Monday, January 28, 2013

on the shelf: pride and prejudice.

Two hundred years ago today, Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice (originally First Impressions) was published. It was popular in her day, and it is still one of the most beloved pieces of literature in history.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice [opening line]
I read the book back when I was thirteen, and most of it went over my head. I raced through it so I could watch the movie (BBC) with my mom. As I watched it, I thought, "so THAT'S what that part was about!" or "Mr. Collins was supposed to be like…that?" Like I said, most of it had gone over my head. After that, I read it again once or twice, and really enjoyed it.

But I was still reading it as if I was watching the movie - missing the incredibly brilliant dialogue 'cause I was picturing the film instead. Don't get me wrong, the BBC movie is wonderful, but I wasn't fully appreciating the literature.

"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us." - Mary Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

In November 2011, I came down with a pretty awful case of walking pneumonia. Which meant I didn't do much of anything (especially walking) for the better part of ten days. I was in bed, sick and miserable and weak, and bored. So I watched all my favorite period dramas and musicals, and when I was tired of movies, I read books. Including Pride and Prejudice. And *that* was when everything clicked. It was the fourth time I'd read it, and suddenly I was enjoying it for the wonderful piece of literature that it is.

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?" - Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
I've read it multiple times since then - my poor beloved Barnes and Noble Classics paperback is creased at the binding, scuffed on the cover, and marked up with pencil inside with notes and hearts and smiley faces and underlines. It never gets old.

I read Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle in Nicaragua - a little escape from the heat and flies on quiet Sunday afternoons. It became even dearer to me then than it had been before - if that's possible. I read it on the plane to Boston. And Colorado. I'll probably read it in the car on the way to Fort Knox this weekend - my constant and beloved travel companion.

I'm never ceased to be amazed at how many different, believable characters Austen could weave into one story. You can experience the sweet sisterly bond between Jane and Lizzy, the amusing friendship of Bingley and Darcy, the aloof humor of the Bingley sisters, Caroline's attempts to gain Darcy's attention, Darcy and Georgiana, Darcy and Fitzwilliam, Lady Catherine and Darcy, Charlotte and Lizzy, Charlotte and Mr Collins, Lizzy and Mr Collins, Mr and Mrs Bennet, Kitty and Lydia, Lydia and Lizzy, Wickam and Lizzy, and the list goes on. 
"There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me." - Elizabeth to Darcy

Pride and Prejudice is predominately a love story. But it is also a story about how two people, who thought they had it all together, find out that they actually don't.

There are several film adaptions of Pride and Prejudice. My personal favorite is the five hour BBC adaption with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Darcy and Lizzy. I don't really much care for the 2005 movie…but it does have its good points. Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley are both wonderful actors, but not who I'd pick for those roles - although they did work together well.

One of the reasons I love Pride and Prejudice is how the emphasis is on how the characters explore their relationship mentally and verbally - as they learn what they have in common, and how they complement each other - rather than just on a physical relationship. It's refreshing, honestly, for someone like me who wants to save all that for my husband, to just enjoy the deliberateness of the dialogue and the caution of the characters, instead of the gushy love scenes typical in romantic stories. And guess what? It's just as romantic. If not more so.

"I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased." - Darcy to Lizzy
I see so much of myself in Lizzy Bennet (and no, it's not just because we share the same name - but that's part of it), but overall, I'm definitely more of a Jane at heart. Maddie's our Lizzy. And that has everything to do with birth order. But I'm a daddy's girl…but whatever. You can't have everything.

This is my favorite Lizzy/Jane conversation….and this is one of those "I'm definitely an Elizabeth Bennet" moments. I'm afraid my brain works much the same way….

Lizzy was Jane Austen's personal favorite character of all her fiction works. I wonder how much of Elizabeth is autobiographical? I have to imagine Jane Austen had a sparkling wit of her own that came out in conversation like Lizzy's. I think she [Elizabeth] is pretty fantastic. I quote her all the time, and her protective sisterly instincts for her nutty younger siblings is something I appreciate. And I love the way she and Jane chat at night and laugh at each other and are best friends. REAL LIFE.

"I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me." - Elizabeth to Lady Catherine

There are also some important life lessons to uncover in the story. Mr. Bennet pays the price for his parenting, or lack-thereof. I feel very sorry for him as he realizes too late that it's truly his fault that his youngest daughter went down such a wayward path. He discovers that a sharp wit, good sense of humor, and setting apart of himself from "real life" aren't enough. But he has a good heart - and loves his girls.
"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." - Mr Bennet to Lizzy
We don't ever really get to see into Mr. Darcy's head, but we do see how loving Elizabeth changes him.  And it's not because of what he does as much as what he says. At least in the book. There is that hilariously sappy "apple of my eye" look [that's what Dad called it] over the piano in the BBC film. Besides that. *cough cough*
"She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me, and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men."  - Darcy about Lizzy
And there's the hilarious love story of Charles and Jane. *sigh* What a couple.
"I have not a doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income." - Mr Bennet to Jane after her engagement 

And no Pride and Prejudice post would be complete without Mr. Collins, Elizabeth's socially awkward, super annoying, and overly flattering cousin. Comic relief in every appearance.

"It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?" - Mr. Bennet to Mr. Collins
There are many other wonderful characters and story lines in this novel, but I'll stop here. Those of y'all who've read the book should read it again and enjoy it for all it's worth, and those of all who haven't - today's as good a day as any (if not better) to start! And when you're through, kick back and enjoy the films (start with the Long One - '95 BBC), and then come back and let me know what you think.

Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice…if Jane Austen knew how long her story had endured, she would be very proud.

And because I feel like it, and because Mr. Michael Farris has forever endeared this quote to me [long story]:
"I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet: I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased." - Lady Catherine DeBourgh
Pride and Prejudice (BBC, 1995) 

Happy 200th Birthday, Pride and Prejudice! 


  1. I could gush and squeal and sigh and rant and rave over nearly everything in this post, but the result would rival Pride and Prejudice for quantity, if not for quality. ;) I thought I loved this piece when I first read it in fifth grade; I thought I loved it more when I watched the BBC adaption. However, it was not until I read the book again recently that my eyes were opened to all the gems left unmined among the pages. I have such an appreciation for Jane Austen's ability as a writer, mainly because of her brilliant wit, which cannot be matched. My copy is covered in sticky notes and underlining now, and each passage has grown in my esteem. I would go on and on, but you put my thoughts perfectly in this post, so I'll only add a hearty "amen!" and go back to writing my post about this splendid book. :)

    Love you,

  2. Faboulous post! Makes me want to read the book again. Haven't done that in awhile.

    And you must tell the long story this weekend. I'm terribly curious.

  3. I read the book last year and I now love it so much!
    The BBC version is my absolute not mention the 2005 version to me *shudders* just my opinion of it.
    God Bless