And the list of prolific authors I’ve not read has been shortened by one – I’ve finally read a Jane Austen novel!!
I chose Pride & Prejudice to start with for several reasons:
1) It’s the volume of hers I’ve owned the longest (going on ten years…it’s about time I cracked it!)
2) It’s the volume everyone seems to prefer, or at least mention most often.
3) I’ve seen the movie (Keira Knightley version), and knew I liked the story already – is that cheating?
I started reading it right now, because I’ve been craving some more Victorian/Romantic Classic lit since I read Rebecca and absolutely loved it (my review is here). One day I almost started reading Wuthering Heights, but the copy I have is in this beautiful bind up edition and I ended up reading my favorite parts of Jane Eyre again instead…insert sheepish look :-) ALSO, I’ve been seeing something called ‘Austen in August’ pop up everywhere and decided to jump in on Roof Beam Reader’s blog – the master post of which you can find here.
Again, I’m surprised by this novel, as the good classics always do to me. The more time it’s been since I read it, the more it’s growing on me – and it’s only been one day since I finished reading!
Probably the most surprising aspect is simply how good it was. I don’t just mean the story, I mean the writing technique and characters and settings and pacing and depth and a dozen other things – this girl is good. All these years I was sure her work was completely overrated – some kind of 19th century forerunner for the modern Danielle Steele’s and Nicholas Sparks’ of today (which frankly I haven’t read either, so that’s admittedly unfair of me).
The strange part is how the great qualities sneak up on you. It’s elegantly worded, as you’d expect work from that time period, but it’s quite easy to follow; there aren’t paragraphs of needless words you have to wade through to get to what is happening. The edition I read (not the one pictured, I couldn’t find a picture of it) was even more helpful with small definitions of common words we still use that had different meanings back then.
It would seem that I’m turning into quite a sucker for a good romance. It started just this year when I read Jane Eyre. That book broke my heart and put it back together three sizes bigger. Then the next biggun to strike my fancy was Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier – a book I now strongly recommend to anyone who likes romance, the gothic style, or classic literature at all; something about the creepiness, suspense, and absolute twist of fate just hooked me indubitably. And now, Pride & Prejudice.
While this book didn’t have a specific noticeable element to peak my interest, I found I couldn’t put it down. There is a balance in literature, between ‘action’ and ‘other’ that sometimes teeters way too far in one direction, but I feel like Austen handled it beautifully in this case. Although, by action I don’t mean ‘Mission: Impossible’-esque – more like characters chancing to meet, intense dialogue, and marriages, plans to marry, or the breaking of marriage plans. There are enough characters for there to always be something happening, and yet there aren’t too many of them to keep track of either.
To me, it seems Austen was able to capture an image of real life in this novel. The connections, the personalities and motivations, the chance happenings and unexpectedness of everyday life, were all incredibly realistic. The family dynamic of the Bennets itself was perfect. The separation of the two eldest and most sensible daughters, the awkward artfulness of the middle, and the exuberance of inexperience of the two youngest seemed incredibly likely. When I first began reading it made me homesick for the days I spent under my parent’s roof with my two brothers, and made me long for a large family of my own (but only for a moment! Five daughters!). Now that I think about it, it seems very rare for large families to be the focus of novels, though that could just be my under-read-ed-ness…
Can I just mention really quickly how surprised I am that I’m gushing over Jane Austen? If you told me this in 2012 I would have laughed heartily in your face.
This is where I must mention that I am incredibly fond of Darcy, and what a first name: Fitzwilliam :-)
Darcy is a man who, above all, and often to his dismay, is very shy (Jane, by the way, is the most exquisite representation of an actual shy person EVER. I would know, I’m painfully shy myself). He is also, at the beginning of the book, a pompous ass. Raised a high class gentleman and only ever exposed to those of his rank or very near below, going to the country with his friend, Mr. Bingley, and meeting a mother dying to marry off her daughters to the highest bidder, was not exactly what he was used to; the dances less sophisticated, the people far under-dressed, and seemingly much more simple minded, besides the fact that he knew no one present outside of who he came with. When confronted with the impression he made to others by Lizzie, he worked quickly to correct himself in all manor of ways; both in small details and grand gestures. The transformation of this man throughout the novel is so wonderful to read. I got to the point of giddy excitedness when Lizzy met him at Pemberley, and pretty much every time they met after that. Austen makes it impossible not to love him, but maybe I just have a thing for shy guys ;-)
Elizabeth Bennet is quite a character herself. She is outspoken and very sensible. She does and says what she thinks is right, which sometimes goes beyond her manners, though never too remarkably. She is one who isn’t afraid to point out faults of others when they affect her or her family, which is why Darcy is so taken aback by her; no one in his life has ever stood up to him the way that she does. She is her father’s favorite, and loves her family dearly. I’m sure that young spunky women were not prevalent in times such as these, but Austen captured one beautifully in Lizzie Bennet.
This book is not called Pride & Prejudice for nothing; Elizabeth and Darcy are both incredibly proud and prejudiced in their own ways; he against the lower class and she against the upper (although it’s not quite as simple as that). Since I did see the movie first, I never quite understood the title, but now after reading it’s perfectly clear. I’m actually really impressed with how well the book explains itself and the character motivations – the movie moves so quickly in parts that it is hard to understand why something happens, but the book almost spreads it out more, so things not only make much more sense, but seem much more likely.
I can’t express enough how glad I am that I read this book, especially because I did enjoy the movie so much. I encourage you, if you haven’t yet read it, to stop holding back! This book is so popular for a reason! I will also be writing a review of the Keira Knightley version of the movie this month, so if you’re interested in that, stop back by!
Until Next Time,