Sunday, August 2, 2015

#32 [2015/CBR7] "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

I rarely read books twice. There are just too many great books out there for me to retread familiar ground. But Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813)  is a special book. Also, Storywonk* is doing a podcast/discussion on the book and I couldn't resist.

I remember my first exposure to Pride and Prejudice like it was yesterday. I was a Freshman in college and I picked it up as a way to avoid reading whatever book I was actually supposed to be reading for English Literature. I did not know the story and had never read Austen before. I was half expecting something musty and old fashioned, so imagine my surprise and delight when I began to read. Many of Austen's other books followed, along with Colin Firth and the BBC, Keira Knightley's Lizzy, and most recently The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (totally worth it). But nothing could compare to that fantastic first discovery of my favorite book.

I have to admit that this second reading was nothing like my first. I wasn't sure why I was bothering to read a book again when I already knew almost all the lines by heart. Not only did I know them, but I was imagining Jennifer Ehle saying them as she said them in the movie. I might as well have been watching the movie. But I couldn't resist the magic for long, no matter how well known to me. It also helped when I hit bits of the book that were not replicated line for line in the movies.

I think it would be weird to do a plot synopsis at this point. If you don't know the plot by now, then you probably have no interest and are not reading this review. Instead, I'll focus on how my perspective has changed in the...seventeen years (yikes!) since I first read this novel. I still love it, love the story, love the commentary, and I love the characters. I've found, though, that with age, I've become more frustrated by Mr. Bennet and have more sympathy for Lydia--as annoying as she is.

Mrs. Bennet was the crazy and inappropriate parent on my first reading. Obsessed with marriage and sending her children out into storms to secure a husband, she was also whiny and dramatic. Mr. Bennett, on the other hand, was smarter and quieter and had great esteem for my beloved Lizzy. What's not to like? Well, as obnoxious as Mrs. Bennet is, she is trying to secure a safe future for her daughters in the only way that is possible. She is trying to exercise the only control she has. Mr. Bennet's future planning for his daughters consisted of hoping he'd have a son and hoping he doesn't die too soon. Otherwise, they are on their own. In addition, with the way he talks about Kitty and Lydia, I'm surprised they didn't turn out to be strippers in the village. A little interest, structure, and positive reinforcement would probably have gone a long way with those two. Keira Knightley's Pride and Prejudice has Donald Sutherland playing a much more sympathetic Mr. Bennet and the difference with the book is stark.

Finally, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has the most empathetic take of Lydia Bennet, and I'm not sure if I'm projecting some of that portrayal into the book, but instead of pure irritation and hatred, I felt more sorry for her on this second reading.

"To be sure it would have been more for the advantage of conversation, had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town [become a prostitute]; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world, in some distant farm-house. But there was much to be talked of, in marrying her; and the good-natured wishes for her well-doing, which had proceeded before from all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton, lost little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such a husband her misery was considered certain." (299)

Lydia is only sixteen. The heartlessness surrounding her in this paragraph is disturbing.

Declaring a favorite out of the hundreds of books I've read is difficult, but I almost always fall back on Pride and Prejudice. It's a classic: insightful, fun, and romantic. Whether re-reading the original or enjoying an adaptation, when it's well done, it doesn't matter the format, it just never gets old.

*Storywonk is my new go-to time-suck podcast couple. They have podcasts on Outlander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, and more.

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