We meet again 🙂
If you’re new here, I’m reading Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time ever!
So, today is just a short update about the first chapter, since I read it a while ago and wrote down some notes and haven’t allowed myself to move on in the book until I finish writing them up.
This will sound weird to people familiar with Austen’s writing, but a thing I was surprised by in this book is… how much it’s a 19th century novel? Like, the prose, the style, the pacing. I think it was so surprising – and comforting, in a way – because I’ve seen many Austen adaptations and none of them feel like 19th century stories? Nor should they, of course, they’re modern creations and they feel modern. The way they approach characters and dialogue and pacing, it’s designed to feel fresh and new instead of stale and old.
But I grew up on a lot of 19th century fiction, though much of it not written in English, and those particular tropes and conventions of storytelling feel very comforting and familiar to me. So, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Austen did indeed write in a style I recognize and know how to parse, even though I’ve never read anything of hers.
The slowness, I think, is how I’d describe it? Even though the entire first chapter is basically just a dialogue between Mr and Mrs Bennet, haha, which some would say was a very modern way of opening a book. But Austen’s prose takes its time in a way I recognize and appreciate. I don’t know why, but it literally made me go “oh! This is just a 19th century novel! Great.”
The first line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”, was a lot to take in.
– I know the quote well, and have seen it remixed it thousand times, but I didn’t know it was literally THE OPENING LINE of the book!
– Wait, that line ISN’T ABOUT MISTER DARCY?! WHAT. HOW. WHY. Who is this Bingley and why should I care about him? (I know, I know, he’s Cicero from “Rome”.) How could such an epic, recognizable quote NOT BE ABOUT THE MAIN LOVE INTEREST?! I’m positively despondent.
In general, reading this book feels a little bit like watching Shakespeare as an adult. Uh, no wait, that needs more of an explanation. I read Shakespeare in Russian, growing up (my parents had a beautiful hardcover edition of all the plays and books of his sonnets), and didn’t watch a proper, full-length play in English until I was an adult. The language was suddenly SO WEIRD because it was an endless collection of quotes and references that I’d already heard in various English pop media.
“Pride and Prejudice” feels a bit like that. Like the text is the basis for so many references and quotes, the prose feels like reading the original of so many copies and remixes I’ve been exposed to. I have nothing interesting to say about this, it’s just interesting that this and Shakespeare are my two references points for this.
The only characters we have so far are Mr & Mrs Bennet, and I guess this is a good time to talk about how they’ve always been my least favorite characters in various adaptations, and I wonder if the book will change that.
The filmed adaptations I’ve seen always present Mr Bennet as essentially a Cool Dad who doesn’t care about oppressive social norms like the pressure on women to marry, he just wants to do cool things like read and hang out and he appreciates his daughters for who they are, while their mom is annoying and shrill and just doesn’t get that marriage Isn’t That Important, Okay? You can’t just get married for the sake of getting married, it has to be on the right terms and at the right time and maybe not at all.
Which always annoyed me, because marriage IS hugely important for the financial survival of women in the period and place Austen is writing about, and a mother being obsessed with getting her 5 (!) provincial, not very wealthy to begin with, largely of-marriageable-age daughters settled is really not weird or unusual. It’s basically what a good parent is supposed to do. The fact that their dad is basically Unconcerned makes him a not-very-good dad, and while I wouldn’t expect the daughters themselves to necessarily realize this, I would expect the narrative to acknowledge it.
So, chapter 1 is very short and it’s only a conversation, but I’m glad that so far, at least, it seems to me like the book is painting Mr Bennet to be flawed as much as Mrs Bennet is flawed. Yes, she might be too forward and pushy, but Mr Bennet won’t even get off his arse and go say hi to the wealthy neighbor who just moved in so he could be introduced to his five daughters. He literally only has one job to do as a man – make the introduction, open the gateway for the women to interact with a young bachelor within the bounds of propriety, and he’s still like “uh, idk” and kind of trolls his wife about it.
Maybe this will change later on, but so far I’m pleased the book feels different from the adaptations on this.
Well, I think that’s it for this time. See you when I’ve read more of this thing.