Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Young Bluestockings Read Pride and Prejudice!
I think I was probably in college when I read P & P for the first time...I’d tried to read it at age 14, and it was not a success, which is why I always cringe when I hear of its being assigned to high school kids to read. I think it is one of those books best appreciated by slightly older readers, ones more schooled in the history and culture of early 19th century England who have also developed an appreciation for ironical humor...and of course, who can appreciate a good love story. When did you first read it, dear fellow Bluestockings?
I’m not going to go over the plot here...but I would like to share some observations I made on this reading for purposes of discussion...and would love to hear what those of you who read along ran across. One of the joys of Pride and Prejudice for me is that different things seem to come to light every time I re-read it...and so, let’s get started.
1. Let’s hear it for Charlotte Lucas
I’ve always liked Charlotte as a character, and have always applauded her decision to marry Mr. Collins, odious as he is. As she herself says, “I am not romantic you know. I never was.” But what she is is twenty-seven years old and nearly an old maid...which could mean a later life of poverty and being forced to rely on family members for a home and support. As we see later on when Elizabeth visits the Collinses at Hunsford, Charlotte manages her life with her husband quite nicely, and even seems to have him tamed slightly, as when she arranges to introduce Elizabeth and her father and sister to Lady Catherine, rather than allowing him to (with his usual groveling long-windedness). Charlotte has decided that being married to Mr. Collins is fair exchange for a comfortable future.
But what I noticed on this reading was how Jane Austen sets all this up long before Mr. Collins arrives on the scene: in Chapter Six of the first volume, she makes clear her opinions on marriage: “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.” Lizzy laughs and scoffs at Charlotte, of course...just as later she’s appalled that Charlotte accepts Mr. Collins’s offer. But she can’t say she wasn’t warned!
Maybe it’s from having watched Colin Firth so many times, who barely reveals that he possesses a fine set of teeth until almost the last frame of the Pride and Prejudice mini-series...but I was struck by how many times Jane Austen has Mr. Darcy smiling—stating outright “Mr. Darcy smiled” multiple times over the course of the book. I totally did not remember this from previous readings, and it humanized him for me and made him a much more love-worthy hero.
Of course, we all remember how dreadful she is. But one sentence during her apocalyptic visit to Longbourn made me laugh out loud at her sheer awfulness. After she commands Lizzy to come for a walk with her, they prepare to go outside. And, “As they passed through the hall, Lady Catherine opened the doors into the dining-parlour and drawing-room, and pronouncing them, after a short survey, to be decent-looking rooms, walked on.”
Can’t you just completely see that happening—the nosy old lady poking into rooms without so much as a by-your-leave? It’s almost cinematic!
So there are a few things I noticed...now it’s your turn, dear Nineteenteen readers. Any special Pride and Prejudice moments you’d like to discuss? Favorite scenes, characters, or lines? Was this your first read, or your fifteenth?