Pride and Prejudice

prideandprejudiceThis year I purposely didn’t set a Goodreads goal for myself. I wanted to feel completely free to read whatever I want to—no turning to shorter books because I can meet my goal faster, no skipping much beloved re-reads because Goodreads doesn’t count re-reads toward your goal. The goal idea is good if you don’t like reading all that much and/or just want to challenge yourself to read more. But I read all the time. I’m not worried about going long periods of time without reading a book. Books are staples in my life. They are ever-present. Period.

So, in celebration of my freedom, I re-read Pride and Prejudice. It was like indulging in my favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Americone Dream). I had no agenda with it, I wasn’t reading it because a publisher sent it to me, or because I felt like I needed to get it off my list. I was just indulging in something that makes me happy. So I’m not going to review P&P; I’m just going to gush. (And I assume you’ve all read it and will know what I’m talking about.)

But first you need to know that I used to hate Jane Austen. I tried multiple times to read Pride and Prejudice. I felt like I should like it. But I just didn’t. Jane Eyre has always had lots of exciting drama. P&P struck me as a bunch of silly girls worrying incessantly about who they would dance with at the ball. Boring! And then somewhere I heard that JE fans couldn’t be P&P fans, so I felt justified in disliking it. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I finally sucked it up and read the whole thing. I still wasn’t a huge fan, but it was alright.

And then in college I re-read it. And I thought it was pretty good. And I have no idea how many times I’ve read it since then, but I thoroughly and utterly enjoy it now.

What do I like about it? Mostly Elizabeth’s wit and Jane Austen’s dramatic irony.

Take, for instance, one of our first conversations with Charlotte, after the first ball:

[Charlotte] Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.

[Elizabeth] You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.

Elizabeth is the queen of projecting her own feelings onto others; we see soon that Charlotte very much meant what she said. She takes Mr. Collins despite his obviously being a buffoon and finds reassurance in simply not having to be a pitiable old maid. In this scene I can’t help but see the difference in age between Charlotte (27) and Elizabeth (19), even though Austen tells us they are close friends. Elizabeth is marriageable, and possibly still young enough to feel that she has time to wait for something better. Charlotte has probably had her share of disappointments; I can’t blame her for being a little pessimistic about marriage and, consequently, having low expectations.

Elizabeth’s more shining moments include her sharp foils to all of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s rude questions. After all of Mr. Collins’s raptures about the esteemed Lady, it’s really gratifying to see Elizabeth take her down a notch. The scene at Longbourn is especially funny, as Elizabeth has absolutely no reason to think (at this point) that she and Mr. Darcy are or will be engaged soon. She is simply protecting her right to make decisions for herself, and, I think, she delights in making Lady Catherine furious.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard about P&P is that Elizabeth doesn’t begin to like Mr. Darcy until she sees Pemberley—after which, she is quite willing to accept a proposal from him. I believe this is a misinterpretation, and I think Jane Austen anticipated this criticism. When Elizabeth finally confesses to Jane that she loves Darcy, Jane can hardly believe her. She asks repeatedly whether Elizabeth really loves him, and E gives her a few joking answers. Finally Jane asks, “Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”

Elizabeth responds, “It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

Another entreaty that she would be serious, however, produced the desired effect; and she soon satisfied Jane by her solemn assurances of attachment.

Many readers are just as skeptical of Elizabeth’s feelings for Mr. Darcy as both Jane and E’s father are, so Jane Austen puts E through the ringer a bit (which she entirely deserves after her stubborn determination to hate Darcy for so much of the book). If you’re still pessimistic after reading E’s continued professions of love, then I don’t think there’s anything anyone could say to persuade you. JA certainly tried her best.

Speaking of professions of love…

Mr. Darcy.

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Best line ever, worst delivery. But I still get all butterfly-y, swoony, heart-fluttery about him. Probably because he is so haughty for so long, and when E finally tells him that she does love him, we get this gem of a sentence:

The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.

That’s pretty much the most adorable transformation ever. Although the absolute winning line goes to the 2005 version of the movie, starring Kiera Knightley.

Darcy says, “You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you.” Well that makes two of us.

Ok, I’ve done my gushing. How do you feel about P&P? If you’re not a fan, it’s ok. You will learn. ;)

Comments

  1. says

    I love Pride and Prejudice, but I never heard that about not being able to love both it and Jane Eyre. I have always loved both. The are totally different novels, JE both moral and overheated, P&P sharp and observant.

    • says

      I totally agree! I think it’s just that CB and JA are the two of the most prominent Victorian women writers, and their styles are so different that it *seems* you couldn’t like both. But, of course, that’s a bunch of bogus. :)

  2. says

    I suffered P&P as an obnoxious teenager in highschool. This says more about me than Austen. Quite amazing really. Once I worked out the context in which it was written it completely changed for me. When I finally made it to England one of the big things on my list was to sit in the pump room in Bath and have afternoon tea.

  3. says

    I love P&P and I am planning to re-read it for the umpteenth time this summer, after I finish my exams. I’m a fan of all of Austen’s novels but P&P is my absolute favourite.

    “Darcy says, “You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you.” Well that makes two of us” — haha, yes! I love that scene…the early morning mist and Darcy striding through the field with the sun beginning to rise. It is so romantic. Lucky Lizzie! ;)

  4. says

    I am a huge P&P fan and do a re-read of Austen books every couple of years. Ironically, I had the uncertain reaction you describe to P&P when I read Jane Eyre in high school. I read it in university and enjoyed it more as I learned about themes and context. And when I read it again recently, I was surprised how much I loved it. Jane eyre is one of my favourite heroines now! I look forward to reading your thoughts on other classics and re-read favourites!

    • says

      Thanks! I’m re-reading Jane Eyre now and will review it when I’m done. It’s my absolute favorite book. Charlotte’s writing is just magical.

  5. says

    I’m so glad to know that you were initially a reluctant Jane Austen reader as well, but that you grew to love P&P. That’s where I am right now. I loved Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte but also thought P&P was frivolous. Of course, this was many years ago. I picked up a copy recently because I thought that maybe it’s time for me to re-read it, that there must be a reason it is so loved. I am sure I will look at it completely differently now!

  6. says

    I love that you didn’t set a Goodreads goal for yourself – because you are totally right, they don’t accept rereads. Unless you choose a different version than the one you read the first time.

    I think Jane Austen is one of those writers that people have strong feelings for one way or the other – I’m not sure that there are those that think “Jane Austen is ok.” But I do think she gets better the more she is read, as one’s own experiences with life and love colour the story. I also think that people don’t realize how satirical Austen actually is, preferring the outright drama of the Brontes. But there’s room in our reading lives for both!

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