The Compulsive Reader: Classics Corner: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Classics Corner: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Happy Valentine's Day to those that celebrate, and Happy Free Chocolate Day to those that don't! I thought about a lot of romantic books I've read lately that I could highlight on this day, but I've decided to post the latest Classics Corner edition instead--and on what better book than Pride and Prejudice, hailed one of the most romantic books in the English language? Don't worry, I'm not going to fangirl over Darcy or Bingley, or any other character for that matter.

I admit right now that sitting down to write about Pride and Prejudice is slightly daunting for me. How does one talk about a romance that’s so immensely popular, even after 200 years of being in print? What more can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said?

I think for so many years, Pride and Prejudice was one of those novels that everyone just talked about around me, and I knew because of the modern adaptions, the movies, the miniseries, and of course, that quote—“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (This statement is flowery and nice, but sort of a bull-headed way to propose to a girl. I mean, would you say “yes” to a guy who admitted to loving you only after saying it’s against his better judgment?)

I think that it’s really interesting how in our modern adaptations and discussions about Pride and Prejudice, we hype up the romance and image of Darcy as this mysterious, passionate lover and center around the romance between him and Elizabeth when throughout most of the book he comes off as an ass, and there is so much else going on in the story. Sure, we all realize that the guy is probably pretty shy, and we all grow to love him halfway through the novel, but it makes me wonder how closely we really look at this story, and how much we appreciate Austen’s writing beyond the fact that she created these characters we all love to swoon over.

I admired Pride and Prejudice from afar for quite a while. I read the book in eighth grade, but my recollections of the story are dimmed, and mostly were augmented with repeated viewings of the BBC miniseries. I never dared to call it my favorite book, but I’ve often been guilty of saying something inane along the lines of “Oh yeah, Pride and Prejudice, it’s an amazing book! Love it!” without being terribly familiar with the actual text of the book. I got the chance to re-read it again earlier this year for a British Literature class I am taking, and this time around, my eyes were really opened.

Pride and Prejudice has often been praised for being elegantly written, and I would agree with this assessment. There is something about Austen’s narrative that gives you the feeling of perfect balance as you read along—balance between showing and telling, plot and character study, grave situations and playful satire of how marriage is treated and women are commodities. It’s really quite remarkable when you take a step back and take it all in—even the silliest characters have an important message to impart.

My favorite motif throughout the book is that of eyes. Mr. Darcy compliments Elizabeth on her fine eyes throughout the book, even in the beginning when the pair seems to dislike each other intensely. Austen continually comes back the eyes, as it is revealed that both Darcy and Elizabeth have been blinded by the appearances of all that are around them, and as they finally are able to see reality. It’s a beautiful and elegant motif that correlates well with many of the themes of the book, and I wonder if it is oftentimes easily overlooked, especially in our many modern retellings.

This being said, I really love The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a truly unique modern adaptation video blog style. It’s entertaining, innovative, and the writing is sharp. Plus, it’s totally free on Youtube (and created by Hank Green, brother to John Green)! It’s something that anyone can really enjoy, but I think reading the book (it’s actually not all that long!) will really make the experience richer.

What’s your favorite thing about Pride and Prejudice?


LinWash said...

Jane Austen is excellent on social commentary. She skewers silly women like Mrs. Bennet as well as snobs like Lady Catherine. I love Lizzie's relationship with Darcy, and Lizzie's reaction to Darcy's insulting first proposal.

Annette Mills said...

I think I need a re-read too. It's been so long, I can't really remember the writing. Just the story. And there's a lot more than just the story. Thanks for the reminder.