Friday, January 27, 2006


From Bob

Hi. This is Bob ringing in with a review Levi asked me to tackle ages ago.

I've read Pride & Prejudice twice now, which is quite a lot for a boy, particularly one who doesn't even own a cat. Like anything else written before 1930, or by the English, or by women, it's much too wordy and makes for fairly tedious reading. The simple plot is one of the oldest: after initial misunderstandings, two pretty, intelligent sisters marry very wealthy, decent men, while their silly sisters and homely friend fare less well for themselves.

What makes P&P worth your effort is that Jane Austen is so often a scream. She is an early master of deadpan, bone-dry, understated British humour. "It is a truth universally acknowledged," she writes in her famous opening line, "that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Sly! Many of her secondary characters form a procession of dimwits, fools, and petty socialites, politely described in all of their bumption and vainglory. Poisonous!

And the best thing about P&P is that it was written by an 18 year old girl. Its much easier to forgive the tedious romantic plot, windy descriptions of estate grounds, and the occasional bits of moralizing when you stop to consider that she was a brilliant young anonymous country woman writing primarily for the amusement of her friends and family. Certain feminist subtexts of her novels are all the more impressive, if no surprise from one so precocious.

Sadly, the happy marriages that Jane and Lizzy Bennett achieve were denied to Miss Austen in her own lifetime. Her later novels, written after a long lapse, may reflect the romantic disappointment and economic hardship she endured, but I haven't read them, so I wouldn't know. I've heard, however, that they are so inscrutable in their treatment of certain antagonists and protagonists that there is considerable debate today over where her sympathies actually might have lied; while Austen family histories reveal that she was something of a firecracker of a maiden aunt. So I'm sure I'll get around to reading them when I'm a 50-something bachelor with more freetime and several cats, and I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

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