Tuesday, November 17, 2009

23. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

As I mentioned in my Austenland post, I'm not a big Austen fan. No particular reason, but her books were never really on my radar. I set out to read Pride and Prejudice for three reasons: my sister Mollie likes it, I can count it as a classic, and I found a really cool way to do it.

I heard about the website Daily Lit, and wanted to try it out. Daily Lit offers subscriptions to over 1,000 books via e-mail and RSS feeds. You choose a title and subscribe to receive installments of the book -- you control how frequently the installments are sent and can even specify a time of day. Many of the titles are free, and the rest cost somewhere between $5 and $15 per book. I really liked the idea of tackling a classic this way, a little bit at a time, and thought that this would fit nicely into my morning routine of checking blog subscriptions in Google Reader. So I set up a subscription to receive an installment of Pride and Prejudice at 8:30 a.m. on each weekday, eager to get the first of 146 installments.

Cool, right? Yes and no.

Let's start with the positives, shall we? I like reading e-books, in this format or as a whole. I create a Google Doc for each book I read, so I can keep track of ideas for the blog post. When I'm reading on a computer, I can easily go back and forth between the book and my document. While reading Pride and Prejudice, I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters and how they were related to each other. So I also kept up a tab for the novel's Wikipedia page. Check out this cool map of character relationships:

Onto the negatives...

The idea behind Daily Lit is pretty cool but I found it a bit lacking in execution. You're supposed to have the option of receiving another installment immediately, which is great if you have the time and inclination -- which I did. I don't think there was even one weekday in which I read only one installment. But with Google Reader, I was only able to get another installment once an hour. I had to go to the Daily Lit site, where you can view the last two installments that you received. From there, you can click "next" to continue reading. But! If you do this, Daily Lit doesn't save your place. It will send you the next installment from the last one you read in Google Reader. So then you have to go back to the Daily Lit site and click "next" however many times until you get to the installment that you wanted to read. Frustrating!

So I probably won't sign up for another book from Daily Lit, unless I see something on their site that looks good and is free. I can always try subscribing via e-mail. Maybe it's easier.

Onto Pride and Prejudice! In case you're not familiar with it, this is the story of the Bennet family -- Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia and Kitty. Mrs. Bennet is obsessed with marrying off each of her five daughters. The Bennet estate is entailed and will be inherited by a male cousin upon Mr. Bennet's passing. So Mrs. Bennet feels an urgent responsibility to see that her daughters will be taken care of. The story takes place over about a year in their life, with many romantic ups and downs to keep track of. Jane hopes to become engaged to a new neighbor, Mr. Bingley, but a misunderstanding drives them apart. Elizabeth is offended by Mr. Bingley's friend Mr. Darcy, whose prideful nature makes him unpopular, and readily believes a new acquaintance's tales of mistreatment at Darcy's hands. Mary tends to stay out of the fray, while Lydia and Kitty flounce around like the silly teenagers that they are. Mrs. Bennet also comes across as a bit silly, always going on about her nerves, and Mr. Bennet clearly considers these various goings on as a waste of time.

I could go on, but a complete plot summary would be a post in and of itself. If you haven't yet, go read it for yourself!

I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice more than I expected to. It was surprisingly readable for a book published almost 200 years ago. But I found that you have to pay strict attention, or you will miss something. As I said above, I did have a hard time keeping track of the characters and their relationships to each other. It was a bit of a tangled web.

Austen did a great job of portraying characters with pride and prejudices that interfere with their -- and others' -- happiness. Mr. Collins, the Bennets' cousin and heir to their estate, was so insufferable! As was his patron, Lady Catherine. The importance that they place on Lady Catherine's wealth and beautiful estate seemingly excuses her bad manners. The sheer nerve of that woman! Money does not equal class and good for Austen, portraying her message so tongue-in-cheekily. Lydia's behavior on visiting her family after her elopement made me angry, too. How was she not humiliated? Seriously! Her actions were incredibly irresponsible and could have ruined her family's reputation, making it impossible for her four sisters to marry well. And she comes in, lording it over everyone that she was the first to marry. I feel kind of mad again, just writing about it!

I was bothered by the fact that people considered the Bennet family embarrassing. Lydia and Kitty are a little immature, Mrs. Bennet is kind of a flake, and Mr. Bennet doesn't care enough of the rules of society to "correct" their behavior. How is that social suicide? Or at least, social suicide to that magnitude?

At its core, this is a really wonderful love story. Girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl realizes that she was wrong, girl loves boy. Well, that actually made it sound kind of stupid, didn't it? But I really loved it. Elizabeth and Darcy aren't exactly easy characters, they make it so hard for themselves to find love and happiness. The fact that they learn from their mistakes and make each other better people is so relatable. I'm always pleasantly surprised when I can relate to characters from another era; it's interesting to see how universal matters of the heart are.


The Book Pimp said...

I love, love, love this book! Whenever I am home sick, I watch the 5 hour BBC version of Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. And, if I am having a bad day at work, I pop in the audio book. I am really glad that you liked it!

Magnolia said...

I HAVE to see that miniseries -- I pictured Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy the whole time I was reading it! :)

I was really happy that I liked it. I always feel like I'm not going to like the classics, but this one was such a pleasant surprise.