1. Pride and Prejudice … minus the zombies

I wish to apologise in advance for my overly formal language, as I have just finished reading Pride and Prejudice. Let me begin by explaining to you the reasoning behind my contempt for novels or movies in which the plot is primarily concerned with romance:

  1. The ending is obvious
  2. Characters are stereotypical
  3. My super secret, feminist self become apparent to me
  4. The oh-so-coincidental plot devices that brought them together (only after keeping them apart)
  5. In fact, the barriers to the couple’s happily-ever-after are contrived to make me as frustrated as possible. I guess the writer attempts to maintain interest or suspense, but it makes me want to throw something – perhaps a wieldy literary criticism textbook – at them (see point 1 of this list). As a rule, romances in historic settings are usually the worst culprit due to the time’s stringent society rules.
  6. Finally, I generally don’t want to associate with those that DO enjoy romance novels/movies. This is most likely due to their questionable intellect.

So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice. And – I admit – I was pleasantly surprised. First published in 1813, though based on an early manuscript written in 1796 by a twenty-year-old Austen, I found the novel very easy to read. I became fully immersed in the (historically accurate, thanks to my annotated version) nineteenth-century upper-class life. The soap-opera melodrama that moved the plot forward was at least unpredictable in its execution rather than presence, and often rather enjoyable. But I found myself increasingly wondering are we there yet?

Jane Austen

Unfortunately, the book is quite aptly titled. The readers are treated to long conversations and introspective thoughts on pride and, yes, prejudice, in regards to pretty much every major plot development. After some research (i.e. reading the introduction), I learnt that Austen wrote during a time when novels had just become established as a literary genre in themselves. This genre’s defining traits included characters and plots limited within the bounds of ordinary life, as well as the not-so-subtle examination of moral issues (because, when I pick up a book to relax, I want to be able to evaluate the morals included, especially with the help of some handy extrapolation).

My second criticism is that, for someone proclaiming to be so obsessed with realism, Austen has managed (although I dare say she didn’t try too hard) to present everyone other than the main characters as two-dimensional. In fact, once acquainted with Elizabeth Bennet’s and Mr Darcy’s multi-faceted humanity – in contrast to the predictableness of every other character  – I could barely bring myself to view the heroine or hero in any light (favourable or otherwise).

This brings me to my final point. If, indeed, this was supposed to be a playful and ironical satire on marriage (as stated by Austen and evidenced by the famous opening line – It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife), then why on earth wasn’t the sardonic narrator utilised throughout the text?

One of my two favourite characters, Mr Bennet, enjoys procuring silent amusement by making veiled sarcastic remarks to not the brightest of people (most notably his frivolous wife) and watching them make an unknowing fool of themselves. Mr Collins, who acts as both the novel’s example of how not to marry and as one of Mr Bennet’s frequent victims, has such little self-efficacy that he obsessively talks about his patron (much to the annoyance of everyone within hearing distance). Both characters had the potential to be excellent satiric tools which were criminally underused. Instead, we have to listen to Elizabeth whining about how she shouldn’t judge so quickly. Yawn.

All the same, the book was far better that I had hoped, and it provided an insightful look into that period of history. Perhaps the story was a caricature as Austen intended it to be, but, lessened by time, I believe the irony is that Pride and Prejudice is perceived as being far too realistic.

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11 responses to “1. Pride and Prejudice … minus the zombies

  1. You certainly persuaded me to read this book. I can’t wait to read about your next book. Your enthusiasm is very contageous. And your observations are very direct. You are not about pleasing people

  2. Pingback: Jane Eyre. An Autobiography of the little novelist that could(n’t) « The Friande

  3. Pingback: 100 books to read before i die « The Friande

  4. I think that reading the Pride n’ Prejudiced with the zombies may add an element to the story you would enjoy! I am catching up on reading your reviews, it would seem that I am enjoying my visits very much!

  5. The institution of marriage was a very serious topic for JA. The fact that she wrote a novel with so many comedy elements was a feat in itself. I was highly amused by your review too – I am an Austen fan but I do see the predictability and flatness of some characters. I simply love the fact that all heroines marry for MONEY. Of course they can accidentaly fall in love with the owners of the aforementioned filthy lucre but it is a minor issue. Ah well, you can’t have everything.

    • I’m obviously no expert on Austen (this is the only book I’ve read of hers), but I find it interesting that Austen was so obsessed with marriage, yet never married. Marrying for money is pretty funny, but makes a lot more sense that Hardy’s characters in Far From the Madding Crowd (who felt like getting married every time they saw a beautiful girl, regardless of interests or, indeed, conversation). I guess Austen’s book provides us with some valuable historic insight…

  6. Jane Austen never married but she almost eloped with a young lawyer. She decided against it in the last possible moment because (yes, you guessed it right) he was poor and she didn’t have a dowry high enough to provide a necessary income. Her older sister, Cassandra, had it even worse – her fiance, needing money to marry, went to the Caribbean with a military expedition as a chaplain. He fell ill and died of yellow fewer. Cassandra never married too.

    • Oh wow I never knew about her sister… This could all have been easily fixed if women were allowed to work back then, instead of being treated as possessions. So glad I didn’t live back then, I doubt I would have been very happy. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have known any different…

  7. Knowing JA personal life history does help while reading her novels. Apart from the fact that she improved her income with them, I suppose they were nothing less than a kind of psychological treatments, a defence against all the injustice she and other women from her family encountered. It is really sad when you realize that indeed women were treated like possessions and their main task was to marry well and produce offspring. I bet I would end up in a workhouse.

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