Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Pride and Prejudice-Jane Austen

It says something about how popular Pride and Prejudice is that I actually had to specify I was looking for the novel version when I typed it in on Google Images. I mean, it has to be some kind of record for the amount of times it's been turned into film, TV-I've even heard about an anime version of it. I can barely imagine how that would pan out, and I've got a pretty wild imagination.

It's also one of those books that pretty much everyone knows and quite a lot of people have a strong opinion about, so I have in no way wandered into dangerous territory by choosing this for my first book review. None at all.

   "Just let me borrow the Invisibility Cloak to hide from the Internet hate and we're cool."

Since this is my first book review, I think it might be wise to point out that it's going to vary how I review books. This basically means that sometimes I'll kind of recap the whole plot and sometimes, I'll just review the key points, and leave the ending spoiler-free. In this case, I'll recap the thing, since pretty much everyone knows how Pride and Prejudice ends, or at least has some idea of it. (If you are one of the minority who doesn't, then well done on your avoidance of the mass media.)

Pride and Prejudice is the story of the five Bennet sisters-specifically, second-oldest and deadpan snarker Elizabeth Bennet. This being the past and feminism not being around, their only option in life is to get married, and hopefully to a rich husband, and their mother's main ambition in life is to get them all married off successfully. They each have their own personality type-Jane, the eldest, is the pretty, kind, sweet one, Elizabeth is the witty, snarky, cleverest one, Mary is the overly-moral book worm, Kitty is-a follower (OK, maybe her personality isn't that distinct) and the youngest, Lydia is flighty, selfish, impulsive and not the sharpest. Thanks for giving me that name.

Anyway, Mrs. Bennet basically spends her days planning their weddings and Mr. Bennet spends his days in his study trying to ignore her. (He apparently married her for her looks, which he now realises wasn't the wisest idea, but this being a different age, he's stuck with her.) One day, Mr. Bingley moves in nearby and Mrs. Bennet basically bursts a blood vessel when she finds out he's single. After sending her husband to talk to him first-I can barely imagine how that conversation went-

Mr. Bennet: So welcome to the neighbourhood.
Mr. Bingley: Why, I thank you, good sir!
Mr. Bennet: Lovely weather we're having.
Mr. Bingley: It certainly is!
Mr. Bennet: My wife wants you to marry one of our daughters.
Mr. Bingley: .........

 "Arranged marriages after two days of acquaintance are the norm around here, my fellow."

Anyway, they end up at  a ball which was the traditional way of meeting people back then. I'm still dying to see a modern day adaptation in which they all go to a nightclub and we get Elizabeth throwing a drink over Darcy's head. I should clearly be writing one, as you can see.

Bingley's a nice enough guy but it's at this ball we meet *cue the sound of a thousand women passing out on the floor* Mr. Darcy, the originator of the dark brooding handsome guy, and the template for thousands of male characters in literature today leaving women panting through the simple act of being a complete jerk. It's easily done.

                    "I and my high collar are to blame for this phenomenon."

Anyway, Bingley and Darcy couldn't be more opposite despite the fact they're good friends. Bingley's a nice guy who talks to everyone, Darcy sits in his emo corner and sulks, Bingley dances all the time and finds everyone charming company, Darcy's that person who constantly reminds you that the world could end and thinks everything's a waste of time. It's like going to a ball with SpongeBob Squarepants and Morrissey.

Anyway, Bingley gives Darcy the equivalent of "Get up and dance with someone, for God's sake, you miserable git" and Darcy continues to look like Squidward in a suit, before Bingley-who's kind of smitten with Jane-points out Elizabeth to him, probably in the hopes of getting two for one offers on their double dates. Darcy then manages to describe her as "tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me" which is kind of the nineteenth-century equivalent of referring to her as the DUFF. Which Elizabeth overhears. Obviously, this doesn't endear Darcy to her though she sadly doesn't give him a slap.

Anyway, Jane and Bingley hit it off and she gets invited over to his HUGE house which impresses her mother no end. Unfortunately, a huge storm hits and she gets sick, and therefore is forced to stay at the house, with Elizabeth going a few days later to check that she's all right, and presumably to check that Bingley hasn't tempted her to bring the family name into disgrace or anything. Elizabeth discovers that Bingley's still sweet, but his sisters have an essence-of-bitch quality to their behaviour and Darcy is the object of Bingley's sister, Caroline's, affections which he pretty obviously does not return. However, he is becoming more intrigued by Elizabeth simply because she is different from the other girls and knows her own mind. And, you know, is more than halfway interesting in a society where women's chief occupation is sewing and walking around the room is considered exercise.

However, when they return home, they get a surprise in the form of their visiting cousin, Mr. Collins, whom I'm pretty sure is one of the original boasters of the term "brown-noser". Unfortunately, they have to be polite to him because he's going to get the house when Mr. Bennet dies and they'll lose everything they own. Unless of course, he marries one of them. (Back then, you could marry your cousin. If you didn't mind your kid having an extra thumb or something.)  And with Jane and Bingley hitting it off, guess who's next in line? Elizabeth, who has about as much interest in Mr. Collins as she does in the nearest doorknob.

But he ain't the only guy hanging around as we also get introduced to Mr. Wickham, a soldier from the battalion that's currently in town and that Kitty and Lydia spend their time hanging around and giving One Direction fangirls a run for their money in the giggling stakes.  Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth get on pretty well-particularly when it's revealed that he grew up with Mr. Darcy and is able to corroborate her already pretty established view that Darcy's a jerk. Mr. Wickham gets out his violin and starts crooning away the sad story of how Darcy's father loved him as a son and left him a load of money for him to be a priest but when he died, Darcy wouldn't let him have it and so Wickham had to become a soldier. Elizabeth is shocked to death by this but is pretty pleased her view of Darcy seems to be correct.

But Mr. Collins is still lurking around and decides to propose to Elizabeth in words positively dripping with affection.

"My reasons for marrying are first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish."

Romeo and Juliet, eat your hearts out.

Elizabeth understandably isn't bowled over by this or any other of his reasons for wanting to marry her and offers him a no. He's the persistent type, however, and like the idiots who keep ringing asking you if you've got time for a survey, can't seem to get the word "No" through his head. And then he says this:

"In spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you."

Tell me you wouldn't be grabbing the ring.

Elizabeth says no AGAIN which sends her mother squawking around and appealing to her father and Mr. Bennet tells her, in one of the best lines, that her mother will never see her again if she doesn't marry her cousin and he will never see her again if she does. Mr. Collins isn't too heartbroken and promptly marries Elizabeth's friend Charlotte instead, who's desperate to avoid becoming an old maid. Because she's twenty seven, you know, practically on her death bed.

Anyway, all isn't rosy for Jane and Bingley as he's cleared off to London for a bit and Jane's sad because she hasn't heard from him while his sister Caroline's still sending letters implying she'll end up married to Mr Darcy and that Bingley will marry Darcy's younger sister. Elizabeth's convinced this is just wishful thinking but Caroline keeps harping on about it like a worryingly obsessive Oh No They Didn't commenter. However, Elizabeth then goes off to stay with Mr. Collins and Charlotte along with Charlotte's father and sister for a few days which shouldn't be awkward at all given that she turned the guy down-though it does confirm her view that he's an idiot. They also get a visit from Mr. Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine, whose picture should really be in the dictionary next to Decaying Snob.

Meanwhile, Jane goes to stay in London for a bit and is pretty hurt when Caroline's cold to her and Bingley never even visits her. Jane's one of those people who if a dog bit her would blame herself for walking in front of the thing, so it takes her ages for her to realise what Elizabeth worked out several eons ago-Caroline's basically the ancestor of Regina George and didn't want Jane with Bingley. This distresses her. However, Elizabeth uncovers something pretty shocking when Mr Darcy's cousin turns up and inadvertently reveals that Darcy apparently convinced Bingley to forget about Jane. Understandably, given how upset her sister is, Elizabeth is furious.

This is pretty bad timing when Mr Darcy chooses to propose to her. It probably wouldn't have gone well anyway, given she currently wants the guy's head on a plate, but then he manages to make the whole thing worse when in the middle of his proposal he also manages to make reference to her family's "inferiority" and it being a "degradation." Seriously, does it never occur to these guys that maybe a proposal isn't the best time to start insulting the girl's family? Jeez, no wonder everyone thinks Darcy's a douche.

Elizabeth turns down a second proposal, which is like spitting in a guy's face in the nineteenth century, but also tells him why and the two erupt into a huge argument, in which Darcy admits that yeah, he split up Jane and Bingley and doesn't feel any remorse for it. Who wants to guess Darcy's the sort of guy who'd tell you quite honestly that your dress made you look obese? Elizabeth hurls the Wickham accusations in his face and Darcy basically goes ballistic and storms out. However, he writes her a letter explaining the truth. Firstly, that he genuinely thought Jane wasn't interested in Bingley or at least, not for more than his money, and second, the whole story of Wickham.

Wickham, it turns out, is a complete liar who Darcy's father loved like his own son and who squandered his inheritance and then had the nerve to demand more from Darcy. When he said no, Wickham seduced Darcy's younger sister Georgiana-who was fifteen, so Wickham's giving off creeper vibes-in the hope of gaining access to her fortune. When Darcy found out, Wickham ran off, leaving Georgiana heartbroken, after promising everything and giving nothing. Today, he'd probably be a good politician.

                "Promises and lies-much the same thing! It's all good!"

Anyway, Elizabeth reads all this and has pretty much the biggest uh-oh moment of all time, and then remembers how she was taken in by Wickham and feels like a complete idiot. Well done there, Lizzy. To be fair to her, she is usually pretty good at not being taken in and Wickham seems to be a consummate liar.

She returns home and gets invited on a trip to Derbyshire with her aunt. There's a pretty hilarious moment where they're out with Kitty and Lydia and Lydia offers to treat them to something and then reveals she'll have to borrow their money to pay for it, and becomes yet another person to sign the Doofus Register. (Which is pretty good foreshadowing.)

But while Elizabeth goes off with her aunt, Lydia gets invited to Brighton with all the officers and is allowed to go. This comes back to bite everyone. Meanwhile, Elizabeth ends up visiting Mr Darcy's house, Pemberley and has that awkward moment of confronting the guy who insulted her family and whose proposal she turned down. Everyone can relate.

However, he's actually really polite and she finds herself softening towards him, especially now that she knows the truth. She meets his sister Georgiana, who's basically a shipper on deck for the pair of them, and things are going well, especially as they start hanging out more.

But then disaster strikes when Elizabeth gets a letter from home, revealing that Lydia has run off with Wickham-Lydia is sixteen. I was half-joking about the creeper vibes earlier but now my skin is really starting to crawl. Oh, and Wickham is also interested in her for the potential of her money. Wickham's the type of guy who'll do anything to make sure he wins, kind of like Luis Suarez on the football pitch, minus the biting. It says something when the biting guy has more principles.

                "Biting someone? That's so twenty first century."

This would be a pretty big deal today, presumably involving the police, but the bigger concern for the Bennets is not for Lydia's safety-it's for the fact she'll have ruined her and the family's good name. As you can see, the nineteenth century was a really good time to be a woman. But everyone's freaked out and their uncle zooms off to search London for her, along with her father. Lydia herself has absolutely no remorse for what she's done and even leaves a note joking about it. I imagine she'll be feeling the effects of her family's annoyance, come Christmas time.

Darcy comforts Elizabeth and has a pretty strong reaction himself, given the obvious memories this brings back and Elizabeth goes home to find her mother hysterical. Oh, and Mr. Collins sends them a condescending letter that contains the comforting line "The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison with this." I was reading this on a plane and I actually choked laughing at this line, which prompted everyone around to stare at me. I tried waving my copy of the book and mouthing "It's funny" but I don't think it had an effect.

But anyway, since they haven't been fortunate enough to have their daughter die, they speculate with increasing horror that "Lydia is so lost to everything but love of him, as to consent to live with him on any other terms than marriage?"

Their main concern isn't for Lydia's safety, here, by the way, it's once again for her reputation and I wish Joan Jett would burst in and sing.

But then again, Lydia's a thoughtless little brat and eventually turns up, engaged to Wickham, which is a huge relief. Her mother's promptly thrilled that she'll be married at sixteen and I'm sure modern readers are passing out cold at this values dissonance. She eventually turns up for a visit with her husband, having ignored everyone's lectures and truly cementing her place as one of the most ungrateful little brats of all time. Wickham quite clearly doesn't love her and has been forced into the marriage and Lydia is convinced he's the human form of God. She could be forgiven, given she's only sixteen, but then she completely brushes off the fact she worried everyone sick and sees absolutely nothing wrong with the whole scenario and you forget the forgiveness and just want to shake her or at least show her a picture of divorce statistics for teenage marriage.
                                "Behold, your future."

Anyway, Lydia also manages to reveal that Darcy was at the wedding and Elizabeth figures out the truth from her aunt-it was Darcy who forced Wickham to marry Lydia at his own expense, despite loathing the man, and so saved their family's reputation. He overcame his own pride because of his love for Elizabeth and Elizabeth has to admit she's been wrong about him, due to her prejudice. And we get the title drop.

Anyway, Bingley and Darcy return and Bingley proposes to Jane, who he now knows does return his feelings. Jane's over the moon and Mrs. Bennet promptly collapses at the thought of two daughters being married. Meanwhile, Elizabeth gets a visit from Decaying Snob, who has the nerve to try and put Elizabeth off accepting Darcy's proposal, should he offer one. The old hag is totally stunned when Elizabeth tells her where to go with that idea and that she wouldn't take her opinion into consideration at all. All this leads up to where the readers probably guessed this was going from the first moment Darcy insulted her-Darcy and Elizabeth apologize, he proposes and she accepts. She and Jane both live happily ever after in their marriages, Kitty and Mary are well influenced by them, Mrs. Bennet can die happy, and Lydia-is sort of happy in her marriage, too, even if that's through being an idiot.

Pride and Prejudice is basically one of the foundations of British literature, and it's a cool book. It's great-particularly for the time-to see a strong willed heroine who doesn't allow others to tell her what to do. The characters are interestingly flawed and even the prominent view of Darcy as the Dark Good-Looking Jerk is misconstrued-Elizabeth only really truly falls in love with Darcy once he starts acting like a decent human being. Plus, you do get an exploration of the whole idea of a woman's entire life being about finding a husband which was pretty progressive for its' time and the whole idea of women's virtues. It was pretty feministic for the age it was written and arguably it's spawned probably one of the highest number of adaptations of any novel. Plus, the writing is hilarious, as in brilliantly tight and witty. It's a good book, if you're prepared to read it closely and not scream at the values dissonance every few pages.

And if you're going to watch the film version-there's a few dozen to choose from. And be warned-don't start an online debate about which is best. You'll be there for hours. Don't even start comparing the Mr. Darcy's.

                                     "Matthew....Macfayden....or....Colin Firth?"



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