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.