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Review: "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is available in both free and illustrated editions in our ebook catalog. It is also available in our compilation ebook The Complete Works of Jane Austen.

Pride and PrejudiceNow that there is a considerable amount of material in the Girlebooks ebook catalog, we have been devoting time to text clean-up and conversion of the ebooks to more formats. We are also reading and reviewing ebooks in our catalog that have long been languishing without review. Pride and Prejudice is one of these ebooks.

I believe it's harder to write reviews of books we truly love, and this is the excuse I give for not writing one for Pride and Prejudice until now. I know this review will not encompass all that this book means to me and many others. For those who have read and loved this work, take this as my humble opinion and a challenge for you to write a better review than I have done. For those who haven't read it, I hope this review will at least inspire you to do so.

First published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is the most famous of Jane Austen's novels. Its manuscript was first written between 1796 and 1797. Initially called First Impressions, the manuscript was reworked several years later and published under the title we know today. The basis of the story revolves around the Bennets, a family with five daughters. Because there is no male heir, the daughters will receive almost no inheritance upon the death of their father. At this time in English history, a gentlewoman with a small inheritance was limited to the prospect of marrying well or living in poor spinsterhood--working for wages was not an option for a woman of this class. Thus we enter the Bennet household where the mother is set on marrying her five daughters to any rich man she encounters (queue flashbacks to the works of Fanny Burney), and the father is intent finding humor in a situation that otherwise could bring him only pain.

Through the first half of the novel, I was struck with how much of a lighthearted flirt our heroine Elizabeth is. Perhaps this surprise comes from watching too many movie adaptations that have to get across, in a limited time frame, that she is the most cerebral of the Bennet sisters. But her initial liveliness is a core concept of the book. About halfway through she is humbled, and her eyes are immediately opened to her previous follies:

She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd...."Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly...Till this moment I never knew myself."

You can't get more honest than that. I love it when major characters are humbled--perhaps this is why Marianne of Sense and Sensibility is another one of my favorite Austen characters.

There is duality not only in Elizabeth's character but throughout. Witness the contrast between mother and father, friends (Bingly and Darcy), siblings (Jane and Elizabeth), and lovers (Wickham and Darcy). There is also duality between the understanding of the same character at different points in time, thus the original title First Impressions.

My overall impression after this time around is that I need to stop watching movie adaptations so much and read the actual books more. I believe I've watched the 1995 adaptation so many times that the performances play in my head as I read. This can be good at times--for example, the confrontation scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine De Bourgh couldn't have been enacted better. But there is often room to criticize. While there have been several beautiful and somewhat faithful adaptations of this work, they can never fully represent the three dimensionality of the plot, the characters, their motivations, and their inner struggles that Austen so beautifully constructs.

Note: If you want to hear (what I consider) a perfect reading of the first proposal scene, listen to Dominic West at the Carte Noire site. Thanks to Austenblog for the link.

Discussion

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