Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review - Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Published by: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1813
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The leasing of Netherfield Park by a young single gentlemen of fortune makes Mrs. Bennet's day. For she is determined on one of her daughters marrying him. Who cares if nothing is known of the man, the desirability of the man is set by liquidity and location. Luckily for this nervous mother of five Mr. Bingley does seem inclined to fulfill her deepest desire as he starts to fall for her eldest Jane. But he brings with him such a haughty friend, Mr. Darcy, who becomes notorious for snubbing her second daughter, Lizzy, at the local assembly by not dancing with her. Lucky for Lizzy she sees it as a narrow escape from this proud man whom is now nothing more than an anecdote in her mind. But in trying to secure Mr. Bingley for Jane Lizzy is again and again thrust into the path of Mr. Darcy and little does she know that against every instinct he is falling for her. Though he isn't the only one who has unwanted and unsolicited affections for Lizzy. Lizzy's odious cousin Mr. Collins arrives on the scene to try to secure her hand. A hand she will never give to him. There is one she might give her hand to, a Mr. Wickham, who has recently arrived and enlisted in the army. He is an amiable type who has a tragic past, made more tragic by the actions of one Mr. Darcy. Can Lizzy juggle all the men in her life with what her heart really wants for herself and her family? Or will she make all the wrong choices and end up a spinster with a battered heart? Only with time, travel, and much heartache will her future and her happiness be decided.

Pride and Prejudice is an interesting re-read for me because I think of all of Austen's novels it is the one I go back to the least. This might seem odd because I think the majority of her fans would rank this as her best novel, and I do agree from time to time, though my rankings are very fluid. The reason I don't go back to it as often as the other novels is that Pride and Prejudice is rare in that, to me, it is the only book written by Austen that has a pitch perfect adaptation. I am of course referring to the 1995 miniseries adapted by Andrew Davies and starring a soaking wet Colin Firth, counteracting the commentary in this edition by Sir Walter Raleigh wondering if Darcy could swim. Take that Sir Walter Raleigh, the one who wasn't an explorer but an English scholar and yes I had to look that up because I was wondering if Walter Raleigh might be a time traveler as well as an explorer for about five seconds. Though what the adaptation has done for me is to break up the narrative into six sections coinciding with the episode breaks. This is even more ingrained in those who started with the VHS set long before DVDs were a thing where each episode was it's own tape. Therefore I know the story so well I'm just waiting for the next "set piece" to happen. This takes away the spontaneity of the story, because you're always knowing and waiting for what happens next. I don't get as caught up in the narrative and start to question if I'm right on what happens next, because I know it all too well.

Much as my rankings of Austen's books fluctuate there are some things that are constant. For me in the narrative of Pride and Prejudice that is Charlotte Lucas. Oh how I adore Charlotte and in more than any part of Pride and Prejudice Lizzy's incredulity of why Charlotte would be induced to accept the hand of Mr. Collins just pisses me off. Lizzy is an unrealistic romantic and sees by the example set by her parents that one should only marry for love. In this period of time this is totally unrealistic. When Mr. Collins is rejected by Lizzy he is entirely right in saying that she may never get another offer of marriage. Especially with a war on, young eligible men weren't growing on trees, and add to that that Lizzy is virtually penniless she has very unrealistic expectations. Yes, this is a love story with our hero and heroine overcoming each others faults, but seriously, if any of us readers were sent back to that time period we'd more than likely be in Charlotte Lucas's shoes and should be lucky to have her pragmatism. She's twenty-seven, a perilously old age for a woman entering the marriage market, from a large family, and has not much hope of having much money when her parents die. An eligible young man arrives, yes he's silly, but he has a very secure position, an inheritance which will eventually be in the same village as her parents, and the ear of a very influential lady. She also probably sees that through flattery she can control him. Here's to Charlotte, the voice of reason!

What's more is that IF Charlotte's advice had been followed by more characters in this book there would have been a lot less heartache. Charlotte advises Lizzy that Jane needs to show more than she feels to secure Bingley. It's Jane's lack of outward emotion that enables Darcy to separate her and his friend. Yes, I'm sure that even if Jane had been very demonstrative in her affections towards Bingley that Darcy would have found a way to still separate them, but I think it would have been far harder. Darcy explains that Bingley has crushing self-doubt and just a few words on the lack of outward emotion displayed by Jane is enough to make him doubt their connection. If she had shown more then perhaps Bingley wouldn't have been as easily persuaded. Perhaps he wouldn't have secreted himself away in London all winter without going back to Netherfield. Yes, there's a lot of perhaps here, but again, look at it from a female perspective at this time, what's the risk of showing one man more affection than you might feel? The worst that could happen is you'd be labeled a flirt. But at least if he is interested you're more likely to secure that hoped for proposal. If by that time you realize he's a loser, well, do what Lizzy did twice and reject his offer. Ah Charlotte, you are the voice of reason amongst so many silly girls as Mr. Bennet would put it. Though I'd disagree with him that you are the silliest.

This reading I started to wonder more on what exactly it was that drew Wickham and Lydia together. Because the reason it works as a seismic shift in the plot is that it's so unexpected. That Lydia would be stupid enough to elope isn't in question, the question is why Wickham? Wickham and her had had very little interaction on the page. Wickham has to flee Brighton and his regiment because of his debts and decides to take Lydia along. Why!?! It's advantageous for neither of them. So why do it? From Lydia's point of view I just think she wanted to be the first sister to marry and show them all up and Wickham provided her with this opportunity. To stick it to Lizzy, Wickham's previous favorite, seems just like the icing on the cake. It's Wickham I just don't get. Yes, he has a penchant for seducing young girls, but that's where money is involved. The ONLY way this all makes sense is if he had some added insight. Lydia is too indiscreet to keep anything from anyone, so I wonder, did Wickham think that Darcy would in some way be eventually connected to Lydia's family because of something she said? Whether through Bingley and Jane or even through Darcy and Elizabeth. This is the ONLY way this holds together. It's the MacGuffin that brings everything to a conclusion and there's just too much left unexplained. What ifs and perhaps, but no definitive reason. Are we just supposed to ignore it and focus on the happily ever after? Because I'm seriously not the kind of reader who can ever let go of anything. How devious was Wickham really!?!

In fact, there was a detail during Lydia's scandal that fascinated me and I never really noticed before to do with the servants. Of course everyone knows of the servant Hill, as Mrs. Bennet is often screaming her name. But all the other servants are kind of not mentioned. Which, to be fair, was the way it was, there's a reason shows like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs appeal to people, because they give a voice to all the characters and show the connections, not just what all the rich people are doing. Therefore I found it very odd that Mr. Bennet requested that when the servants were in the room that they refrained from discussing the situation with Lydia. I understand him wanting to keep a lid on things, but with the way Mrs. Bennet was carrying on, with the way news of Wickham's debts were spreading like wildfire, the news was all over town in a matter of minutes, so why keep quiet in front of all the servants who aren't Hill? Also can we really trust and rely on Hill to keep her mouth shut? Don't you think the only way the servants handle their masters is by gossiping about them and swapping insane stories? Which makes me realize I really should read the book Longbourn by Jo Baker because it's Pride and Prejudice as seen through the eyes of the servants. Perhaps she answers all my questions? Oh, I wonder if she answers my theory as to cellphones being the modern day equivalent of women's work. AKA, as a way to avoid eye contact with that special someone who makes you nervous. Can you image Lizzy using a cellphone to avoid Darcy admiring her fine eyes? Because I sure can.


Newer Post Older Post Home