So, I've been reading "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen, as part of some light bed-time reading to maintain my sanity. I thought it would be nice to share my views on the book with the world (not that anyone cares).
I shared a link to the book on Facebook, and on Google+, a link to the efforts of Google to preserve an ancient trove of knowledge and pleasure. Google has been systematically been scanning books from public libraries, in the public domain, and has made them available for the world. However, the first comment I received on my Facebook post was:
Now why would you want to read something as horrible and banal as Jane Austen?
A bit harsh, but not unrelated to my views. Of course, I will not be foolish enough to denounce Jane Austen just based on one book; but let me review the book, and try to explain what I liked, and what seemed trite.
Let me start with the title itself. "Pride and Prejudice" can be applied at many levels. Primarily, it may refer to the pride of Mr. Darcy, and the prejudice of Elizabeth, as she rebuffs his feelings towards her. Of course, pride and prejudice is a running theme in the book, and appears all through, prejudice starting with the very first sentence in the novel.
Consider the first sentence.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.Now, much as all academicians hate Wikipedia, they must agree that even on Wikipedia, such drivel would be flagged almost instantly, to become
It is a truth universally acknowledged[by whom?], that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Glossing over that first sentence, I happen to see a lot of pride and prejudice on the part of the author. Almost all characters (with the exception of Elizabeth, Jane, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy) are foolish. All that varies is their level of foolishness. Mrs. Bennet's stupidity is exemplified right in the fist page of the novel, when she discloses her plan of marrying one of her daughters to Mr. Bingley. In retrospect, that stupidity was not so stupid. Mr. Bennet was thoughtless the way he went headlong into an unsuitable marriage, having fallen for Mrs. Bennet just on the basis of her beauty, and the way he humours himself at her expense.
The stupidity of people in the novel exasperates me. In fact, I cringe every time I think of Mr. Collins and his letters (as an aside, I find Mr. Collins overly formal style of letter writing extremely similar to Mr. Micawber) and his veneration of Lady de Bourgh. Charlotte is stupid in the way she accepts Mr. Collins as her husband. Do I even need to speak of Lydia's foolishness in eloping with Mr. Wickham.
However, I do like the characters that are not "stupid", and although Jane and Mr. Bingley hardly have any major role to play in the novel, I loved the way Elizabeth's character developed in the novel, from her highly prejudiced opinion of Mr. Darcy to finally accepting him as her husband. Mr. Darcy's change also was remarkable, from the haughty, proud person he is first presented to be, to the civil, genteel person he becomes at the end of the novel. His handling of the Wickham-Lydia case ought to be praised.
There's also a lot of subtle humour on the part of the author, at the expense of almost all the characters. Mrs. Bennet is mortified of her husband being killed in a duel with Wickham, and of her being turned out of her house by Mr. Collins; yet she is aghast when Mr. Gardiner sends Mr. Bennet back to his family.
"What! is he coming home, and without poor Lydia?" she cried, "Sure he will not leave London before he has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?"Similarly, the letter Mr. Bennet writes to Mr. Collins announcing Elizabeth's engagement sure makes me laugh.
But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.
Of course, one of the defining characteristics of the classics is the inherent simplicity (as compared to modernist and post-modernist works). However, I would have liked the characters to have a tad more shade of grey, than the near absolute black-and-white way in which most of them are portrayed. That being said, "Pride and Prejudice" made an extremely interesting read. In fact, I think it's rather relevant even in the present context.
EDIT: I came across what Salman Rushdie has to say about Jane Austen in his latest "Joseph Anton: A Memoir"
This was no longer the age of Jane Austen, who could write her entire oeuvre during the Napoleonic Wars without mentioning them, and for whom the major role of the British Army was to wear dress uniforms and look cute at parties.