#AustenInAugustRBR: The Five Most Unexpected Aspects of Pride and Prejudice

August 14, 2015

The Austen in August event hosted by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader finally lit a fire under my butt and got me to pick up the very first novel on my Classics Club List, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Prior to this reading, the extent of my experience with the story was Colin Firth jumping in a lake and whatever this guy's name is looking brooding and mysterious.

Upon finishing, I realized I had no idea how one attempts to review "one of the most popular novels in English literature," so I made a list of a few of the things that surprised me while reading. Some more seasoned Austenites might roll their eyes at what I considered "unexpected" about the novel, but perhaps some of my fellow Jane virgins will learn something new and, maybe, feel inspired to pick up their first Austen!

1. It's short.

When I think about the classics, I tend to think of door-stoppers à la Tolstoy, Hugo and Melville. Thankfully, Jane must have recognized that we've (unfortunately) got other things to do besides read; my e-book from Project Gutenberg clocked in at a mere 253 pages. Speaking of Project Gutenberg...

2. The e-book is free!

All right, so this isn't about the book itself and I knew it before I even started reading, but it's worth mentioning for my thriftier readers. If you're a digital reader, you can snap up a well-formatted copy of the story from Project Gutenberg for your Kindle, Nook, or any e-reader that supports the ePUB file type. Did I mention that Project Gutenberg has nearly 50,000 other books for your reading pleasure? (I expect those non-profit, public domain dollars to start flooding my coffers for this endorsement.)

And, of course, if you're a dead-trees reader, you know where to go. Not a dig, by the way. I love me some dead trees.

3. It's got some super feminist moments (minor spoilers ahead):

I found a lot to connect with in Heather's post about how she once thought about Jane Austen. While I thought it unlikely that "tea parties and love letters" alone would have allowed this work to endure for as long as it has, I knew that marriage was an all-encompassing concern for women in nineteenth-century Britain. Austen clearly took issue with the expectations of the time, and Elizabeth's round rejection of Mr. Collins's proposal is a prime example:
"I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so. ... You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say." - pg. 71, Pride and Prejudice
I love that Elizabeth puts herself first when she explains why they would be a poor fit, in a time when modesty and deference were the norm, and that she fully expects to be heard. You go, Lizzy.

4. Mr. Bennet is every curmudgeon lover's dream.

Elizabeth Bennet's father is the sassiest nineteenth-century gentleman around. You all know how much I love my cranky old men, and Mr. Bennet has taken top billing on my list of favorites. His sarcasm-laced love for his family was one of the highlights of my reading. Observe:
"Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves."
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least." - pg. 2, ibid.

5. One of its most famous quotations is regularly taken out of context (again, minor spoilers).

You know the one I'm talking about, right? It's on bags, t-shirts, bookmarks and temporary tattoos (though, thankfully, I couldn't find anyone with a real tattoo of it).

Anyway, it's spoken by Miss Bingley, who's super into Mr. Darcy and wants him to be into her. After seeing him take up a book for pleasure, Miss Bingley grabs her own and utters her famous words and then some. Directly afterward:
"No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest for some amusement..." pg. 35, ibid.
Yup, clearly a big reader right there. The Guardian noted this little-mentioned fact when the Bank of England printed the quotation on its new ten-pound note in 2013.

While undoubtedly an early nineteenth-century text in style, Pride and Prejudice was a remarkably swift and enjoyable read, and I'm thrilled to finally have some Austen under my belt. Thank you again to Austen in August and Adam of Roof Beam Reader for the motivation!

Have I persuaded anyone to grab their first Austen? Did any of my factoids surprise anyone? (*crickets*)

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