May 30, 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This is the fourth book on the TWEM list, the first one I have read before, and the first one I actually enjoyed instead of endured. I remember ADORING P&P before, I didn't see any fault in it at all. However, during this reading I was a bit more critical and tried to not let fangirling blur my understanding. This helped me see that JA is actually lame at dialogues when the discourse changes from bantering/gossip to real feelings. More on this later. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel and here are the TWEM questions:

Is it a fable or a chronicle?

P&P is a chronicle, and reality is shown in much detail: letters, walks, dances - all the social minutiae is described in a very particular manner. Life in JA's society is guarded by very strict rules, ad so is life in the novel. On the other hand, the train of thoughts in Elizabeth's head is also shown quite realistically.

What does Elizabeth want? What's in her way? What does she do to overcome the obstacles?

Elizabeth wants to be married, but happily married, to a person she loves and respects. Her prospects are hindered by low income and social status of her family, as well as their indecorum. She probably sees marriage as a possibility to move away from the confines of home and to broaden her horizons. She tries to improve her "marriageability" by studying (piano, reading) and by attempting to keep her family from embarrassing themselves, which usually fails.

Who is telling the story?

The novel is written in third-person limited, as apart from several asides, we mostly perceive what's happening from Elizabeth's perspective and through her reactions. She can't know everything and that leads to some mistakes and misconceptions. The reader is led astray as well.

Where is the story set?

The story setting of rural England almost feels like a decoration to the characters' turmoils. We don't see much of the cities or people except for the main characters, and the beautiful shrubs are only there to frame lovers;' confessions on long walks. Nature doesn't affect people's lives, with exception of different seasons bringing on seasonal social engagements.

What style does JA employ?

JA writes in long, windy sentences full of well-picked words and irony. The dialogues are mostly small talk or gossip or banter, and in the most intense moments JA infuriatingly switches from direct speech to general descriptions: "he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do" (p.352) - very touching indeed, JA! Why don't you use your imagination and put it in his own words?

Images and metaphors

I guess the image of Darcy takes a lot from "a knight in "shining armor that must prove himself and earn the approval of is lady; although his brooding countenance is decidedly Gothic. I guess Pemberley can be seen as an image of all a lady can want, the shining gate of marriage indeed.

Beginnings and endings

The well-beloved first phrase of the novel states from the beginning that the story will be that of class, society and matrimony. It should be taken as a hint that the book is not a mere generic love story. The ending is a happy resolution: everybody is settled and there's nothing else to be said.

Do you sympathize with the characters?

I do sympathize with Elizabeth's situation when she's painfully embarrassed of her family. I can't not admire her for being very protective of them in spite of seeing their true worth. I can also admire her ready wit and ability to think constructively and behave reasonably when others would whine uselessly. What is irritating is her readiness to judge others based on hearsay and her unwillingness to give them the credit of doubt. This has proved to be her biggest hindrance.

Does technique hint at argument?

As JA lets us follow Elizabeth's changing opinions, I guess one of the points of the novel is to show how our beliefs and preconceptions determine how we see the world. The focus on societal mechanics also shows how much our thinking is a product of our surroundings.

Is the novel self-reflective?

Not per se, but the abundance of letters does show that writing might be the most convenient form of expressing feelings. Reading is claimed to sharpen the understanding.

Did the writer's times affect her?

Yes! All the decorum in the novel is absolutely a product of JA's times. The main plot of the novel (that of a marriage) would not be so tangled if not hindered by different societal norms. The whole marrying thing is necessary not always because of love, but because that's the only way to financial freedom for a lady ("[Marriage] was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want." (p.119)). This gives a whole new facet of urgency to the marriage business.

Is there an argument in the book?

I think the argument is that there's danger in forming your opinion of somebody based on appearances and gossip. Also that there's no biggest happiness and gratification for a lady as a happy marriage.

Do you agree?

There's no doubt as to the first argument, and I do try not to fall prey to first impressions myself to avoid this fallacy. As to the second, although I agree that marrying someone you love and respect is a great joy, my times prevent me from seeing it as the ultimate goal.

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