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Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice

I had meant to read this for some time now, because I enjoy the various "fantasy of manners" books that have come out in the past decade or so, such as Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint and Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stervermer's Sorcery and Cecelia. I felt I should read the acknowledged inspiration for these. I have to say that it was an uphill struggle for me. The early 19th-century writing style - where much is "told" rather than "shown" - didn't give me much pleasure, but I was actually somewhat prepared for it because Susanna Clarke did such an effective pastiche of it in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. However, the fact that the story is completely dependent on a series of misunderstandings drove me crazy. I kept wanting to reach into the book, grab the chief protagonists forcefully by their shoulders, and shake sense into them: "Just talk to each other, already!"

Elizabeth Bennett, the lively and intelligent second daughter of a bookish squire with a rather revolting, materialistic wife, meets the wealthy Mr. Darcy at a ball and quickly dismisses him as arrogant and unfeeling. During the course of a great many events and mishaps surrounding the social lives of Elizabeth and her four sisters - sweet eldest sister Jane, would-be bluestocking Mary, colorless and empty-headed Kitty, and spoiled, impulsive "baby" Lydia - she begins to discover that her first impressions are wrong, and realizes that she has made a terrible mistake in her original judgment. Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy, who has dismissed Elizabeth because of her vulgar relatives, begins to realize that she's a worthy person despite her unfortunate connections. The resolution of the situation between the two is the heart of the story.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - review

It's true that Austen's writing can be drily witty. Awful Mrs. Bennett seems to inspire her humor the most: she's a money-grubbing harridan whose main determination of suitability in suitors for her five daughters is annual income, and at one point she's pleased to be able to offer Elizabeth up to a smarmy clergyman cousin. (Elizabeth is, thank goodness, spirited enough to turn him down - and her father, despite his general hands-off attitude toward his wife's machinations, backs her up.) Darcy's officious rich aunt Lady Catherine is another favorite target: Austen's mockingly bland and respectful descriptions of this woman's antics were among my favorite parts of the book.

But in general, I found that the dense writing obscured a lot of the force of the events of the story. A really good example is the section near the end in which, I suppose, Darcy finally proposes and Elizabeth finally accepts. I have to say "I suppose," because there's just an amazing amount of obfuscation in the passages there. What should have been a really dramatic moment is hidden completely hidden in a tangle of words.

I know that many, many people really love this book, and I feel churlish and ignoble in my lack of appreciation for it. But it really is not to my taste.

(Wikipedia informs me that Mr. Darcy's first name is Fitzwilliam. I guess that's why no one ever calls him by it ... .)


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 29th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
Pride and Prejudice is more appealing the younger one is when one reads it, in my opinion. I came across it when I was 14 and loved it. Now that I'm 40 and jaded, I much prefer Persuasion.
Sep. 30th, 2007 03:21 am (UTC)

I need to go back and re-read that one as well, to see whether recent exposure to the language helps.

What's really funny is that the Young Lady is flipping back and forth in what she tells me about P&P ... . I was impressed that she grabbed it to read, and at first she told me she liked it. Then, when she was assigned to read and report on "anything by a female author" for her personal choice book-of-the-month in English, and I suggested that, she said she didn't like it. Then, when it came up at supper tonight, and I said I didn't enjoy it much, she said "Oh! But I liked Pride and Prejudice!"


Slow down, kid - you're confusing me!

Sep. 29th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC)
I first read P&P in college, and immediately noticed that Elizabeth's change of mind about Darcy becomes most definite after she sees his huge house and realizes just how much cash he's got. I observed this to the E-comp instructor who had assigned it and immediately earned her undying enmity.

It's better on re-reading, for me. I was able to get better used to the style and see the drama communicated better because of it. Maybe in a few years pick it up again--but definitely check out Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility. I've never been able to re-read Emma, because I get a few chapters in and just want to slap the girl. But others like it very much.
Sep. 30th, 2007 03:27 am (UTC)

Yes, the things I've heard about the main character in Emma make me sure it's a no-go for me.

Well, even with my negative take on the book, I felt it was more that Elizabeth had got a different view of him upon visiting the house and seeing the aesthetics of it, and talking to the housekeeper. I was taken with the comment about "what is more significant than the praise of an intelligent servant?" (or however it was put). But what a young cynic you were!   XD

I read Persuasion when I was on vacation as well - I'll have to take another pass through it.

Sep. 30th, 2007 04:22 am (UTC)
Ye gods, don't even attempt Emma. I made the obligatory pass at it since it's actually my first name, but BLEAUGH, I couldn't even finish the first chapter. Other Emmas I have asked have said the same, coincidentally. The movie's cute though.
Oct. 1st, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)

Emma was the idol of a college roommate of mine, a girl who was nicknamed "Space" for a reason. If I had realized the implications more thoroughly, I would never have said to her "someone ought to tell so-and-so that she really can't draw ... ." And that was neither the first nor the last time that she tried to interfere helpfully in other people's relationships.

So don't worry, I have no intention of reading Emma ... .

Oct. 1st, 2007 03:33 am (UTC)
Hooboy. That sounds fun.
Sep. 29th, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC)
See, these are all the problems I had with P&P before I took a class on it and the lovely Michele Lettiere made me see the light :) I guess what you really have to keep in mind while reading this book is that we're not really talking about wealthy people here, particularly as the Bennets and their friends go (I'm mostly thinking about the Lucases here, I suppose). Mrs. Bennet is really only sensible to be concerned with the marriages of her daughters, a) because with their lack of money and connections, offers of marriage are unlikely to come more than once, if that, and b) because women in this time are truly sunk without a father or husband to care for them financially. And as much as we as modern readers want Elizabeth and Darcy to just talk to each other...there's this huge set of social weirdness that they have to get by to make that happen. I guess what I'm saying is: it all sounds uncomplicated to us, but for Jane Austen these were insurmountable odds she was setting for her characters. Because if this wasn't a novel, and instead the real life of someone named Elizabeth Bennet in 1809, she would probably have died Mrs. Elizabeth Collins instead of Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy.
Sep. 30th, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)

See, I know what you're saying. It was a different world back then, and I understand that this is giving us a view into it. And I can respect that, and if I was writing a scholarly paper, I would take that into account.

But I am writing this up as to how it affected me - a 21st century middle-aged geek person who has too much on her plate and reads for escape and fun. And it didn't do a lot for me, in that respect. I couldn't even immerse myself in that world via Austen's writing - I'd need a somewhat different writing style and a different viewpoint character to do that.

BTW, I admire your argument there - that last sentence is a real zinger.

Sep. 30th, 2007 04:19 am (UTC)
Right, no, I totally understand that. But I think it's hard to appreciate the book in any way without taking that into consideration as you're assessing your reaction to the world of the novel. And I guess as for immersing yourself in the world, well, it wasn't Austen's job to explain her world to people who were living it as if it was an alien planet XD The poor woman probably didn't expect to be remembered at all past her lifetime.

(I find it amusing that I'm defending Austen here; I'm really not that much of a fan, heh. I find her overly bitter and actually fairly heartless in her criticism of people in general. There's no warmth in her sarcasm for me.)

Also--haha, thank you. I try :)
Oct. 1st, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)

Weli, no, it's not her job, poor thing - but it's not my job to like the works all the famous authors of English Lit either ... . I was just saying what type of approach might work better with me if the idea was to get me immersed in that period of history.

As a matter of fact, I love the "thought experiment" of trying to explain things in the current era to someone from a given historical era (with, one would hope, more success than Cyril and Anthea had at explaining Victorian London to the Queen of Babylon, or Eliza and Ann had at explaining mid-20th-century America to Elizabeth I ... ).

(Likewise, I'm on the other side of the fence from my usual argument - I'm the one who gets annoyed that people can't realize that the mindset was not the same as it is now during eras past ... my favorite example was the folks on an RPG forum who were insisting that no one can kill lots of people without trauma unless he is a psychopath - even in the context of a war ... .)

Oct. 1st, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)
Right, right. Conceded.

Aw man, I know. I would time travel just for the chance to have a real go at that, I would.

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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