Wednesday, January 27, 2010

42. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Year of first publication: 1813
Genre: novel, novel of manners, romantic comedy, realist novel
Country: United Kingdom

In italiano: “Orgoglio e Pregiudizio” di Jane Austen, edito (per esempio) da Garzanti (2009), € 7,50

Plot: Mrs Bennet has five daughters and they are all in need of a husband. Mr Bingley, a wealthy young gentleman, rents an estate near the Bennets, thus presenting the perfect occasion to find a good match for the girls. While Mr Bingley is immediately attracted to Jane, the most beautiful of the Bennets, his good friend Mr Darcy is haughty and cold, particularly towards Elizabeth, the most intelligent and outspoken of the girls. Elizabeth makes the acquaintance of Mr Wickham, an officer in the militia stationed nearby, who has been mistreated by Darcy in the past. She then starts to hate Darcy for what she has been told about him. In the meantime, Jane and Bingley grow closer, despite the opposition of his sisters who consider her socially inferior. Things become more complicated when Mr Bingley inexplicably leaves the estate breaking the hopes of a marriage with Jane and Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth who continues to scorn him.

Some thoughts: After having studied the book at school and having seen two adaptations, but never having ventured after page 50 of the book itself, I finally decided to pluck up the courage and read this novel from the beginning to the end. I was never attracted to Jane Austen’s novels, but maybe it was just a bias against romantic comedies.
I appreciated Austen’s ability to detail the inner life of people, especially young women. The psychology of the characters is astonishing: I loved Elizabeth Bennett and I was fascinated with Mr Darcy. He’s one of those characters, like Rashkolnikov in Crime and Punishment, who despite being unpleasant and unsociable for most of the novel, has an undeniable charm. There is also comic intent in some of the characters, for instance the unbelievably ridiculous Mr Collins or the equally hilarious Mrs Bennett with all her frivolity and obsession for the marriage of her daughters. They’re not round characters, but they add a “comic relief” to an otherwise very serious novel. Some people suggested that Pride and Prejudice is also a feminist novel ante litteram, because Elizabeth Bennett has a strong spirit of independence. Honestly, I think it’s a stretch. What is unusual and remarkable for a novel of that time is Elizabeth’s attitude towards conventions. With this novel, a new kind of hero (and heroine) is born: one that has some faults (pride and prejudice, indeed) as well as many virtues.
In spite of all this, I’m still not a proper “Janeite”, simply because I’m not a big fan of novels of manners, where characters have to respect a social code that, for instance, encourages them to marry for money when they would like to follow their passions and have love marriages, instead. It all feels very distant from my life. In the society I live in, women no longer need to marry to have economic stability and the main aspiration of a man “in possession of a good fortune” is no longer marriage. Nonetheless I understand why in other cultures, where women have considerably less freedom and marriage is still an important value, writers still think of Jane Austen as an important inspiration (remember that I mentioned that Rushdie thanks Austen in the preface of Midnight’s Children?).
Also, western women in no want of a career might feel very attracted to the aspirations of Jane and Elizabeth. I’m not saying that I despised the novel, because I’m very conscious of its literary and historical value. Moreover, I enjoyed it overall. It’s just that, as the English would say, it’s not my cup of tea.

By the way, a book has come out recently: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, a sort of rewriting of the book in horror-style. Anybody wants to comment on that?

About the author: Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an English novelist, still among the most widely read in the country. She was born in rural Hampshire into a family belonging to the lower fringes of English gentry and was educated at home by his father and older brothers. She never married and lived all her uneventful life within the bounds of her immediate family. Her lifelong companion was her sister Cassandra, also unmarried. She began to experiment with writing and between 1795 and 1796 she began to write what would be published in 1811 with the title Sense and Sensibility. The novel was quite successful. In 1813 she published Pride and Prejudice, a revision of a novel previously written with the title First Impressions, and Mansfield Park appeared one year after that. All of her novels were published anonymously but they were very fashionable among opinion-makers, also giving Austen some financial independence. Her last novel, Emma, was published in 1815, only two years before her death in 1817. She has been very influential for many writers who came after her, for example E.M. Forster.


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  2. Interesting remarks. I read the abridged version many years back.
    Never had the courage to read the whole thing. :) I also find the language a little bit taxing at times.

  3. I agree with you about the language. It was the same with Charles Dickens for me. I guess we're not used to 19th-century novels anymore.

    Ugh, abridged versions. I wish I'll never have to read one again. When I was at high school we read Isabel Allende's "The House of the Spirits" and only after many years I discovered that it was only an abridged version! :-(

  4. This book reminds me of my high school times...
    I think it is not my cup of tea either, but I do still enjoy the 19th-century language.

  5. Surprisingly, I find Dickens much easier to read. :) The only reason I stopped reading his novels was they were too sad, except Pickwick Papers. Apart from that, I was blown away by the amazing characterization in Great Expectations or David Copperfield.

  6. I think this might be about as close as I come to ever reading an Austen novel, Stefania, but I enjoyed your review. The novel of manners isn't for me, and every time I see an Austen adaptation on TV or DVD, I always wind up annoyed at the characters (even though Keira Knightley is quite cute, and I would forgive her for annoying me!). Unfortunately for me, Austen is really hard to avoid on the U.S. blog scene, where she seems to be the most popular foreign author ever. How boring...

  7. @Silvia: I used to enjoy 19th-century language as well, especially that of French and Russian writers. Now I think that I've read too many contemporary novels and I find harder to enjoy the pleasures of a conventional novel.

    @Raj: I've just finished reading "David Copperfield". I really liked the first part, when David is a child and experiences all sorts of bad things. The second part, with him growing up and marrying the baby-wife, was less impressive (and the language a bit annoying). I agree that some parts are sad, but David really has a strong characters. I haven't read "The Pickwick Papers", I think it'll be my next Dickens book!

    @Richard: Ahahah, nobody is forcing you to read Austen! I just read it because I felt I had to. I mean, too many people speak of how much they love it and how sweet Mr Darcy is.
    It's weird that Austen is reviewed so much in the US blog scene, "Pride and Prejudice" is soooooo (stiff-upper lipped) English!

  8. thanks for this. may be i would also read it one day

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