Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm writing this review on Jane Austen's 237th birthday. I didn't do that on purpose, but, since I am, happy birthday, Jane, you writer of entertaining books, you!

I first read Pride and Prejudice years ago, as part of an experiment to see if classics are worth reading for fun, outside an academic setting. More recently, I decided to reread it both because of my Austen in August experience, and because I'd been reading some commentary on Pride and Prejudice I didn't agree with. I kept reading that Austen was a precursor to modern rom-coms, and that she advocated for a guy to try harder to win a woman who didn't like him. I knew that wasn't the case, but I didn't know if I was misremembering, or if it was my interpretation that made me read it differently. I've addressed that question here.

The book does follow the story of a woman who doesn't like a man, those being Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. He's originally standoffish, and she overhears him making an insulting comment about her. He falls for her, at first because he thinks she has pretty eyes, and then because she's lively and a good sister and rather straightforward, for her time. She, meanwhile, hears all kinds of ugly things that reinforce her notions of him, and ignores anything that contradicts them. And then his proposal makes it sound like he's doing her a huge favor by stooping to liking her, and she reacts just as a straightforward woman would, by letting him know exactly what she thinks of him. In the end, she finds out the truth, and he makes a greater effort to come across as less of a snob, and all ends happily ever after for them.

What's interesting about this book is that it isn't just a love story for Lizzy and Darcy. It's also a cautionary tale about making the wrong choice. It's never said how Mr. and Mrs. Bennet found one another, but their temperaments and opinions are so often at odds that it's a wonder they're not at each other's throats. Lizzy's friend Charlotte Lucas consents to marry Mr. Collins, and her only saving grace is how often he's outside in the garden, leaving her alone. Lydia Bennet's impulsive decision about who she wants to be with nearly ruins her whole family, and, while she doesn't entirely seem to grasp the gravity of her situation, she hardly has Lizzy's happy ending.

Because I'd already read a paper version of the book, I thought I'd read it on audio, for a change of pace. I'm glad I did. The audio really brings out the satire and humor of the book. The reader never went out of her way to inject sarcasm or irony into what she was reading, but it was clear, listening to the words, where it was intended.

This is a classic that I think has aged incredibly well. I'm still looking for the modern book that handles love half as well as this.

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