When I started hammering out a list of books for 2016, I asked Anna, “What books would you recommend I add?”
She didn’t hesitate: something by Jane Austen, preferably Pride & Prejudice. And then one of the Brontë sisters. Oh, Wuthering Heights! She started to list a few others, but I stopped her there. I mean, I have limits.
So, after much trepidation and several days of anxiously considering whether I might re-work my reading list and “accidentally” forget to include Austen, I finally jumped into it.
And I’m glad I did. Prior to reading Pride & Prejudice, my only exposure to her work has been through the film adaptations of her work. Lots of dresses and dances and knowing glances. Little comments by characters that sent Anna and her sister into wry fits of giggles and left me totally bewildered.
But the reality is that Austen writes better than a film can adapt. I don’t know how she does it, but with just a few strokes, she paints characters (even minor characters) that jump to life with all their quirks and foibles. In two or three lines of dialogue, you have a clear, hilarious understanding of Mr. Collins, for example.
The plot of Pride & Prejudice, though easy to forecast (probably as a result of slowly ingesting the contours of the story every time Anna re-watched the movie), still created genuine tension. Something that really gets under my skin when I’m reading is the perpetuation of an injustice—someone has been harmed or someone is seeking help or someone has been slandered, and for page after page, justice is denied them. So, when Bingley’s sisters actively intervene to thwart his growing love for Jane, it’s genuinely stressful. And when Wickham’s behavior proves so destructive to the Bennet family, it’s truly upsetting.
I’m not going to attempt to summarize the plot here. You can find it on Wikipedia, if you want. But I recommend you read the book instead.
A few thoughts:
I looked it up. The movie version that I’ve seen was from 2005, and it stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden. I didn’t like it at all. If I remember correctly, Anna wasn’t a fan either. I just asked her, and she confirmed that she did not like it. I made the mistake of asking, “Why not?” and she’s still hollering about it from the other room.
Anna says the BBC version is worth watching. The six-hour version. She said, “It captures the characters better.” I said, “Six hours?” And she laughed.
Jane Austen’s skill is overwhelming. I wanted to say, “It’s her sentences.” Or “It’s her characters.” Or “It’s her plotlines.” But it’s pretty all-encompassing.
Really, you owe it to yourself to read Pride & Prejudice. Then tell Anna you read it because that will make her happy. But don’t tell her I told you it was good, or she’ll try to add a bunch more to my 2017 reading list.
Oh, and I read this version on Kindle. I started with another, but it was poorly formatted. When I switched to this version, I discovered the first was also missing several sentences at the end of the first chapter. Kind of strange, but there you have it.
A few quotes:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”
“Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.”
The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance.
At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest for some amusement…
***This quote made me laugh out loud:
By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed.
“Indeed, Mr. Bennet,” said she, “it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take her place in it!”
“My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor.”
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.
“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”
“She had better have stayed at home,” cried Elizabeth; “perhaps she meant well, but, under such a misfortune as this, one cannot see too little of one’s neighbours. Assistance is impossible; condolence insufferable. Let them triumph over us at a distance, and be satisfied.”
“If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.
So, that’s book number four. If you’re keeping track, I’m behind. I’ve already finished What You Have Left, by James Sallis, and will be working on a post about it soon. I’ve just started Wuthering Heights, and Anna’s overjoyed.