Friday, January 21, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

I do not especially like Jane Austen. I know this because I read "Pride and Prejudice" in high school (but, really, what does anyone know in high school?). I read it again for this month's book discussion. I put it off until I couldn't ignore it any more and plodded my way through it. And I have to admit, I like "Pride and Prejudice" much better now.

"Pride and Prejudice" is dense. Not to mention dated and trivial. This is not a timeless classic. Except, it is. Because if you've ever seen an episode of "Friends," then you know "Pride and Prejudice." It's all parties and dinners and balls and "she likes him, but he doesn't like her and he's really in love with that other girl but she's going to marry that other guy" and a desperation for marriage. And sadly, this book also supports the notion that, if she loves him enough, a woman can change a man. But that's a whole other conversation.

The only way to read this book is to forget its being a "classic" and take Jane Austen off her pedestal. Instead of reading it with so much seriousness, I read it as a more satirical look at society, sort of Oscar Wilde-esque. After all, Mrs. Bennet with her anxieties and "nerves" is quite stupid and comical. Even better are her exchanges with her worn-out, indifferent, yet still tersely funny husband. His sarcasm and mocking of Mrs. Bennet is completely lost on her, making him funnier and her all the more pathetic an typical. This book really is the original romantic comedy.

The other hang-up is the language. If you've studied Shakespeare in any capacity, you're told that reading the language of Shakespeare takes getting used to, but after a few pages you get into the rhythm and it doesn't seem quite so foreign anymore. For me, Shakespeare is cake. Victorian lit, on the other hand, is more of a foreign language to me and takes some getting used to. And I can't help but read it with a cliched, stuffy, melodramatic woman's voice narrating the action (if you can call it

All that being said, I will admit the book does become more engrossing after wading through the first 100 or so pages, with the introduction of Mr. Whickham and Mr. Collins (completely insufferable! To say that Lydia's being dead would be favorable to her running off! And then to go on to say, Thank God I didn't marry Elizabeth, otherwise I would be as much disgraced as the rest of you sad people. What a prick.) I do enjoy the intertwining of characters and connections, and it is easy to get caught up in the plot and the "he said, she said" once you trim the fat.

On the whole, the characters are actually pretty great. I started reading the book thinking they were going to be one-dimensional, but they're very fleshed-out. Miss Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, and Lydia are, to be blunt, stupid and make for a good laugh. Mr. Collins is awful in every way and fun to scoff at. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth (along with nearly everyone else, aside from maybe Jane and the Gardiners) are both prideful and prejudiced. Austen did create great characters and a plot of how the people of "society" related to one another.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected too. It's frivolous and romantic and, dare I say, sort of fun once you get past the language and the pacing. Now I need a break from Austen, but maybe, in the near future, I'll pick another novel of hers. Maybe.

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