Thursday, January 12, 2012

Classy Classics: Austen Edition

So I know it was only fairly recently that I did a Classics post, but it was time for my semi-annual reread of Pride and Prejudice.  This book is easily one of the best loved pieces of English Literature, and if you haven't read it yet, that right there should be reason enough (of course, it's my favorite, too, which I'm sure will influence your decision properly).  I've long adored this book, and I think I like it better with each reading.

The Book
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.

Pride and Prejudice focuses on the Bennet family, especially Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  The story follows Elizabeth along with her sisters as she navigates the society of the early 1800s in the British upper class.  The novel follows the main characters as they make the transition from girlhood to marriage; an all-important stage in the life of young woman at the time.  Along the way, Elizabeth must navigate the follies and foibles of her family, her acquaintances, and society as a whole.

Why You Should Read this Book
The characters, for one thing, are such that readers quickly become invested in their lives.  Some, like Elizabeth and Jane, you'll love and be eager to see how they grow and become well-married.  Others, like Lydia or Mr. Wickham, you'll be dying to see get their comeuppance. Austen crafts her characters with so much personality, that it's easy to get attached (even to the loathsome ones).  Elizabeth, for example is witty, clever, and good-natured, but Austen keeps her slightly flawed. All her intelligence is not enough to keep an unworthy from taking her in with the appearance of goodness. Nor does she entirely know herself: her encounters with Mr. Darcy over the course of the novel spur her to grow and become better and wiser and vice versa until they are a suitable match for one another.

I also love Austen's more ridiculous characters: Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  There's really not much to say about Mrs. Bennet, since her character is so injudiciously obvious.  But, Mr. Collins and all his obsequiousness is delightfully squirm-worthy and laughable.  Naturally, he and his overly proud, "condescending" patroness, Lady Catherine go hand in hand.  As someone who delights in the ridiculous almost as much as Elizabeth, the novel provides ample opportunities for a laugh.

Austen's prose is also fantastic, as one would expect of a novel so beloved. She writes incredibly well, and it offers modern readers a glimpse of speech and writing patterns from the period.  At the same time, it is remarkably accessible writing that is easily understandable and engaging of interest once you get used to it. This makes it an ideal novel for a wide audience, even those who don't typically find classics readable (take that Charlotte Bronte). Her phrasing is by turns delightful, sweet, and subtly funny. It makes a great introduction to classics for any reader, though perhaps especially for young girls.

The story itself is a light romance.  You have your witty couple as well as your sweet couple, but with plenty of twists, turns and near misses to keep things interesting.  It's no wonder so many modern romances reference Austen's work. One thing I particularly liked about the edition I was reading from was that it was annotated. Granted some of the notes are perfectly useless (I mean, who can't figure out that amiable refers to someone's "friendly disposition" 313), but others clue readers in to little nuances of the period completely unknown to modern readers and that would otherwise be missed. Even for someone who's studied a good bit in both the long 18th century and Victorian literary periods (cough, cough), they're darned useful.

Seriously, why aren't you picking up this book already? (Go! Go now! *cracks whip*)

  • Let's talk movies!  The recent 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Kiera Knightly is quite good.  It's visually stunning, has a great cast, and features excellent scenes and costuming. It's true enough to the story, but the editing is a little rough and makes it hard to follow at times.
  • The 1995 BBC mini-series, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is also amazing and highly recommended. It's incredibly true to the story, features a solid cast (Colin Firth!), and excellent costuming.  It's by far my favorite. (yes, I brought it home from the library again. What?).
  • The 1980 mini-series, also by the BBC, is atrocious.  Its casting is questionable and its script jumps all over the book. It would make an excellent piece to watch with friends and sarcastically comment on throughout, however.
  • There's also tons of other versions, including a 1940 one, which I plan to find soon.


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