Book #40: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813.
Overall Summary (in my words):
Eligible bachelors come to a country-town in England in the early 1800’s, and a family of un-wed, middle class sisters of varying beauty and intelligence vie for their attention (along with every other female in town). Or in the case of the second eldest, graced with both handsomeness and a clever mind – reject the attention of one bachelor in particular on the basis of pride and opinion. Elizabeth Bennet makes judgements based on perceived knowledge, not actual, and the discovery of truth leads her to be confronted by her own pride. Will she have the courage to admit to her own misgivings, and even if she does will it be too late?
Written from an omniscient past-tense point-of-view, we can see all and feel all. The “camera” is everywhere. The hard part with this view is being careful to only be “inside” one characters head at a time – it has a focus of one persons thoughts, feelings and desires more than everyone else, one at a time. Jane Austen moves fluidly from view to view. It is always clear whose eye-glasses you are peering through, and she can shift the focus with a few carefully chosen words. Austen is very eloquent, and the vocabulary sometimes had me reaching for the dictionary. It is beautifully and skilfully written, showing Austen’s intelligence and scope of the english language.
Characters and conflict:
Internally these characters struggle with their emotions; their pride and place in society tells them they shouldn’t feel the way the do. When they start to comprehend their emotions, the outside conflicts from their families and society seem intent to close this newly found window. However the main characters were able to push through and grow and evolve. They were able to face their inner conflicts and overcome the societal conflicts to find love.
Unfortunately my feelings about the main characters were at some points overshadowed by my frustration at one secondary character in particular – The mother! Oh my goodness how she IRRITATED me! Mrs Bennet is one of the most cringe-worthy characters I have ever read about! I wanted reach into the book, throw water on her face, slap her, shove a sock in her mouth and tell her to wake up to herself (harsh but fair?). And what really was the kicker for me was that she just didn’t change, she didn’t evolve. After everything that happened she had no growth and was still the shrill, complaining, silly woman from beginning to end. There are a lot of full-on nerve-grating mothers throughout the history of literature and film and television who can not even COMPARE to this woman! Bravo Austen! I can see that she has her place in the story, but I will say that I found the novel could have used one or two less paragraphs of chatter from her. It was like “Okay, okay, I get it – she’s friggin’ annoying, move on!” (something like this paragraph actually)
What was most engaging?
The last 20 pages. Seriously. Yes I found other portions interesting but MOST engaging and exciting for me were the final chapters.
What surprised me?
I was surprised by the injection of humour Austen managed to get across. It was early on in the novel, when I recalled trying to read it as a teenager, and then again in my early twenties, and I could NEVER see any humour in the writing. This time around I was surprised and pleased to find the humour in conversations – mostly between Mr Bennet and Elizabeth – and other various places spotted throughout the novel. I believe I actually chuckled out loud from time to time. I was also surprised by the feeling that my own speech and vocabulary could be found wanting. I consider myself to have a fairly solid grasp on the English language but do admit to a rather slack approach to verbalising thought sometimes. My Australian accent and everyday slang make for sloppy speaking. After each chapter I would feel the need to use expressions such as “Pray tell what is bothering you so?” and “What say you dear? We are out of ginger beer? Oh this will not do!”
What do I appreciate about the work?
I appreciate how lucky I am to be living in a time and place that does not treat marriage as something “prosperous” to a family. I choose my partner of the basis of personal compatibility and desire, not because I will be able to be supported by this person out of my family home. I am appreciative that at 28 and unmarried I am not a burden to my family, and that I can make a living for myself in which ever field I choose. I was confronted by the way relationships were treated as a business and found it difficult to imagine or understand how a deep and meaningful marriage could be formed when a couple barely know each other, have not lived together, nor courted for an extended period or even kissed before being married for the rest of their lives, and that couples who lived under the same roof unwed were considered a disgrace. An even greater realisation was that in many cultures today this is still normal, but I am appreciative that this is not in my culture or life. I am not voicing an opinion on said cultures (each to their own) it was just different material to read and internalise. Having said all that I think it is a testament to fate, true love, and humanity that not only do people have the BELIEF that they will still find their soulmate within this structure, but also that people really DO.
These things are more an appreciation of TIME and PLACE rather than of the WORK itself so I shall address that too: I appreciate and am awed by Austen’s skill and her ability to convey deep emotions (or lack thereof) with writing that is very polite and not overly-emotional.
What did I learn about writing?
I think modern literature grabs you quickly, which is something as a writer we are told to do, you have to capture the reader instantly. There are so many people writing so many things out there that you have to stand out from the pack in vivid colour. While Pride and Prejudice is extremely well written it takes a little longer to grab you; this may be partly due to it’s content though which is almost two-hundred years old.
Although… (secondary thought rising here…) there is something to be said for quality. I’m about to say something that as a writer may seem opinionated but although I’m a writer-in-training, I’ve always been a reader, and this comes from the consumer-reader part of my mind: one or two works of current literature may be “catchy” but are absolute swill when it comes to quality, and some writers (and perhaps editors) could stand to glean something about this compromise.
What did I learn about humanity?
That humour and love are necessary to human existence. I did not think of the pre-modern world being particularly filled with laughter but I realised this was a ridiculous thought. Of course people laughed! Laughter is one of the best parts of being alive, laughing and being happy are reasons why I like to get out of bed in the morning, and surely happiness and laughter have been enjoyed since the beginning of time. One could almost ask how we could have survived until this point without it. There was a lot of humour and laughter throughout Pride and Prejudice which I enjoyed.
And LOVE. Love has the ability to conquer all; it overwhelms, overpowers, outwits. Love is not proud nor does it have prejudice against anybody. You don’t choose who you fall in love with, love chooses them for you. Many works of literature (some I’m sure I am going to read in my quest) are about just this, and Pride and Prejudice is no different. To me the ultimate message was love ignoring pride and prejudice to ultimately prevail. Or maybe I’m a hopeless, naïve romantic. That’s okay, I would want to be any other way.
Rabbit, Run. John Updike. 1960
Wish me luck!