Why should I read Pride and Predjudice?

Boaz

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First of all, I am not attempting to troll fans of Jane austen's classic. There are books that I cherish for characters, plot, and language and I would not see them disparaged.

My twenty year old nephew is reading Pride and Predjudice and I decided to join him. I try to constantly be aware of ways to interact with my nieces and nephews rather than lecture them, tell them to get off of my lawn, or share my glory days with them.

After thirteen chapters, I am not intrigued. I have failed to engage with P&P's characters and plot.

I believe that I fully grasp that P&P may not be only a romance as I thought. The opening passage sets the tone that the exploration of societal expectations and behavior are more of the focus than mere romance. Of the five Bennett sisters, I assume Elizabeth will remain at the heart of the story while the girls are compared and contrasted. Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing seem apt early comparisons to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. I assume that Lydia and Catherine's inexperience and impatience are dangerous qualities for marriage, whild Mary's reluctance to engage in real life and Jane's optimism without realism can led to unhappiness. It seems that Elizabeth's engaged intellect, real morality, and genuine humility will win out over Miss Bingley's pretensions and decieptful amiability. The bottom line is authenticity over self delusion.

Yet the thought of continuing does not excite me. The language is archaic... and feels stilted to me. It's been forty years since I've read Industrial Revolution era literature. Being forced to read a book for school always added a proper incentive to me finishing a book... but I don't have that in this situation.

Also, I find the social norms disorienting. The enforced formality of titles and surnames helps to ensure observance of laws by reminding people of social status. And yet after thirteen chapters, I do not know the first names of Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Darcy, Miss Bingley, Mr. Hurst nor Mrs. Hurst. I know that Miss Bennett, Elizabeth, Eliza and Lizzy all refer to the same person... and the forced distance and the forced familiarity make the narrative style seem heavy handed.

I think the story will play out that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth will prove to forge a relationship that can endure slander, assumptions, misinformation, sickness, and geographic distance, that Mr. Bingley's and Jane's relationship will suffer from those just listed circumstances, and that Catherine (and/or Lydia) will have a disastrous romance with an army officer. All that coupled with Mr. Darcy's pride without vanity, Elizabeth's common sense, and my failure to sympathize with any character, makes me believe that I already have all that I need from P&P.

The only reason to continue is so I may fully speak with my nephew about P&P. Should I just chalk it up to improper motivation or lack of appreciation for the setting and language? Please feel free to share any reason that I should keep going.
 

Boaz

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@Christine Wheelwright He is not. His major is western civ in order to teach high school history. It may be part of a plan to be able to speak with a certain female english literature student, but he does not always confide these things to me.
 

hitmouse

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I think this is a great novel, but I completely understand why it leaves some people cold, for the reasons you clearly and reasonably give.

Two points.
It is not simply a romance. Rather, this is a comedy of manners, and it is social satire, quite daring for its time.

The mid 90s BBC adaptation is the way to go if you are getting bogged down in the book. The characters are clearly drawn and make sense. In particular it captures EBs sparkling, acid wit.
 

HareBrain

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The mid 90s BBC adaptation is the way to go if you are getting bogged down in the book. The characters are clearly drawn and make sense. In particular it captures EBs sparkling, acid wit.
Yes, I watched it recently and loved it.
 

HareBrain

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Yes, I really liked him too, though I couldn't quite see how he'd ended up married to Alison Steadman's version of his wife.
 

The Judge

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If the only reason you started is to be able to join in with your nephew's activities, then you've surely done enough if you've got to 13 chapters and still not enjoying it -- after all, you can still discuss it with him to some extent, and he might enjoy telling you exactly why you were wrong in giving up so early!

However, although you're spot on with some of your comments regarding societal expectations especially with regard to marriage, it might help if you think about the reverse -- what is going to happen to these five young women when their father dies? His property is going to a male cousin, they have no appreciable wealth of their own, and no opportunity for getting it -- there are, of course, no comfortable jobs for them to take up. Their options are to marry, be dependent on charity from friends/members of their family (as Jane Austen herself was), take positions as governesses or companions (no easy life), or live in very straitened circumstances -- the genteel povery we see in other of her novels. Perhaps thinking of the then societal norms might help you to get more out of the story and understand why the topic of marriage is so very important here.

Of the five Bennett sisters, I assume Elizabeth will remain at the heart of the story while the girls are compared and contrasted. Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing seem apt early comparisons to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.
I can see why you might think that, since Lizzy is a Beatrice, but Darcy is most certainly not a Benedick -- he's proud, reserved and humourless, and when at the end Lizzy doesn't make a joke because he hasn't yet learned to laugh at himself, you wonder whether he ever will, or whether she will increasingly self-censor her wit, so she dwindles into a wife. And in Much Ado, B&B have to learn to allow themselves to love, and not to try and protect themselves using wit like a porcupine's quills. In P&P Lizzy has to learn that she is prejudiced -- initially favouring a seemingly open, pleasant witty man because he is gallant and attentive and laughs at her witticisms, bostering her amour-propre -- and Darcy has to learn that his pride is a fault not a virtue.

I assume that Lydia and Catherine's inexperience and impatience are dangerous qualities for marriage, whild Mary's reluctance to engage in real life and Jane's optimism without realism can led to unhappiness. It seems that Elizabeth's engaged intellect, real morality, and genuine humility will win out over Miss Bingley's pretensions and decieptful amiability. The bottom line is authenticity over self delusion.
Excellent analysis, though I'd slightly change it to authenticity over artifice, which is where Miss Bingley and others come in.

Yet the thought of continuing does not excite me. The language is archaic...

Also, I find the social norms disorienting. The enforced formality of titles and surnames helps to ensure observance of laws by reminding people of social status. And yet after thirteen chapters, I do not know the first names of Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Darcy, Miss Bingley, Mr. Hurst nor Mrs. Hurst. I know that Miss Bennett, Elizabeth, Eliza and Lizzy all refer to the same person... and the forced distance and the forced familiarity make the narrative style seem heavy handed.
I found these comments interesting, as to me the writing is so clear, I've never had a problem with the language, and the same for the social norms and forms of address. There's nothing heavy-handed about it, since this is how they thought and spoke at the time -- to them it was right and proper that the eldest unmarried daughter was Miss [surname] but the younger ones would be Miss [Christian name + surname].

But why do you feel it's important to know their first names? Why should knowing early on that it's Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst make any difference to the reading?! It isn't forced distance, and certainly not forced familiarity -- surely even nowadays we have different names if not persona with different people, so a teacher might be Mrs Smith to her pupils, Francesca to her work colleagues, Frankie to her friends, and perhaps another name entirely to family.

I think the story will play out that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth will prove to forge a relationship that can endure slander, assumptions, misinformation, sickness, and geographic distance, that Mr. Bingley's and Jane's relationship will suffer from those just listed circumstances, and that Catherine (and/or Lydia) will have a disastrous romance with an army officer. All that coupled with Mr. Darcy's pride without vanity, Elizabeth's common sense, and my failure to sympathize with any character, makes me believe that I already have all that I need from P&P.
Well, you've got some of the plot, but what you don't know is what makes Lizzy so interesting and important -- she defies social expectations not once but twice -- no, make that three times since she also refuses to acknowledge that someone with a title should have influence over her. Darcy does the same. So does Lydia, but in a different way, and that's treated very differently. And we see Mr Bennet realising that he is as guilty as his wife in his failure as a parent. There's a good bit of self-insight going on later in the book by some of the characters, as well as a lot of plot.

The only reason to continue is so I may fully speak with my nephew about P&P. Should I just chalk it up to improper motivation or lack of appreciation for the setting and language? Please feel free to share any reason that I should keep going.
There are the plot developments I've indicated above, which I won't give away. There's her limpid prose and wit, but if you're not attracted by them so far, that's probably not going to sway you. There's the sense of history, of reading about how real people spoke and moved 200 years ago, and there's the feminist aspect of young women making important decisions for themselves and how society reacts to them, as well as social commentary about money and position and title.

If you're not getting on with P&P, though, just have a look at one of her other novels -- I'd recommend Persuasion. Austen was at the height of her powers with that one, her social commentary is cutting, and the characters are fully drawn. (And again the 1990s BBC version is not to be missed, with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds.)


Yes, I really liked him too, though I couldn't quite see how he'd ended up married to Alison Steadman's version of his wife.
Don't forget that Lydia is as much his daughter as she is Mrs Bennet's -- he fell in lust with a pretty young woman and he acted on it, but without having Lydia's courage/recklessness/stupidity to breach societal norms, so he married her, then spent the next 25+ years ignoring her save in the bedroom. Mrs B is what she is partly because of his failure as a husband, at least according to the lights of the time.
 

Elckerlyc

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There's next to nothing left to say after the previous post. :)
Except... Don't read it with modern, 21th century eyes. It is a time-frame from early 19th century and you should approach it as such. The language and the social formality are as they were then and not something the author constructed to create a particular atmosphere. It's natural.
I myself read it after having watched the 1995 BBC adaption (which I loved and have re-watched many times) which already gave me a decent platform for my expectations. Of course, it describes a world in sentences that are both more or less alien to us now. But to me the point of reading it was to gain insight of the social mores and language. Of what we (perceive to) have gained and lost since.
 

HareBrain

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BTW, for keen fans of the BBC adaptation with a bit of spare cash, it turns out that the property used for the Bennets' house is now for sale. Only £6M.
 

Pyan

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BTW, for keen fans of the BBC adaptation with a bit of spare cash, it turns out that the property used for the Bennets' house is now for sale. Only £6M.
At that price, I’d say that “keen fans” is a little understated…
 

Swank

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It's 250 pages. Gird your loins and finish it.

It will take less time than watching a Star War.
 
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Boaz

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Thank you all for your responses. I know that I am reading with contemporary views and expectations. I expected all of you encourage me to continue with an open mind and renewed efforts to understand life in Austen's England. Also, I thought you might tell me there was a fantastic plot twist, but Austen seems to eschew this in favor of real character interaction.

@hitmouse @The Judge I guess part of the reason that I also related this a bit to Much Ado About Nothing is that after viewing Kenneth Branagh's film, I was able to read the play with understanding. Maybe I'll do the same as you guys recommend.

If the only reason you started is to be able to join in with your nephew's activities, then you've surely done enough if you've got to 13 chapters and still not enjoying it -- after all, you can still discuss it with him to some extent, and he might enjoy telling you exactly why you were wrong in giving up so early!
The is exactly the rationalization for which I hoped!

But why do you feel it's important to know their first names? Why should knowing early on that it's Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst make any difference to the reading?! It isn't forced distance, and certainly not forced familiarity -- surely even nowadays we have different names if not persona with different people, so a teacher might be Mrs Smith to her pupils, Francesca to her work colleagues, Frankie to her friends, and perhaps another name entirely to family.

It feels like Austen is purposefully withholding information. This comes from reading too many espionage and thriller stories where information is paramount. Again, I understand this is my fault for becoming accustomed to only twentieth and twenty-first century storytelling.

Well, you've got some of the plot, but what you don't know is what makes Lizzy so interesting and important -- she defies social expectations not once but twice -- no, make that three times since she also refuses to acknowledge that someone with a title should have influence over her. Darcy does the same. So does Lydia, but in a different way, and that's treated very differently. And we see Mr Bennet realising that he is as guilty as his wife in his failure as a parent. There's a good bit of self-insight going on later in the book by some of the characters, as well as a lot of plot.


Don't forget that Lydia is as much his daughter as she is Mrs Bennet's -- he fell in lust with a pretty young woman and he acted on it, but without having Lydia's courage/recklessness/stupidity to breach societal norms, so he married her, then spent the next 25+ years ignoring her save in the bedroom. Mrs B is what she is partly because of his failure as a husband, at least according to the lights of the time.

I figured Elizabeth, as Mr. Bennett's favorite, was to be portrayed as his female counterpart... and that she aspires to be like him. I also thought Mrs. Bennett would be shown to have much more sense, but works hard to marry her daughters off because there is no other viable option for their success.

Again, thank you all for your time and your responses.
 

The Judge

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I thought you might tell me there was a fantastic plot twist
Not a plot twist as such, but certainly some plot surprises, especially for Austen's contemporaries who may well have been shocked at some things which happen.

I figured Elizabeth, as Mr. Bennett's favorite, was to be portrayed as his female counterpart... and that she aspires to be like him.
No, she respects him for his virtues, and knows that she's his favourite for which she's grateful, but she's clear-sighted enough to see his faults as a husband and father even before things go pear-shaped. If she has a role model it would be her uncle (her mother's brother) or his wife.

I also thought Mrs. Bennett would be shown to have much more sense, but works hard to marry her daughters off because there is no other viable option for their success.
No sense at all! There's a line in Mansfield Park about a mother who didn't think deeply, but under her husband's guidance she always thought correctly on moral issues, but that's not the case with Mrs Bennet, whose morality is centred on selfishness and money. There is no viable option for her daughters other than to marry, but that's something of a secondary consideration; rather she's pushing them into marriage for her own gratification by way of social acceptance/climbing and bragging rights.
 

Christine Wheelwright

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@Christine Wheelwright He is not. His major is western civ in order to teach high school history. It may be part of a plan to be able to speak with a certain female english literature student, but he does not always confide these things to me.

Ah ha! I wondered if a girl might be behind it! For what its worth, I conducted a quick and very unscientific survey of my male colleagues (many of whom are much older than 20, of course). The question: would you read Jane Austen to impress a girl you are pursuing? I got a barrage of requests for more information (is she hot?) that I could not answer. The general consensus seems to be that they would not read Jane Austen. Some speculated that they might read the Wikipedia summary and then try to fake it.

Personally, I would never demand that a potential lover read Jane Austen (Good God! I'd still be a virgin!). However, the idea of using it as a punishment, once the relationship is established, does intrigue me.
 

AnyaKimlin

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If it's not jibing with you then there is probably no reason to continue but

IMO you are taking it far too seriously and you are actually reading it as a historical piece with modern sensibilities instead of reading it with modern eyes. Society changes but there is a lot about being a human that doesn't.

Yes it's a satire, yes it's a serious commentary on the fate of young women in Regency England but it's first and foremost a comedy. It's like Four Weddings or Love Actually. You are allowed to laugh and smile. I actually think the 90s TV show as good as it was played it way too straight.

Mr and Mrs Bennett are ridiculous characters as are Lydia, Mary and Kitty - they're overblown much as they would be in a sitcom reading it today. Throughout the story there are straight man, fall guys, slapstick etc
 

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