My last post for Advent with Austen. After this, I will be silent about Jane Austen for a little while, I promise. I had lots of fun during Advent, even though I was only able to join in with one joint movie night and only posted regularly during the last week. I hope those of you who participated enjoyed themselves too.
I have posted before about how I fell in love with Jane Austen through Pride and Prejudice. I was obsessively passionate about the story. Rereading it, rewatching the 1995 TV adaptation a million times (ask my sister, she still has nightmares about me wanting to watch it). I read it so often that I now know large parts of the story by heart. I can fill in the blanks in many a sentence. I couldn’t stop rereading it, until the passion of the story dulled a little, knowing it by heart so well that I couldn’t feel the same butterflies in those scenes that used to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. (I know this may sounds ridiculous, but it’s honestly how I felt about the book). My quest to rediscover those feelings are part of the reason why I can never give up on sequels, prequels and rewrites of the works by Austen. It is why I am on an everlasting search for literature that will make me feel the same. Not only passionate about the story, but something that truly lights up your life. I found it in a few books, two of those being Persuasion by Austen (which I may even love better, actually, I think I do) and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Two books that I haven’t indulged in too often, so I can still feel when I read.
Rereading Pride and Prejudice now, three years since I last read it, was different. I had not read it for years on purpose, knowing I could never feel like I did that first time, but hoping that perhaps I could reread it in a fresh but different manner. And I think I succeeded. I vowed to not skip any parts of the story, which I usually do, as I find the Wickham and Mrs. Bennet scenes quite difficult to deal with (especially since I picture Mrs. Bennet as in the 1995 adaptations, so perfectly cast that I cannot look at the scenes that feature her). I loved reading Pride and Prejudice again, and other elements of the story started to jump out at me.
- The economics of the story: I rather enjoyed reading the first 10 chapters in particular, and signalling how often Austen used economic terms when she talked about relationships. The most famous one being, of course, the first sentence of the book. But really, it is hard to read the whole first chapter without noticing it, it is everywhere, in almost every one or two sentences there is something that will alert you to the economic mechanisms at play here.
- The ways in which the story can be read as one condoning class differences, but also as challenging the assumptions of class and social levels. Elizabeth’s speech to lady Catherine De Bourg is particularly inspiring, but there are other examples throughout the book in which the social status quo is assumed, but also slightly challenged.
- Austen’s style is truly superb. After reading Why Jane Austen earlier this year, I couldn’t help but notice some of the strategies talked about in the book: how the author as narrator and Elizabeth’s opinions often subtly intertwine in the story, but also how half of what we know about the several characters is revealed in their speeches. Mrs. Bennet’s sentences often contradict each other, casting her in a role of a somewhat silly mother. And Elizabeth’s prejudice shows directly in her first conversation with Wickham, whom she trusts on his word alone, while she later rejects the opinion of Bingley, his sisters and Mr. Darcy about Wickham, because they’ve all been influenced by Darcy, and so have no objective view of the matter. I wonder if I signalled this because I knew Wickham was no good, having read the story before, and if we all do this because the story is so universally known that it is hard to read it without any prior impressions. Did Austen mean for the reader to suspect, all along, that Elizabeth was predetermined to dislike Darcy and all to eager to believe Wickham? I have a feeling she did. And so again, character traits of Wickham and Eliza, that haven’t been officially revealed, are there, in Austen’s language. I have to say, I was impressed by the quality of the story all over again.
I hope to set aside Pride and Prejudice for at least a few more years now and I cannot wait to discover what I will find next time I get around to it.