Since you are going to be reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, I was hoping to read it with you so that we could talk about interesting or difficult parts. You, however, are a very quick reader, able to gobble up books in greedy bites. I am old and slow, with weary eyes scarcely able to pass across the dull print on the page.
This presents a problem. You can either:
- Read very slowly, like you are a turtle racing toward a piece of cabbage three inches away; or
- Let me get started ahead of you.
Let’s do #2.
So I have begun, and I am a couple of chapters in. Even though you have awesome parents and a good education and a very excellent uncle, you will still find Jane Austen’s brilliant Pride and Prejudice to be difficult at parts. So I thought that there were some things you should know (in no particular order).
- The hero is Lizzie, also called Liz, Elizabeth, Miss Elizabeth, Eliza, Miss Eliza, the Bennett’s second oldest daughter, Miss Bennett, and, occasionally, Hey, Girl. They had a lot of names back then. Or maybe it’s that Jane Austen is trying to show us that Lizzie’s character is hard to pin down.
- It is a funny book, but you won’t get all the jokes. That’s okay. Nobody ever gets my jokes anyway (see below for a funny Jane Austen example).
- Mr. Bennett’s chief joy is teasing is poor, silly wife. Watch for that. If you take him seriously the whole book will be just plain weird.
- Mrs. Bennett is often “nervous.” This isn’t just nervous like before a date, or at the dentist’s office when there is someone screaming in the next room. This is a “nervous disorder,” like anxiety attacks. The question is, does she really have problems with her nerves as she thinks? We will see!
- Back then, women couldn’t always own property. So when Mr. Bennett dies, according to his estate’s rules, everyone will become poor. It sucks, I know. Now women can own property and keep their own money. Unfortunately, we are all much poorer than the Bennetts.
- Even thought the Bennetts are wealthy, Darcy and Charles Bingley are SUPER wealthy. They are in a different class.
- Darcy is an even higher, royal class. So he can marry or be friends with the SUPER wealthy (like Bingley or his sister). But he can’t marry Lizzy.
- Lizzy can marry whoever she likes, but she never likes anyone!
- You will encounter some words you don’t know, like “Supercilious.” I just assumed it meant “super silly.” That’s worked so far, but I decided to look it up:
behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others.
example: “a supercilious lady’s maid”
So, I was wrong. But I like “super silly” better. I would encourage you, if you come to a word you don’t know, just to make it up.
10. One of the great jokes of the book comes in the first few chapters when Jane is ill at the Bingley mansion, and Lizzie is there to help her become well. In the evening she goes to the sitting room where people talk, play games, write letters, read, and drink tea or wine. In this scene (I put the video below), there is a discussion of what an “accomplished” woman is like. She is a kind of superstar, the “accomplished” woman.
Yet, yet, is Jane Austen “accomplished” in a way that people would admire? She would not be considered so. Like Lizzie she does not fit expectations well. Jane Austen wrote in the sitting room, but would hide her novels when the servants came in.
11. Look at the first sentence of the novel:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Is this true? Did Jane Austen think it was true? Did Darcy or Lizzy or Mrs. Bennett think it was true? And does it turn out to be true? That’s the great mind-blowing, super wonderful, definitely not supercilious question for this great book.
I hope you enjoy. I’m racing off to read more to try to stay ahead of you.
An Example of Something Funny in Pride and Prejudice
“Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?” said Jane Austen’s Miss Bingley. ‘Much more rational,’ replied Mr Bingley, ‘but much less like a ball.'”
Hard to disagree!
What was Jane Austen’s World Like?
C.S. Lewis said that it was quite different:
Between Jane Austen and us, but not between her and Shakespeare, Chaucer, Alfred, Virgil, Homer, or the Pharaohs, comes the birth of the machines” (“A Note on Jane Austen”).
Are we Childish (Arrested Development) If We Like Kids Books?
They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two.
But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed. A tree grows because it adds rings: a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next. In reality, the case is stronger and more complicated than this. I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists, for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course I get more out (“3 Ways of Writing For Children“).
Oh… and #12: Dear Madison, see Jubilare’s great comment below. She is a trustworthy digital friend–even though I prefer the Keira Knightley version to the one she linked. One of the great treats in finishing the book is look at those two great films. And when you do so, you will be the expert.