Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

Once upon a time I was 14 or 15 and, apparently, dumb.  Always reading, adolescent Andrea decided that several years ago that one day was the day to tackle Jane Austen.  And where do you start when  you decide to tackle Jane Austen?  With Pride and Prejudice of course.

Well, let me tell you.  Adolescent Andrea was not ready for Pride and Prejudice.  Not even close.  I didn't like it.  I thought the sentences were long and confusing.  I felt like nothing happened in the book and I didn't get whatever was happening between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  

But there was hope for me yet! The first time I read it I left all of these dopey comments in the margin about how "wonderfully romantic" (I know - I'm rolling my eyes too) parts of the book were (I guess I'd thought that I would re-read it some day and think that adolescent Andrea was a wonderfully astute individual - wrong-o).

A couple of weeks ago I had just finished a book and was looking for something else to read.  My paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice caught my eye and I decided to give it another shot.  I am so glad that I did!

My entire opinion of the book was a complete 180.  I discovered that it really is a beautiful love story.  And its funny (who knew, people in the 1800's liked to laugh too)!  The characterization is rich and well-rounded.  The book is a little slower than I usually read, but its not slow in a bad way.  Its a delicate, delicious slowness.  The slowly developing plot allows us to get to know the characters.  Austen wants us to get to know her characters, after all she spends a lot of time developing them and their relationships, making them real and tangible human beings.  

I think everyone knows the basic story of Pride and Prejudice.  Its been adapted to film a bunch of times including one a few years ago starring Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth.  Usually I think Kiera Knightly looks more than a lot like a mummified corpse, but I think she's actually pretty as Miss Bennett.


Personally, my favorite adaptation is You've Got Mail.  Modern, with a little twist.  And Meg Ryan's hair was so cute!

Sure the sentences are still long, but this time they weren't so complicated.  Being an English major will open your eyes to literature of world - good, bad, life changing, and absolutely incredibly boring.  Nothing will make you appreciate a "long" 10-12 line Austen sentence quite like a three page Woolfe sentence.  For real.

For anyone who hasn't taken a college level English class they go something like this: sign up for class that covers a huge amount of literature (19th Century Poetry and Prose for example), read, read, read, talk, talk, talk, professor talks more, gets behind on syllabus, still encouraged to read with syllabus even though you won't be talking about it for another week or so, stuffed gets crammed in/pushed out, novels presented at the end,  so Austen gets rushed through in 2 classes right before the final.  Sounds like fun, right?  Sounds like extra fun when you think that this is going on simultaneously in ALL of your classes, right?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't think Austen had enough of a place in my college syllabus and I don't think I read her with an open mind before.  Maybe I wouldn't have been so vehemently anti-Austen if I hadn't read it in the only English class I ever took that I actually hated.  Maybe I would have liked it if we had had some more time to read it.  Maybe I would have liked it if I actually had some time to actually read the friggin book.  It wasn't fair ( poor Jane, I hope she forgives me)!  

I went into Austen with some pre-conceived notions of how she should be, rather than accepting her at face value.  I never think its a good idea to start reading a book for the first time with a lot of ideas of how it should be.  Its almost always a bad idea.  But I've done it.  A lot.  And, in this case, its kept me away from a wonderful author for a long time.  

So if there is a book on your shelf that you've been avoiding, give it a shot (or another shot) - you might be pleasantly surprised.  And if that book is Pride and Prejudice, I know it won't disappoint!

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