Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen (again)


I'd planned to reread Pride and Prejudice this year to celebrate its 200th anniversary, but I expected to do it in a few months, since I just reread it last June.  But while visiting my parents earlier this month, I discovered that my dad had purchased an amazing, leather-bound copy, and I couldn't help but read it.  And take a bunch of pictures of it, just for fun.



I discovered an advantage to rereading it so soon after my last time through:  instead of being completely swept up in the story, I was able to look at it with more of a writer's eye and notice some of the amazing things Jane Austen does in this book.  I'm only going to mention a few, as obviously you could spend an entire college semester studying Pride and Prejudice, and I don't have that much space here.  Or time.



The first thing I noticed was the magnificent way Austen wrote Darcy's first scene, that infamous dance where he snubs Lizzy.  I've always thought he was unpardonable there, not just to her, but to the whole assembly.  But Austen actually wrote his words so that they mean one thing to him, but appear to mean something else, especially the first time you read them.  Once you know the character, you can understand better what he means here.

Bingley tells Darcy to dance, and Darcy replies, "I certainly shall not.  You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner.  At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable.  Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with" (Chapter 3).

It seems like he is saying that no one at the assembly is good enough to dance with him, doesn't it?  But when you know that Darcy has trouble making small talk with strangers, you can read this very differently.  It would be insupportable, not because the people are beneath him, but because he would be so miserable trying to be someone he is not, and that is why it would be a punishment to him to dance with anyone but Bingley's sisters.

(Of course, then Bingley suggests Darcy dance with Elizabeth, and here Dancy does come off as very rude -- he says she's not handsome enough to tempt him, meaning tempt him to be sociable with a stranger when it's not his nature to be so.  Which is a put-down, no question about it -- I can't excuse Darcy here.)

Another thing I noticed was how Austen absolutely tells us that Charlotte Lucas is willing to marry for comfort rather than love, and yet we are still as surprised as Lizzy when Charlotte accepts Mr. Collins.  She tells Lizzy early on that she thinks "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 contrive 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" (Chapter 6).  After a pronouncement like that, should we be surprised that Charlotte accepts Mr. Collins?  And yet, we are, because Mr. Collins is so very ridiculous that we share Lizzy's belief that he's too silly for anyone to be happy with.  Charlotte goes into her marriage very deliberately, however, and seems to be as happy as she expects to be -- not living in the felicity we imagine for Bingley and Jane or Darcy and Elizabeth, but quite sanguine nonetheless.

Finally, I was struck by part of Mr. Bennet's argument for Lizzy to refuse Darcy's offer of marriage.  He says, "My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.  You know not what you are about" (Chapter 59).  I found that so sweet, that he is trying to prevent his daughter from having a marriage like his -- he is acknowledging his mistake in marrying a woman so unlike himself, and trying to get Lizzy to learn from it.  I feel very sorry for Mr. Bennet right there, more than I do anywhere else in the book, and I think it's the best window we have into his character, this moment of truthfulness about what his life is like.  Two little sentences, but Austen uses them to convey so much.

I shall close with just one more quotation, my choice of a Particularly Good Bit from this reading:

"Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure" (Chapter 58).

Not always the wisest course, but certainly one that would keep a person from wallowing in bitterness, and I like the way it's phrased.



This is my second entry into the "Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge" over on Austenprose.com.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate it:  PG.

10 comments:

  1. I like it, I like it a lot. This review and the book and your PICTURES! Ah, they are lovely indeed! Great job, photography and writing. I need to read it again...

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    1. Thanks! Isn't that the most beautiful edition? I lucked out that my mom just happened to have a single red rose in the house, and it matched sooooooo nicely.

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  2. That is a lovely edition of the novel. Okay, you've convinced me. I MUST read this one again. It's been ages since I read it, this would be an excellent time to change that fact. :)

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    1. This is the year for it, for sure! Enjoy :-)

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  3. I really appreciate your review of the novel. So many people just focus on the romance and everything, but as someone who admires a wide spectrum of things about Austen's work, I can't help but appreciate your deeper observations. And I agree with you especially in the part about Charlotte Lucas! It has never surprised me or seemed sad to me that she ends up with Mr. Collins--she seems happy enough--so I don't understand why everyone always makes a big deal about it. I suppose it's the romantic in readers that contradicts her marriage. If you don't mind, I might steal your idea and start posting pictures of the books I'm reviewing. It adds to the appeal! :) Thanks again for such a well-rounded review!

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    1. Thank you!

      When I reread it this time, I noticed that Charlotte is quietly but quite deliberately spending time with Mr. Collins almost from their first meeting. Lizzy chalks it up to her being kind and deflecting his tiresome company so the Bennets can have a break, but it really looks like Charlotte is trying her hardest to interest him. And while I do get surprised by her accepting him, it's only because the idea of anyone marrying him is so, well, laughable. But Charlotte gets what she wants, a comfortable home and security. And she manages her husband very well, with all that encouraging to garden and take long walks, and convincing him to behave the way she thinks best -- she's a very strong woman, that Charlotte!

      Anyway, taking pictures of the book your reviewing would be a really fun way to liven up your blog! I usually just post an image of the cover that I find online, but sometimes I have the urge to take my own.

      I see you're participating in the P&P Bicentenary Challenge too. Yay! Isn't it fun?

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  4. I ardently admire and love this book! :) I've just re-read it and I truly believe that it's an absolute masterpiece. Your edition of this book is really nice - I see it comes with illustrations! - and I really enjoyed reading all of your points.

    I've always struggled with Charlotte's decision to marry Mr Collins. I know that she isn't a romantic, that she got what she wanted, and that she doesn't find Mr Collins as irritating as Elizabeth does but, well, quite frankly, the thought of sharing a marriage bed with Mr Collins makes me shudder. Maybe I'm being immature.

    Even though I know the story really well it's been quite a while since I last re-read the book so there were quite a few things about it that I'd forgot and were struck by on this occasion...

    - Elizabeth and Jane have both spent quite a lot of their time with the Gardiners at their home in London. That's probably the reason why their manners are so much better than their younger sisters.

    - When Elizabeth is staying with Charlotte at Hunsford she has a conversation with Darcy and he asks Elizabeth what her opinion of Rosings is. He then implies that Elizabeth will be staying at that house when she next visits Charlotte. Elizabeth is really confused by it and thinks that he must be referring to Colonel Fitzwilliam. But obviously Darcy is planning to propose to Elizabeth and is thinking that they'll be staying with his aunt at Rosings after they're married. Aw!

    - A passage that I really loved on this occasion was a scene where Elizabeth is forced to serve everyone coffee at at Longbourn. Elizabeth gets envious of everyone who is getting to talk to Darcy instead of her and strains really hard to hear what Darcy is saying. I can't believe that that scene hasn't made it into any of the adaptations! It's really cute and they could easily play it up for comedy. They could have Elizabeth over pouring drinks and getting all embarrassed and girly. :)

    - JA tells us that Elizabeth and Darcy have both come to dislike Meryton society so much by the end that neither of them enjoy their engagement and Elizabeth is desperate to move to Pemberley. That really struck me on this occasion. We all know that Elizabeth makes Darcy less of a snob but that passage indicates that Darcy has made Elizabeth more of a snob! Well, maybe "snob" isn't the right word. It's just that at Pemberley Darcy showed her what well-bred society and good conversation was actually like and now Elizabeth is eager to leave behind all of the vulgarity that she's been forced to put up with until now.

    - Anthony Stewart Head would make a fantastic Mr Bennet :)

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    1. Isn't it a beautiful edition? Alas, it's not mine -- it's my dad's. And he hasn't even had time to read it yet. What a treat for him when he retires! It did have lovely little illustrations, I think for the beginning of every chapter.

      Yes, sharing the marriage bed with Mr. Collins would be onerous. Being an old, married woman myself, I can only shudder at the thought. One hopes he would be easy to persuade that a man of the cloth would only partake of such activities rarely and should instead devote his energies to his pastoral duties. However... ten minutes now and then with your eyes closed might be a small price to pay for a comfortable, secure life.

      I love your comment about Darcy's remark regarding Rosings! So interesting. Darcy really does often get misunderstood, doesn't he?

      And good observation about Darcy changing Elizabeth a bit too. Very true.

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  5. Oh yes, a beautiful edition and a lovely retirement treat :) How long has he got left till retirement?

    I've been very tempted to join your Persuasion read-along. What's putting me off is that I'd planned to re-read all of my JA books in their published order and if I re-read Persuasion in January that will probably mean re-reading it before all of the others. I guess I could go back to Persuasion later in the year but I can't read the same book twice in the same year... can I? *blinks*

    Hahaha! That's HILARIOUS! Now you've said that I can easily imagine Charlotte persuading Mr Collins not to partake in the passions of connubial bliss :D

    "Darcy really does often get misunderstood, doesn't he?" Mmm hmm!

    I think another way in which Elizabeth becomes more like Darcy is that she becomes more introspective and reserved. After she reads Darcy's letter she's stunned at how wrong she was about him and it makes her look deep inside herself. On the outside she still acts lively and playful but she kind of withdraws from everyone a little bit and stops confiding in Jane and Mrs Gardiner as much. It's like Darcy becomes more talkative in the story and Elizabeth less so.

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    1. He's 65 right now, but he's agreed to stay at the church for another 2 years, I believe it was.

      Reading the same book in the same year, it turns out, is great. I did it with both P&P and A Room with a View and it's amazing the things you pick up the second time through. So if you have the reading time, I'd say join Heidi's read-along in January, and then reread it again later! You'd be reading the others in between, so it's not like you'd be reading it back-to-back (though that can be fun too -- I did that with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society the first time I read it).

      And you're right, they really do trade personality traits a little -- how did I never notice that?! Brilliant.

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