Tag Archives: books

Pride and Prejudice and Gluten

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a celiac man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the appetite or baking ability of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

Someone, after all, must take on the hard but fulfilling task of baking her way through that fortune, one bag of superfine rice flour at a time.

So begins PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND GLUTEN, the classic novel reimagined to include something scarier than ballroom dancing and zombies alike. 

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When Mr. Bingley moves into the neighborhood, he doesn’t know quite what he’s getting himself into. He quickly learns he has entered a zone of intensely elevated celiac prevalence, brought on no doubt by many years of marrying one’s cousin and so forth.

Just as quickly, the news spreads that a likely young bachelor has let Netherfield Park. The gritty gifted cupcakes begin pouring in, as do the invitations with postscripts appended in the beautiful script that comes naturally to those women who have spent years practicing, all to the effect of, The buffet will have hummus.

Bingley good-naturedly agrees to attend, and brings along his friend, Darcy, with whom he pleads, hovering by the refreshments table in the grand tradition of non-dancers at balls, “Come, Darcy, I must have you try a bite of this.”

“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest anything gluten-free, unless I am particularly acquainted with the brand. With such a spread as this it would be insupportable. If there were any traditional baked goods, I might consider it, but alas, there is not a cracker or pudding in the room it would not be a punishment to eat.”

Having overheard all, Elizabeth Bennet—snarky before her time and with a measured but abiding pride in her own talent for recipe development, which though passable is widely understood, even by Elizabeth herself, to be inferior to her sister Jane’s—writes Darcy off as the worst kind of gluten-eating boor: too proud of his own lack of immune response to gluten, too prejudiced to try the teacakes at which Elizabeth has slaved away, combining four different recipes and throwing out three batches before she got them just right.

“I could easily forgive his pride,” Elizabeth sniffs, “if he had not mortified mine.”

You may think this story over before it has even begun, but there are twists and turns to come as Jane Bennet and Bingley fall in love over millet scones and buckwheat biscuits, then are driven apart by Darcy’s cynical remarks about their future children’s double genetic risk and the Bennet family’s inappropriate dinnertime discussion of matters gastrointestinal. After a suitable amount of mutual anguish, the two come together again as the beautiful and gluten-free always do.

In between, there’s a spot of trouble for Lydia, the youngest Bennet daughter, involving one Mr. Wickham, a roguish character who never truly intended to keep his kitchen cross-contamination-free. Darcy, it seems, has known all along that Wickham’s promises were as thin as the paper towels he wouldn’t actually use to wipe up his own crumbs. It is Darcy who alerts the family, though sadly not before a glutening catastrophe to which he refers in only the most euphemistic of terms; this is, after all, a novel of manners.

Darcy’s aid in this matter, and then in reuniting Jane with Bingley, endears him somewhat to Elizabeth, but what seals the deal is a letter he sends her with, enclosed, his recent positive biopsy results. It is revealed that his excessive pride was born of his fear that he himself may all too soon be forced to sup on sandwiches insupportable by their fragile bread, and piecrusts made of grains his family would scorn as peasants’ fare. Furthermore, it was persistent gluten exposure that caused his irritability and dour physiognomy.

The twin barriers of Darcy’s gluten eating and terrible personality now removed, there is nothing to stop Elizabeth from wedding him immediately, which she so does. As in the original, they all live happily ever after, except for Lydia.

*

So what do you think? Will Keira Knightley agree to take the lead?

Text adapted from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, now in the public domain. Wheat image from jayneandd at the Flickr Creative Commons. Book cover image stolen shamelessly from Penguin—they can afford it.

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Who’s your favorite children’s book character with celiac disease?

Ah, books. Magical portals all, they give us insight into unknown minds and experiences; they increase our empathy. It’s beautiful. But we also need books whose characters we can relate to and identify with. Books with characters like us.

Where does this leave kiddies (and kiddies at heart) who have celiac disease? Unfortunately, 97 percent of real people with celiac disease go undiagnosed, and the same appears to be the case for book characters—in fact, the rate of diagnosis is even lower. Although 1 in 133 of your Peter Rabbits and Alices in Wonderland may suffer from celiac disease, you’d never know it from skimming your library catalog. And Googling “celiac disease novel” only brings up “Novel perspectives in celiac disease therapy.”

Does this mean there are no celiac characters, though? No! We just need to get out our microscopes. The gluten-wracked protagonists of our dreams are there if only we look deep enough into the bowels of literature.

My favorite is Moaning Myrtle. True, JKR never said she had it, and it’s a little late for a biopsy; being a ghost, she probably hasn’t eaten gluten in years. But, really? Anyone who spends as much time crying in the bathroom as Myrtle does probably has celiac disease.

“Myrtle gave a tragic sob, rose up in the air, turned over, and dived headfirst into the toilet, splashing water all over them and vanishing from sight.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

You see? Even in death, she can’t escape the toilet.

If it’s not celiac, then it’s colitis, or IBS, or Crohn’s. Details! As they say, we must have heightened suspicion that celiac is present. So, welcome to the club, Myrtle. In truth, I wish we had a little less in common, but I’ll take what I can get.

P.S. Am I missing anyone? Are there actually book (or movie) characters with known celiac disease? I will happily apply my celiac lens to whatever I please, but I would love to know if the “real deal” already exists.

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