Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Part One)

This is going to sound like a cliché, and I’m probably the millionth person who’s going to say this. Pride and Prejudice and I have such history. I know it sounds presumptuous to make such a possessive claim over a book that was already around long before I was born, and will continue to be loved long after I’m gone. I can’t hide it, though. Every time I look at my much-abused copy of Pride and Prejudice, a flood of memories overcomes me, and I just realize that, yes, the book really is a part of me.

I first read it when I was in the seventh grade. I’m almost twenty-one now, so do the math. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, ignored my Algebra homework, and concentrated instead on the courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Compared to the pimply boys in my grade who could only talk about Counter Strike or World of Warcraft, Mr. Darcy was perfection. He was brooding but deeply intelligent, arrogant but with a sensitive side, and, of course, there was the added charm of Pemberley. If we put all those other amiable qualities aside, I couldn’t help but wonder at the fact that he didn’t fall for Jane, the beautiful sister, and fell for Elizabeth, the sassy smart-ass, instead. Perfection, indeed.

Over the years, every time I was asked about my favorite book, my steady answer (aside from Harry Potter, of course) was always Pride and Prejudice. I read it over and over again, especially the parts with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. The barbs. The passion simmering under the surface. I ate it all up.

I’m ashamed to say the genius of Jane Austen’s language flew past my head, and I completely swooned over Mr. Darcy.

Since I started this blog, though, I realized that I did what I often called ‘my favorite book’ a great disservice. I treated it as a mere love story, when it could offer so much more. Also, the last time I read it must’ve been two or three years ago, and I felt like a phony, claiming it as a favorite book when I didn’t really remember it anymore.

So, in order to fully appreciate and reacquaint myself with my so-called favorite book, I decided to reread it. Boy, I was in for an eye-opening experience.

The little witticisms I didn’t notice before were now laid bare before my eyes. I stopped focusing so much on Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and realized how rich the secondary characters were.

I discovered nothing new about Mr. Bennet, but Mrs. Bennet, who had always been a source of great irritation, didn’t seem so desperate to hook any man for her daughters anymore. I saw things through her eyes for a brief moment, and realized that, twisted as it may sound, she was just being a good mother. Choices were a bit limited for women during Jane Austen’s time, and their only salvation from poverty was marrying. No wonder Mrs. Bennet made man-hunting her lifelong goal. The woman had five daughters she needed to marry off.

And Jane Bennet. Oh, how I misunderstood you. I always liked to think of myself as more like Elizabeth, but, lately, I’ve come to realize that I have more in common with Jane Bennet (if you push aside her great beauty, of course). Elizabeth is the one with easy, frank manners, but Jane is the mystery. Due to her beauty, Jane has always been the center of attention, but, beyond that, people have no idea what’s going on inside that head of hers. They don’t know what or how she really feels inside. I always thought she was dull, but she was never dull. She was just brilliant at hiding or not showing her emotions.

I don’t think I can possibly end this, without talking about Charlotte Lucas. I used to think of her as the sensible but not really attractive friend, but I’ve come to realize that she’s so much more than that. Charlotte Lucas is a bit sad. In one scene, she tells Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home…” I think she represents a lot of women in Jane Austen’s time who didn’t have a choice, who were forced to settle for a man who was ‘good enough.’

I once read somewhere that Jane Austen accepted a proposal from a man of extensive property, but took it back the next day. More than once, I’ve wondered about Austen’s decision. I like to think that she chose to be alone, rather than settle for a life with the wrong man.

At the ripe old age of 20, I can never be sure, but I think I’d rather end up like Jane Austen instead of Charlotte Lucas. Unlike Charlotte, I am a self-proclaimed romantic. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hoping for a Mr. Darcy, just someone who can watch Vampire Diaries with me, someone who’s going to help me look for that Thomas Hardy novel at the secondhand bookstore even if it’s going to take hours. As great as a comfortable home sounds, I think I’d rather be with someone who feels right.

To be continued once I actually finish rereading Pride and Prejudice.


Jessica said...

I swear Im going to finally read this this year. I know the story inside and out yet its funny as Ive never read the book.

Is quite funny as Im a decade older than you and have never read it once and you at the age of twenty have read it numorous times.

Joanne said...

I absolutely agree with you about Mrs Bennet. I've always thought people were too hard on her. She had to get those daughters married to ensure that they were secure. It's Mr Bennet who gets on my nerves.

Red said...

I love that you're reading this again and focusing on the secondary characters (even if that wasn't your primary intention). I love Lizzie & Mr. Darcy but Austen put so much love into creating all the characters that it's good to give them their due. Can't wait to see your next post when you finish the book

mooderino said...

A very interesting post. Perhaps one of the things to take into consideration is how your perspective has changed in such a short time, and imagine how it might change in the years to come. Your view of what might make a good partner could yet evolve. Vampire Diaries may not be the barometer you think of it today.

Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

My god, are you really only 20? I wish I had been more like you at 20.

I finished re-reading P&P myself last month, but I had read it over the course of the previous year on my phone. It was a wonder to re-read in bits and pieces like that after a few years of not having read the book but having watched multiple movie versions multiple times.

You're so right about Jane. And while I never quite warmed to Mrs. Bennet like you did this time 'round, I became full of admiration for Mr. Collins--not as a person, mind you, but for his excellence as a character.

Cassandra said...

Your review makes me so sad! I wish I could love this book, or like it at least, but however hard I try, I can't.
I am a very romantic person in fact, and I loved the movie for example, but I find P&P excruciatingly boring.
Nothing really happens except for two people falling in love, and that is stretched out over hundreds of pages.
I have to admit that due to this book I have never again dared to touch a book by Jane Austen, and, although I am perhaps doing her wrong, I can't understand why everyone says she is such a great writer.
How I wish I could love her like everyone else!

Zibilee said...

I loved this book so much as well, and after reading your reflections, I think that I definitely need to reread it again, and focus more on some of the ancillary characters. I agree with Austen's decision not to marry someone who didn't feel right, as that is something I went through as well. I had the chance to marry the wrong guy, and said no, thinking that my time would never come, but eventually it did, and I am so much happier for it. I loved your post today. So much feeling and power, all wrapped up in your analysis of one of the best books in the English language. Thanks for this, Darlyn.

Kailana said...

I enjoy when people share their personal experiences with a book, so it was nice to read this post. I have to admit I have only read P&P once and it was nothing amazing for me. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the sentiment that other people have for it. I just feel that way about different books. :)

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

Now you've made me want to reread it as well! I've already read it twice and have to admit that for me, it was all about the love story too. But what a love story it is...

everybookandcranny said...

I love how your shared your personal experience with the novel. ANd like another commenter said, I also wish I'd been more like you at 20. I didn't really start reading consistently until I was almost 30.

Rebecca Reid said...

I can't wait to reread this myself later this year (for my book club...).

I too loved reading this as a teenager. Definitely was my favorite novel for more than a decade. Probably still is. I think there is so much in there to love. And great thoughts on Mrs Bennett.

(And a footnote: I consider myself a romantic as well. I did NOT marry a romantic man. Romantic things just do not occur to him. And yet, we are very happy. He is my best friend etc. So just keep in mind that life is not always like a novel but the novels are still there to enjoy, always :) )


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