It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a book blogger in possession of a good book, must be in want of a review.
For once I’m actually writing a review mere hours after finishing a novel. Usually I get so caught up in reading the next book on my shelf that I don’t get around to writing a review until a week or two later. I just have so many thoughts and feelings about this novel right now that it would be a waste to bottle them up out of, for a lack of a better word, laziness.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of those classic novels that I read years ago (and by years ago, I mean in 2011) without any real context or historical background. I dived into it head first and was consequently disappointed with how little meaning I was able to take away from it. Holly of 2011 viewed P&P as an insipid novel brimming with shallow characters, pretentious writing, and a lethargic plot that would surely lose to a sloth in a road race. I didn’t see what was so alluring about any of the male love interests, and Mr. Darcy appealed to me the least. My biggest complaint, however, was the plethora of characters with similar names, and perhaps even the abundance of characters in general. All the Bennet sisters were referred to as “Miss Bennet” at one point or another, and between the numerous different couples and families and extended families and manors I could barely keep them all straight in my mind. Looking back, it’s beyond me how a lover of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as I certainly was at that age and still am today, could have been so perturbed by the extensive cast of characters in P&P. But, I digress– the point is that my first experience reading this novel was not an overwhelmingly positive one.
Years have passed– nearly half a decade, if you can believe it– and it is only recently that I decided to pick up what is arguably Austen’s most famous and beloved novel to give it the second chance so many have convinced me it deserves. After reading the majority of it in only two days, I can assure you that my opinion of P&P has changed almost as much as Lizzy’s feelings towards Mr. Darcy. In other words, I now love this book.
As per usual, I could ramble on about all of the tiny details of this story that I adore, but I think that discussing the novel in its entirety would be more valuable. What surprised me most about reading P&P for the second time was how incredibly clever, witty, and smart Austen was in crafting this story. Often times people write off Austen’s works as being the mere beginnings of the “chick lit” genre, claiming that P&P is nothing more than a gaggle of girls pining away over men far above their social statuses. I’m not arguing that this interpretation of the novel doesn’t legitimately exist, because I believe that it can surely be read in such a superficial manner. If you one doesn’t look below the surface of the story, than perhaps the reader would walk away with a trivial impression.
Having read the novel a second time, I yearn to travel back in time and knock some sense into Holly of 2011. While P&P may seem superficial at a very surface level, I would argue that the irony and greater meaning behind the story is borders the line between clearly evident and overwhelmingly obvious. How did I not see it the first time around? Many of my initial observations from my first reading were correct: many of the characters are shallow and insipid, several of the male love interests are problematic, and the relationships between the characters are absurdly tangled at times. But I believe that this is the point of the novel. The way that trivial things like balls and neighborhood gossip are immensely significant to the characters is a commentary on society itself. As J.B. Priestley once put it:
“So Jane Austen, who knew exactly what she was doing, deliberately left out of her picture nine tenths of her life– war and politics and ruin and starvation– and made all her characters reasonably cozy and comfortable, in a tiny world in which a canceled dinner party or a shower of rain is an important event, so that we could attend to and enjoy her delicate and subtle comedy. It is, I repeat, all quite deliberate.”
I think that is precisely what many readers fail to understand when reading P&P: there is a deliberate purpose behind the apparent triviality of this story. In a way, a large number of us view the world through the eyes of nutty Mrs. Bennet every day; instead of looking at the bigger picture, we often get caught up in the tiny, ultimately frivolous details of our own lives. There are people around the world who are starving, severely ill, and the victims of horrific crimes, yet on a daily basis the most that many of us choose to worry about is whether we’re going to have a sandwich or salad for lunch. Perhaps this love story is really a commentary on society as a whole, a critique meant to make us realize how our lives may look from an outside perspective. Of course, there are countless other fascinating interpretations of P&P, but for the sake of this review I’ll leave it at just that one.
I was also surprised by how much more I supported Lizzy and Mr. Darcy’s relationship in this second reading than in the first. Most of it probably has to do with the fact that I’ve had more experiences regarding relationships in general since 2011. In the past I couldn’t believe that Lizzy could ever forgive Mr. Darcy for how rudely he behaved when they first met, but now I feel as though I can empathize with him more. Besides, the first time I read this I somehow managed to completely miss that Mr. Darcy’s first name is Fitzwilliam. If that doesn’t make you want to root for him at least a little bit, than I honestly don’t know what will.
I have so much more I can say about P&P, but perhaps they call for a second part to this review in the future. For now, suffice it to say that Pride and Prejudice has transformed me into an enthusiastic supporter of Jane Austen. I look forward to reading more of her novels in the very near future!
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!
What are your thoughts on Pride and Prejudice? What other books by Jane Austen would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!