Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen

I read Pride and Prejudice this month as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books. The readalong started with Sense and Sensibility in July and continues through Persuasion in December. I opted for Pride and Prejudice in August, Emma in October, and Northanger Abbey in November. However, I was so happy with my experience with P&P this month that I think I may try to do another book or two.

For anyone who hasn't either read the book or watched one of the numerous adaptations, I will give a brief overview.The story is set in the early 1800's and centers on the main character Elizabeth, the second of five daughters whose family lives in a small town in Hertfordshire, near London. Elizabeth is close to her elder sister Jane, although they are very different in temperament. Themes include marriage, morality, education and the choices women had at the time.

Much of the focus of the book is Mrs. Bennet's determination to get her five daughters betrothed to men with some ability to support them, since her husband's estate is entailed and will go to a surviving male heir once Mr. Bennet dies. That she has this desire is natural and loving, but the way she goes about it is disruptive and unappealing.

The story is told primarily from Elizabeth's viewpoint, and we know little about what is going on in anyone else's head. However, Austen also reveals that Mr. Darcy, a young man with whom Elizabeth is at odds, is gradually becoming attracted to her.


I read Pride and Prejudice somewhere back in my distant past. I am sure I liked it then, but I wasn't sure how I would feel about it now. Happily for me, it was a very pleasant experience. As soon as I started reading the book, I realized why it is such an enduring book. I thought the prose and the conversation would be too stilted, too old fashioned. Maybe so, but it never bothered me at all. I was entranced from the beginning. The book was much longer than I thought it would be, but I enjoyed every page. The edition I read is 475 pages, but it does have illustrations.

The only problem with a reread of this book after seeing the adaptations of the book over the years was knowing what to expect, what happens. It did not spoil my enjoyment, but I did wonder how I would react to each section if I did not know what happens next (and who the villains are).

This book has been analyzed to death. I will just share a few thoughts:

  • I enjoyed getting a picture of life at the time, or at least the life of persons of the Bennett's social status. They are not well to do, but neither were they hurting for some of the luxuries of life. I enjoyed the illustrations by Hugh Thomson in my edition because they reminded me of how people dressed for their daily activities. 
  • The book is entertaining whether you are looking for deeper meanings and symbolism (I was not) or just enjoying the romance and the humor in the book. 
  • One of the things I like about this book is that because it was published in 1813, you know the people depicted here are real types that existed. My point is that this is not historical fiction with a picture of how we might like it to be, but fiction that reflects the people of the time, or at least this author's vision of it.

The only criticism of the book that occurred to me in this reading was that Austen tends to be very wordy, both in endless conversations and descriptions of situations. Yet, I loved the writing and the story so much I did not care.

This reread confirmed my belief that you just can't get the same experience from an adaptation. I have seen two TV show adaptations and the 1940 film with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.  Our favorite is the 1980 BBC mini-series with  Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet. But no adaptation can convey the depth that comes through in Jane Austen's writing.


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Publisher:   Book of the Month Club, 1996 (orig. pub. 1813)
Length:      476 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

24 comments:

  1. One of my favorite books. My favorite tv version is the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth, though Lost in Austen is a hoot.

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    1. I was not aware of Lost in Austen. I looked it up and it does sound like fun.

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  2. I'm starting to read more literature myself and I still haven't read or watched the TV versions. I plan to get to it one day this year. I hope. --Keishon

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    1. Hi Keishon. I envy you being able to read Pride and Prejudice without having watched any adaptations first.

      I saw your post about starting blogging again. I am looking forward to that.

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  3. Have to agree...nothing beats Jane Austen in her own words. I've recently bought some audio book versions and am looking forward to having the stories read to me.

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    1. I am very glad I finally re-read this book, Bernadette ... Now I am eager to read the others. I must have had my copies for over 10 years.

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  4. Have read them all several times and I finally persuaded my husband to read EMMA. I thought that the one he was most likely to enjoy. I think he is glad to have read one but perhaps not so glad reading it. He can't get past the idea it is all about tea parties.

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    1. This was definitely a more enjoyable read than I thought it would be, Patti. It took me a few days but I was glad to savor it. My husband enjoys the adaptations of these books, not sure if he would enjoy reading them or not.

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  5. You can't beat Austen for taking a look at her own generation. And I do like her writing style. I love the way she uses wit, too, as well as solid stories, to draw the reader in.

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    1. I am usually hesitant to read books that were written so long ago, Margot, and I make the assumption that I won't like the writing of that time. I was very wrong here. That will teach me to be more open minded.

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  6. Good luck, but honestly I can't think of anything I'd like to read less. I'm definitely averse to classic literature. My loss no doubt.

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    1. I would never push anyone to read Pride and Prejudice, Col, or any classic for that matter, but I am sure there are classics that you like or could like (39 Steps?). I mostly avoid classics just because I want to read crime fiction and I only have so many years left to read all those books I have.

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    2. I did enjoy (and had forgotten about) 39 Steps. I kind of dismiss the likes of Austen out of hand...bodice ripping, people of privilege, country mansions, blah, blah, blah.....and I'm too lazy to look past the surface.

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    3. The people of privilege were irksome, I will admit. And the story did not really address the poor and less fortunate people. There are plenty of classics I refuse to read. Austen's books just work for me.

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  7. I just picked top a copy of Emma actually - you have definitely got me in the Austen mood, thanks Tracy :)

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    1. I have copies of all of the books, Sergio, but I keep looking at beautiful new editions. Glad to motivate you.

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  8. I wholeheartedly agree with you that reading Pride and Prejudice is entirely different from viewing an adaptation. I love doing both, but with reading there is so much more to appreciate with Austen's language--her descriptions, word choices, word play. A reader can scrutinize the language minutely, drawing one's own conclusions about meanings, whereas in a film, the creators and actors guide you toward conclusions as to what is meant. I love the interpretations of others and so I love all the films.
    But in reading the book, you get to figure it all out for yourself. I have so appreciated that aspect of reading this novel after 48 years!

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    1. I do look forward to watching adaptations of the other books as I read them, Judith. I have seen Emma and Clueless, and Sense and Sensibility, but I will enjoy watching them again and maybe finding adaptations of the others.

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  9. Glad to hear you enjoyed the book and that you may be joining in on a few more titles than planned.

    I totally agree with you about literature from the time period vs. historical fiction. I've been coming around to enjoy more historical fiction, but I used to be very biased against it for just the reason you mentioned.

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    1. James, I read mostly mysteries, and mysteries written in the 1930's and 40's are very interesting regarding actual life in those times, but then they leave out a lot of details because of their everydayness. Writers of historical fiction sometimes try too hard to get the right facts and feel, and overdo. Of course, in both cases, it makes a difference depending on the author and how well they write.

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  10. I love Jane Austen, and actually she lived near to where I live, and died in my home town, an is buried in the Cathedral here. Locally there have been a lot of celebrations of the 200th anniversary of her death, and sometimes as you walk round town you see people dressed up in Jane Austen-style clothes, which is tremendous fun. I went to see a local production of a play of her Persuasion, and enjoyed it very much too.

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    1. Moira, Have you ever read the Jane Austen series by Stephanie Barron? I read the first few and found them fascinating (mostly the part about Austen and the settings) but then they got too repetitive for me. Don't even know how well done they were because I know little about the time or Austen's life.

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  11. I just can't get into reading the "classics," include Jane Austen's books. When I have read some paragraphs by her in Pride and Prejudice in blogs, I have realized what a great sense of humor and social observation she had.

    But I'm just not drawn to these books. I'm just a more contemporary reader.

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    1. In general I would rather read older mysteries, Kathy, but books written so long ago don't usually draw me in either. But I am now reading Mansfield Park, which I know nothing about, and I am liking it too, so I guess this is just the right time for me to read the Jane Austen books.

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