Adventures in Reading

Pride & Prejudice: Somewhere Around Chapter 15
August 31, 2007, 10:41 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Class discussion was particularly enlightening in regards to some of my more negative past reactions to Pride & Prejudice. Of course there is no one to blame but myself for failing to spend more time researching the time period. What do I mean by this? I had never before realized the undercurrents of fear and apprehension that existed in the Bennet household. One, the story is about the struggle of the marriage market but for an important reason — the Bennet sisters would be destitute if they were to be unmarried after their father’s death. Two, a fear of social contempt in response to amorous and unwed daughters.

In this respect, the annoying Mrs. Bennet and the much loved Mr. Bennet become more blurred in what otherwise seems to be typecast roles. Mrs. Bennet’s duty is to marry off her daughters because the alternative is dire and foreboding. Mr. Bennet, while still witty and wonderfully sarcastic, grows annoying with every refusal of introducing his daughters to more social interaction. After all, some proper introductions necessitate Mr. Bennet’s presence (i.e. Bingley).

But here I still find myself distressed (though less so) with Austen. I cannot recall any of her heroines becoming successful writers and getting married (or not getting married). Looking back at the Wollstonecroft quote, was Austen simply writing what she had socially been taught as acceptable behavior? was she writing for an audience that simply desired this marriage market propensity? is it simply my present day mentality that condemns a book for not being radical enough in its period? was this actually groundbreaking enough that it would serve as a leaping point for authors like Grand and Caird?

Mr. Darcy is an intriguing character and I cannot possibly settle on whether I find him charming or an ass. The book is about pride and prejudice and it has been interesting to reread the book and try to select specific passages that represent these qualities. Mr. Darcy is most certainly prideful and prejudice of the quaint, country life of Merytown. Elizabeth is proud as well and spends the majority of the story prejudiced against Darcy due to his early, awkward social graces.

Additionally, I have also been carefully reading for any sign of material descriptions. There are a few short comments from Darcy commenting on Elizabeth’s eyes but otherwise the inanimate does not even appear in the story. From previous readings I had never realized how much the movies color the book or how much the dialog moved the story. In my head I always had distinct ideas of what the characters look like and of their costumes but Austen seems to entirely ignore these aspects of her characters. Austen also ignores the service staff of her novels. Only until the last few chapters have any names been given (i.e. Nicholls, Hill) and these seem entirely superficial. Austen’s lack of description also serves to negate the serving class as everything is simply done with no actual person doing anything. Likewise, Mrs. Bennet is always sure to inform guests that her daughters do not cook as they can afford a chef. Class is not distinguished in Austen’s book excepting the few degrees of difference between the rich, the very rich, and the grossly rich.

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