Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Classics Challenge: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1897.

Earlier this month, I went down to Virginia to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. While there, I came down with a cold. When you come down with a cold, there is no better cure than lying in bed at my parents' house and reading Pride and Prejudice, which, of course, was easy enough to find on their shelves. Unlike Pride and Prejudice's poor Jane Bennet, who, during her first visit with the Bingleys, comes down with a nasty cold that hangs on for days, I was over mine in no time. Happily, while feeding my cold, I was also fulfilling one of my assigned readings for November's Autumn's Classics Challenge.

Below are the challenge prompts and my answers to them. I've finished the book, so will work my way through all 3 levels of prompts.

Level 1 What phrases has the author used to introduce this character? What are your first impressions of them? Find a portrait or photograph that closely embodies how you imagine them.

Austen lets us know from the beginning that all the Bennet daughters are beautiful when she tells us,
"[Mr. Bingley] entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard much." (p. 7). We then hear what Mr. Bingley thinks, specifically, of Elizabeth, when he tells Darcy, "'...there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable.'" (p. 10). We learn a little more about Elizabeth when she and her sister Jane are talking, and she tells us how she differs from Jane, "'Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never.'" (p. 12), which points to a sort of confidence Elizabeth has, probably because, as we are later told, she is her father's favorite child. Early on in the book, Elizabeth comes across as discerning and serious, but she has a wry sense of humor that's charming, and she is not above giving into her heart, which she does when she worries about Jane falling ill with that cold and goes off to care for her sister. My first impressions are of someone I'd like to befriend.

I've always imagined Elizabeth Bennet as a woman in a Renoir painting. According to Austen's description of her, her eyes are her best feature. This woman in "At the Concert" (above) has large, beautiful eyes, doesn't she? And she's got an intelligent look about her, seeming to be lost in thought and not at all interested in that bouquet of flowers and program that seem to be holding the other girl's interest. Elizabeth is wise and intelligent, not the sort to be much impressed by bouquets.

Level 2 How has the character changed? Has your opinion of them altered? Are there aspects of their character you aspire to? or hope never to be? What are their strengths and faults? Do you find them believable? If not, how could they have been molded so? Would you want to meet them?

Although still quite judgmental, Elizabeth softens a little as the book goes on. My opinion of her never alters much. I'd still like to be her friend. When it comes to aspirations, I wish I were as good as she is at witty repartee. She always seems to know just what to say. What I hope never to be is someone who has to depend on a man in order to live (but that's not really her fault. She can't help the era into which she was born). She becomes very human to this reader when she suffers being embarrassed by her family in front of Darcy, a scene which always makes me laugh. Her weaknesses are her tendency to jump to conclusions and to be a bit of a know-it-all. Her strengths are her ability to admit when she's wrong and to handle hurt with humor. I find her to be very believable for a 21st-century character, but maybe a bit unbelievable for a woman of her time. That may just be because I have my own biases (or should we call them prejudices?) when it comes to the 18th and 19th centuries and women. Since I would like to befriend her, and I can't do so without meeting her, I absolutely want to meet her.

Level 3 Try writing a short (four sentences +) note or letter as the character, addressed to you, another character, the author, anyone.

Dear Emily,

I hear that it is your desire to meet me, and that you will be visiting our mutual friend Mrs. ---- in August. Please join us for dinner at Pemberly on August 12th. Mrs. ---- has indicated that a walk around the gardens, weather permitting, would make our first meeting most agreeable to you. This shall be arranged.

With kindest regards,
Elizabeth

And when I get there, I will focus on becoming her friend and will not spend all my time gawking at Darcy, trying to figure out if he really is too good to be true.

P.S. Stay tuned. I will be writing up full reviews of both 1984 (the first book I read for this challenge) and Pride and Prejudice over at my library book review blog.

7 comments:

Stefanie said...

Happy birthday to your mom! Sorry you got a cold but glad you had such a good cure and are all better now :)

Lilian Nattel said...

Darcy has his warts--he's a bit stuck up and all. So quite human and all that. Admire him away!

litlove said...

Last year I reread Sense and Sensibility, and this year I think it will be Mansfield Park. I have the most intact memories of Pride and Prejudice and so I'm leaving that for a little while. It is a delightful novel,though, and definitely a great cure for a cold!

Susan said...

Lovely way to beat back a cold! I'm due to read some Jane this year, I didn't read any last year for the first time in a while.

I love how you say that you would try to not gawk at Mr Darcy - he really is a likable man underneath his stuffy shirt, isn't he?

I really enjoyed you saying that you thought Elizabeth was too forthright for her time - that's why I've always thought that there was some of Jane Austen in Elizabeth, because Jane was a Sag and they can't keep their mouths shut for anything - so all those thoughts Jane had swirling around about people, she put down in her books. I think Lizzie is one of the best female characters around for the same reasons you do, and because of her honesty. She won't tell a lie, and when she is lied to, she reacts very firmly, doesn't she? I admire her for that - she has spirit and backbone. I wonder if Jane often felt constrained too?

I often think about all the ways the various characters are proud and prejudiced - it's not just LIzzie and Darcy who are, of course, I've realized over the years. All the characters are, one way or another.

Delightful post, Emily! I love it!

ZoesMom said...

Can I come with you to Pemberly?

Debbie said...

I've not read the book, but have seen lots of t.v adaptations, and it's a great story. I must read Jane Austin.

Emily Barton said...

Stef, yes, I highly recommend this cure next time you come down with a cold.

Lilian, yes, and maybe I'll see even more human sides to him when I visit Pemberly.

Litlove, an Austen a year for life. That sounds like a good plan, huh? I read Emma last year. Maybe I'll do Sense and Sensibility next.

Susan, I, too, think that Jane wrote an awful lot of herself into her novels. So difficult to be a witty, intelligent, opinionated woman in those days (even worse than it sometimes still is today).

ZM, absolutely you can come with me!

Debbie, oh, lucky you never to have read Jane Austen and to have her yet to discover for the first time! I'm green with envy.