Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice *Spoilers*

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.' So begins Jane Austen's novel 'Pride and Prejudice' - a book I had never read. It seems to echo through our culture, probably through the endless television and movie remakes, such that I knew Darcy was a character, but knew nothing more about it. Coming free in the Amazon Kindle bookstore, I picked it up and started reading.

To my surprise, I enjoyed it more than I expected (and perhaps more than I should admit!). Austen's writing style takes a little bit of getting used to, what with the partial dialogue in scenes (where one character might be quoted extensively, but the other's contribution is paraphrased by the narrator), and the language is certainly of the time. Having said that, the pace is good, the characters are portrayed vividly, the story draws you in and keeps the reader intrigued, and the ending is very satisfying.

Just in case you've never read it either, Pride and Prejudice follows the Bennet family as Mrs Bennet fusses and promotes 'The business of her life [which] was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.' The five daughters are caught up in the social scene, each with their unique character and personality, which is well captured. We're also introduced to the head of the household, Mr Bennet, who seems to reside in his study, well away from the cares of courting.

Along the way, we meet many other characters, but the main protagonist is Mr Darcy, who in the first half of the book portrays the 'pride' of the title, although we discover that in her own way Elizabeth Bennet is just as proud (and even more prejudiced). The romance blossoms along the way, with Elizabeth receiving a fair number of marriage proposals, from a variety of men.

While the English upper class social scene of the 1800s is quite alien, it's a fascinating insight into the lives of the 'great and the good' at the time. Perhaps lovers of Downton Abbey may wish to revisit one of the original classics from the period.

For me, it was interesting to hear of Mr Collins, a cousin of the Bennet family, who served as a clergyman under the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and to hear some of his insights on ministry. That is, keep in with the lady of the manor, and do your work:

'The rector of a parish has much to do. In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as a comfortable as possible.'

One of my favourite characters, however, was Mr Bennet. Early on, we're told that 'they found Mr Bennet still up. With a book he was regardless of time.' He has some of the best funny lines, as when Elizabeth comes to discuss Mr Collins' proposal with him: 'An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never seen you again if you do NOT marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you DO.'

It's as if the book is perfectly split between the pride and the prejudice - indeed, my Kindle told me that the first mention of prejudice came at 51%! Misunderstandings are dealt with; prejudices are overturned and pride is replaced by humility as the romance drives towards its conclusion.

All in all, it's a great book, and well deserving of being hailed a classic. I'm glad to have read it, and enjoyed it, and will perhaps have a go at another of Austen's books before too long.

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