Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Pride and Prejudice

You may have noticed me mention Jane Austen quite frequently and, sometimes, in a somewhat mocking tone. Any of my close friends could probably tell you that I have said many things against Miss Austen's stories that would appall those of you who have realized my very romantic heart. How could someone who writes romance not admire the work of Jane Austen, you may be asking. To put it simply, my pride and prejudices stood in my way. I stubbornly crossed my arms and discarded her as an author to admire. But now, upon reading the very book that has captured the hearts of countless hopeless romantics, I have grown to understand and feel a need to explain myself for my blind-sightedness.

First, my prejudices. Once upon a time (meaning a mere week ago) I didn't understand why anyone would want to read a books older than there great-great grandparents. Okay, admittedly, I have read and enjoyed several classics but I still was more interested in reading books by authors who were still above ground. I judged Pride and Prejudice to be just another old, boring book with more description then dialogue. And I was quite surprised when I first began to read it that I was quite wrong. While the book does have many big, long paragraphs, a lot of them are, indeed, dialogue. And even the parts that weren't, it wasn't just big long descriptions of the tapestry hanging on the wall or the tock of a ticking clock. (You know what I'm talking about; we've all encountered books like that.) But in Pride and Prejudice, if it wasn't dialogue, it was mostly narration of the story. There was never something unnecessarily described in minute detail as I supposed.

I also must admit that I judged Jane Austen's books, until very recently, on the 1995 and 2005 Pride and Prejudice movies and an older version of Sense and Sensibility. I felt that the two stories were incredibly similar. There were two daughters (Jane/Elizabeth, Elinor/Marianne) whose families were not so well  off and they had crazy younger sisters (Though, I must say Margret Dashwood was a lot more tolerable then Kitty and Lydia). Both eldest daughters, who were the sweeter of the sisters, fell in love with the most kind-hearted men at the beginning of the story and then they were torn apart from them. And might I say Miss Bingley and Miss Steele used several of the same devices to separate the couples. Then there are Miss Elizabeth's and Marianne's similarities. They were both more active and fun-loving then their older sisters and they both fell for men who were nearly their opposites in personality--Mr. Darcy and Colonel Brandon being quite sober and sedate most of the time. Not to mention, both Elizabeth and Marianne at one time or another fancied men with most disagreeable pasts--Mr. Wickham and Willoughby.

Since then, however, I have watched a better version of Sense and Sensibility (1995) and enjoyed it more. I have also seen the 1996 version of Emma and found it so different from the other two stories that I couldn't help but pause it after a half an hour and exclaim to my mother that this, surely, could not have been written by the same Jane Austen as the other two. I mean, Emma didn't even have an older sister!--well, she did but the sister was married before the story started so that drama was not there. I was wrong when I said, many times, that Jane Austen only knew how to write one story and just replaced names and called it by a new title. And I feel bad for making such an unfounded accusation.

Now, to confess my pride.

A part of it goes with what I said before--I found myself above the need to read books so old when so many new books are published every day. But that is really only a part of it.

Those closest to me will know that, as a child, I struggled with reading. I even hated the hobby I now dearly love just because I was not good at it. I didn't want to read because I felt as if the words were mocking me as a stumbled over them. Even though I forced myself to learn and now love spending all my free time with a good book I still, to this day, am a much slower reader then I wish I was. Because of this, I have shrunk away from books I thought I still might make a fool of myself if I attempted to read them. I've steered clear of anything that may have words or phrases I don't understand for fear of reminding myself of a time when the simplest words tripped me up. And, as almost anyone knows, classics are full of odd words we no longer use.

But, because of my recent curiosity with the Regency time period, I became determined to stare Pride and Prejudice down and say "I know I have said cruel things about you, but I earnestly wish to read your story. Just, please, don't let me struggle on every other word."

And I didn't. Yes, there was the occasional word or phrase I was unfamiliar with but with the help of a dictionary I made it through without too many jabs at my prideful heart. And as Mr. Darcy learned to discard his pride and Elizabeth realized she's judged wrongly, I came to the same conclusions. Pride and Prejudice is a beautiful story and the book captured details and feelings that the movies never gave me. I laughed more then I ever thought I would whilst reading a classic. (Thank you, Mr. Bennett!) I even got teary eyed several times. An above all, it reminded my oddly cynical, yet romantic heart that one should never give up on love. I only hope one day that I will be able to repeat Elizabeth's sediments: "I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with  such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh."

That being said--though, I have come to understand Mr. Darcy in a new light--I still think I would prefer a Mr. Bingley, myself.

-Amy

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