himself to Elizabeth after he offends her, but that’s about the only similarity I can see.”

My prejudice? Someone was reading the CliffsNotes version.

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is an editor at Salon. Her memoir, "Blackout," will be published by Grand Central in June.

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