Monday, July 12, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

I have now finished two books while still slowly working on The Post-Office Girl. Not that I don't want to read it, but it's a book best savoured. Plus, I keep getting distracted by Jane Austen. First Emma, and now Pride and Prejudice.

I've told the story of my experiences with Pride and Prejudice before. I don't think I've reread it all the way through since, so it's been about four years. Having read all the rest of Jane Austen's major novels in between, I'm due for a reread. Though I always enjoy Jane Austen for many purely emotional reasons, I'm in the habit of taking a somewhat scholarly approach to her books. I like to compare them, and expose some of the assumptions everybody has about Jane Austen that aren't very true.

I'm beginning to wonder if I appreciated the writing more when I first read Mansfield Park and Emma not because I had revised my expectations about Jane Austen, but because the writing in these books is better. There's a split among the six books which I've never heard anyone talk about. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey were all (under different titles), first plotted and written in the 1790s. Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion were written in the 1810s. It's not unreasonable to assume that Jane Austen and her writing matured between these two periods. Without knowing it, I read the earlier books first, and the later books later (well, I read Persuasion before Northanger Abbey, but excepting that). I matured, the books matured, and by the time I read them I could better appreciate what was there--but there was also more there.

I started rereading Pride and Prejudice in order to compare it with Emma, and confirm my belief in Emma as my favourite. I have come to two conclusions--one, that I like Emma best, and two, that it's better written. I think Emma feels more human than Elizabeth. Maybe because we see more of her inner thoughts. Both characters are fallible, but I think Emma's fallibility is more subtly written. Both characters believe what they want to believe and act accordingly, but somehow that part of the story rings truer in Emma.

I've watched both the 2005 film adaptation and the 1995 miniseries many times. Reading the first half of Pride and Prejudice felt like watching the movie, because so much of the dialogue was the same. I felt like there wasn't a lot of narration (or dialogue too lengthy for film) that of necessity got lost in the translation to film. Rereading Emma, on the other hand, never felt like this. That's not to say one or the other is a better story because of this, but I think the better the writing, but more you lose on the way to film.

I wonder what people's theories are about why Pride and Prejudice is the most famous and well-loved Jane Austen novel. I was struck by how unromantic I found Darcy and Elizabeth's story. The way things are often stated--she loves him out of gratitude, they'd be compatible for such and such reason, etc.--are reasonable, but not very romantic. Plus, Darcy's a really good man, but how many people would actually like him?

None of this is to say I don't still love Pride and Prejudice. Maybe it comes back to my previous discussion of expectations--I was hoping and expecting to find Emma my favourite, and so I did. Either way, I do think Jane Austen's writing matured and improved after she wrote Pride and Prejudice, and that shows in Emma.

And now, I promise to quit talking about Jane Austen for a while!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, as St. Augustine said, the surest invitation to love is loving first.

Darcy is, after all, a very good man, even though he is shy and awkward in social settings with those he does not know well already, and has a terrible tendency toward arrogant behavior in the early part of the book. He is a loving brother with an unimaginable amount of responsibility for a man only 28 years old, and has never had any kind of normal social life. He falls hard for Elizabeth because she is witty, clever, and independent -- so unlike the shallow women he has known -- and even after she refuses his ill-considered proposal he continues to love her very much, enough to negotiate with and pay off his worst enemy to save Elizabeth's sister's (and by extension her own and her other sisters') reputation and honor. He's a bit of a stiff, but Austen does tell us that he is tall, dark, and handsome. He's smart, generous, well-educated, and rich, and he loves Elizabeth very deeply. I can't fault her for falling for him.


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