Written by Jane Austen
|Penguin Books, 2002|
A classic of the I-was-forced-to-read-this-in-high-school-and-as-a-consequence-I-hate-this-book-with-every-fiber-of-my-being genre, Pride and Prejudice, I have found over the course of my stay in university, is polarizing; some love Austen, others despise her. Myself? Chalk it up to the Ontario curriculum, but I never read Pride and Prejudice in high school, or at any other point, so I went in as unprejudiced (see what I did just there?) as possible given that I'd read Persuasion a few years ago. And I'm coming out of the reading experience not as polarized as I was led to believe was inevitable.
For the three other people out there who haven't read it, it's a simple story: girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl continues to hate boy, girl slowly realizes boy isn't so hate-worthy, boy pays for girl's sister's marriage thus ensuring girl is still marriage-material, girl marries boy. The plot is tight and edited: no superfluous characters abound and unrelated hi-jinx are not had. Tonight, the sisters will be played by:
The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.
Jane: doe-eyed, uninteresting, pretty one with no function outside marriage
You are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.
Lydia: the young harlot; the quintessential Austenian bad example
Loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.
Kitty: personality-less sidekick
In this danger Kitty is also comprehended. She will follow wherever Lydia leads. Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled! Oh! my dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?
Mary: forgotten middle child
What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts.
Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.
It may seem like I'm making fun of the characters...alright, I am - but it's more out of amusement than malice. The characters are very engaging on a surface level; Lizzy is the default, likeable protagonist and the surrounding characters suffer from various degrees of uninteresting or stupid. I'm tempted to suggest that the overwhelming blandness and idiocy of the majority of the characters is what allows Lizzy's wit to shine, since aside from the odd biting remark by way of Caroline or the oh-so emo Mr. Darcy, there is very little intellectual competition. But perhaps that was by design, perhaps we the readers, when we judge the Bennet family, are guilty of prejudice in the same manner as Lizzy and Mr Darcy.
The novel is very much propelled by letters, evidence of its roots in the epistolary tradition. Letters spur action, action results in letters, and as such, communication and potential miscommunication are at the center of the plot, appropriate for a class comedy (here defined in its most strict, literary sense). Reading and misreading are significant themes, both in terms of the written word, such as when Lizzy receives Mr. Darcy's explanatory letter and must reread it, and regarding live interaction, specifically exemplified in Lizzy's reexamination of her conversations with Wickham. How does such a reliance on the literary affect the reader? For me, as a person who detests Pamela less than the average English major, I enjoy the politics of the letter as a formal means of communication, and I get a smug intellectual joy from the meta elements that characters reading bring to the novel. However, it can get tiresome and long, and these aspects of the comedy of manners will certainly annoy many.
|Pride and Prejudice, 2005|
|Pride and Prejudice, 1995|
Again, this doesn't diminish Austen's literary impact, but it does account for her mainstream popularity among many who would not necessary describe themselves as avid readers. Moreover, since the Austen-effect is best represented in visual mediums, it does partially account for the polarizing nature of the work.
So my final thoughts? I enjoyed it, although I'm not an Austenian convert yet. I wasn't particularly enamored with the naivete of the characters, even skeptical Lizzy, and perhaps because of this, I prefer Persuasion. The characters in Persuasion aren't exactly in the prime of hormones and emotions don't run as high; there's a maturity to those characters that I personally find more appealing than the high school-esque drama that engulfs Pride and Prejudice. Still, Lizzy's wit is often pretty sharp, and while I am not apt to jump on the Lizzy-is-the-best-historical-feminist-character-ever bandwagon, I appreciate the sentiment nonetheless.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen - full text available to download through Project Gutenberg
Hypertext - full online version in hypertext, fully searchable; excellent for finding quotes or researching particular aspects
Pride and Prejudice #1 - Marvel comics adaptation