Oh, how I love Pride and Prejudice! This is my second time reading it and I am enjoying the romp considerably. (See, I’m even beginning to speak “Austenese!”) A friend recently invited me to join her Jane Austen book club and our goal is to read all six of the Jane Austen novels this year and to then have a Girls’ Night Out every other month to watch the accompanying movie for each.
So I am gearing up for our April viewing of Pride and Prejudice. Hopefully, we will watch my favorite 6-hour version (with Colin Firth) and not my least favorite version (with Keira Knightly.)
The thing I love best about Pride and Prejudice is all the subtle nuances inherent in the dialogue. I don’t know how she does it, but Austen skillfully moves the plot forward through the playful banter and expressions of sarcasm, wit, and disdain between the characters.
A great example of this is in chapter 8 when Elizabeth Bennet is staying at Netherfield to care for her sister, Jane, who is ill. While Jane rests, Elizabeth retires to the drawing room where several of the occupants of Netherfield are engaged in a game of cards. Mr. Darcy, who secretly admires Elizabeth, is also present in the room. Elizabeth prefers to read in this situation rather than join the group playing cards and is considered “singular” for her decision.
A discussion then ensues mainly between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth about what constitutes a truly “accomplished” woman. Elizabeth says, “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages…and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions…” Mr. Darcy adds, “All this she must possess…and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
Instead of seeing how Mr. Darcy is trying to flatter her, Elizabeth takes offense and thinks he is suggesting there is no woman good enough for him. The conversation ends abruptly, and she leaves the room further convinced he is the most disagreeable man she ever met. Too bad she missed his thinly-veiled admiration of her brainyness!
Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era. Many of the things Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy mention–music, singing, drawing, dancing, languages, and improvement of the mind by extensive reading–are things that come naturally to me. They are pursuits that most 21st century women would certainly consider “singular,” but which I take great pleasure in. I’ll take a great book with complex characters over any other entertainment for I agree with Elizabeth that “intricate characters are the most amusing” and that “there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”