Thursday, February 17, 2011

67. Upon Reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Readers of this blog know that I read different novels but promote extensively only African-authored novels. They also know that I have a challenge to read a list of 100 novels in five years, of which I am only fourteen percent through and in the third year. Consequently, I embarked upon a compulsive book buying some two Saturdays ago. And Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was one of twenty-three books purchased. Let me inform my readers that henceforth most of my readings would be geared towards meeting my challenges.

Pride and Prejudice (1813) is my first Austen novel and the second English Classic I have read this year following from Hardy's Jude the Obscure. Pride and Prejudice is a story set in the early nineteenth England in the town of Hertfordshire where five sisters lived, each with a different aspiration and disposition. Jane is servile, humble, quick to agree and forgive and almost never judges. Elizabeth, around whom the majority of the story is told is the thinking and cautious type. She does not easily submit to rules without questioning them. Mary is almost a recluse and played a minor role in the novel. Always learning, one can easily judge her to be suffering from an inferiority complex. The two others: Lydia and Catherine (or Kitty) are frivolous - acting without thinking of the effects of their actions.

Jane met Mr. Bingley and there was a spark but the proud Darcy was to extinguish it and later ignite it after he himself had had a prejudicial run-in with Elizabeth. Elizabeth saw Darcy as a proud man who hates to laugh and Darcy saw her as of low class. Darcy sees everything with a sexist mind:
A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
However, Darcy was to change and all was to settle with the passage of time and self awareness. Then there is the 'horrid' Mr. Wickham who at first was adjudged lovely and polite and out-going until he eloped with Lydia.

In this interconnected love story, Austen portrayed the life of the society as it existed then. With Napoleon's war as the backdrop we see how Darcy changes from being the proud man to one acceptable by all of society - humbling himself to everybody though he is 'a ten thousand pounds a year' and owns a beautiful stretch of estate at Pemberley.

One cannot talk about this novel without mentioning the obnoxious, impossible Mrs Bennet who would do everything to marry her daughters off even if to men as unscrupulous as Mr. Wickham. Mrs Bennet's love to see all her daughters marry saw her doing things that gets under the reader's skin. Such excessive obsequiousness, which at least to her results from the would be loss of her home at the death of Mr. Bennet, was also a character she shared with Mr. Collins, whose worship of Lady Catherine - Darcy's supercilious auntie - almost borders on idolatry. These were the two characters I hated most. According to Mrs Bennet
It is a truth universally acknowledge, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Though Pride and Prejudice is one of the most read and widely loved English Classics, I realised that I had to stretch my imagination a bit to grasp what was happening. However, there were places that came easily to me such as the general need to marry as exhibited by the ladies in the novel including Miss Lucas who married Mr Collins knowing very well that she doesn't love him. In the story also, we see the gradual transformation of roles and perceptions exhibited by Elizabeth and Darcy. Whereas Elizabeth represented the transformation in women from being 'accept-all' to exhibiting choice in her refusal of Mr. Collins and initial refusal of Mr. Darcy, Darcy himself represented the transformation from the 'rich and proud' ideology to 'rich and humble'.

The English Classics is worth reading as one enjoys the flow of words paused by punctuations. Thus, if one follows the pauses properly, one realises that they are fun to read. The book left off with several frayed seams and many authors have taken the advantage of this, writing different variants of this Austen novel.


  1. Nana, you know I have promised to help you out with the books on your lists of 100. Just let me know when you're coming to legon, probably inform me a day or two and I get them to you. Cheers!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this one. I'm not a huge fan of it but I would say it was my favorite Austen I think...

  3. I think you get at something essential about every great book here. They may contain a lot of the foreign or exotic - a far away country, or the distant past - but also have parts that are entirely universal. And then the foreign parts seem less foreign.

  4. @Amy, my first Austen. I also have Persuasion but I would have loved to have Sense and Sensibilities, her earlier novel. The Classics divide readers.

  5. @AR, Exactly. That's what I found in P&P

  6. They really do divide readers Nana :) I own quite a few Austen titles including Sense and Sensibilities that you are more than welcome to if you want them!

  7. It's interesting that you hated Mrs Bennet so much. I thought of her as a product of her time: in the early nineteenth century marriage was really important and for women it was the only way to have success in life. I thought of her as a funny and ridicuolus character rather than an obnoxious one.
    Darcy is certainly gloomy and unable to behave in society, but I think it's rather Elizabeth that thinks he's prejudiced against her because she's poor. At the beginning of the novel, I sided with Elizabeth and I was thinking "Why does everyone I know in real life loves Darcy when he's just so nasty?". Then I changed my mind, ihihih.

  8. @Stefanian, I understand it was the issues of their time. What I felt was obnoxious about Mrs Bennet was not that she wanted to get her daughters married but they way she condescended and made pronunciations in public, in front of the very people she wanted her daughters to marry. Our parents, at least in Ghana, still want their daughters to marry but they would not say it so blatantly in front of the 'would-bes'. And you saw how it hurt Elizabeth so much. She was highly uncomfortable with most of her mother's sayings.

    Initially, I also sided with Elizabeth. I was kind of 'who's this Darcy man. He's too proud and full of himself'. Even when Elizabeth visited Pemberley with her aunts and the woman there was praising Darcy, I was like 'is she afraid of him?' But then we realise that he is a man who is willing to learn and change and doesn't intentionally act to belittle anyone.

    And you saw what Darcy wrote about Mrs. Bennet that led to his objection against Jane? That is my feeling for Mrs. Bennet. It was too blatant.

  9. Hello! First off I must say thanks for coming by my blog today. I hadn't seen your blog before but am following now and very much looking forward to reading more!

    Second, I also think that Mrs. Bennett was obnoxious. I agree that she was a product of her times, but even within those parameters, she's more obnoxious than she needed to be, I think. I felt sorry for her in many ways because with five daughters and women not able to own property, she really *needed* them to get married, but her personality, yes, was a bit crazy.

    I see you read Cry the Beloved Country just a few posts back so I'm off to read that review now!

  10. @Amanda, thanks for visiting. I agree with you on Mrs. Bennet exactly.

  11. I'm envious that you have so many Austens to discover. Oh, and don't miss the films too--esp. the film of Mansfield Park.

  12. @Niranjana, and when it is done I would be like you. I would look out for the movies too. What about the Austen variations and sequels?

  13. I've found the sequels uniformly terrible--there isn't a single line that'd make your "quote" post. Variations exist in many genres--there's detective fiction, erotica (!), YA--again, I haven't found something I'm particularly impressed by.
    But some of the films are excellent. Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, and Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park are two I really like. I didn't like Emma (with Gwyneth Paltrow) at all.

    There have been lots of Indian adaptations--the whole arranging marriages thing is a natural fit. The most famous adaptation "Bride and Prejudice" is very poorly executed IMO. Do you get Indian films in Ghana? In which case I recommend "Kandukondein Kandukondein", an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in modern India. It's Bollywood song-and-dance, but it retains the spirit of the original. Do email me if you need specific info!

  14. @Niranjana... thanks for this info before I blindly took the plunge. I have also thought that it is a cheap way for an author to garner support, though I am not sure if that's the purpose of their write.

    I would check some of the movie adaptations too. And yes we have Indian movies here in Ghana. Some TV stations also show them. Would check this out. And I would email you on anything I really need to know.

  15. I'm a little behind on Jane Austen's adaptations. I've seen only a couple of "P&P" adaptations and they were both good.

  16. I am farthest behind in the books, let alone the movies :).

  17. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on one of my favorite books. Mrs. Bennet is a bit over the top, but Austen always has that one humorous character, an exaggerated character in her novels. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Persuasion, which is my all-time favorite.

  18. Thanks Anna, I look forward to it myself. Yes, I realise that makes it an interesting read. Otherwise it would all have been prim and proper which is not what the world is like.


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