Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice

I grabbed Pride and Prejudice by (of course) Jane Austen on the same trip to the library that netted The Prisoner of Zenda, on the theory that I might want more good dialogue in my immediate reading future. Being one of the most famous novels in the English language, I won’t belabor its virtues, or explicate its plot, or what-have-you; I will just note the things that I found myself noticing this time through.

The first time I read this was for a class (summer program at Phillips Andover; in six weeks I learned more about writing than in the rest of high school put together). We talked a lot about the social context, the use of complexion color changes to signal emotions (rather like hands in Bujold), the contrasting marriages, the importance of economics, etc. This time, I was particularly struck by the elegance of the pacing, which is very precisely done, and by the acutely observed depiction of the characters—it all just rings true right through. (I have this fancy of taking the book—not the physical volume, but the book—and tapping something against it to hear it chime, like a fork against heavy crystal; solid and graceful and tangibly wonderful all the way through.)

Other people (including Pam in her book log) have commented on how funny they find the book. I can’t say that I find most of the characters or situations that funny, but that’s because I find embarrassing situations just, well, embarrassing (I tend not to watch sitcoms, either). I did find many of the narrator’s observations amusing and witty; I’ve become more attentive to narrative voice as I’ve grown older, though I’m not sure why. I have also learned to pay more attention to character development, but that seems as much a function of experience as age.

A final thought: I wonder how many writers have taken inspiration from the famous first line of the novel. I know I’ve seen several, but I can only think of one right now, the delicious opening of Madeleine E. Robins’s forthcoming Point of Honour (sample chapters available about Tor): “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Fallen Woman of good family must, soon or late, descend to whoredom.”

Anyway, I’m quite glad I re-read this; I enjoyed it a great deal, and am glad to see that my prior good opinion was, if anything, supported by more than I’d realized.

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  1. About the quotes – I don’t know about “Pride and Prejudice”, but Sharon Shinn quotes a certain line from “Jane Eyre” in “Jenna Starborn”. (Probably multiple certain lines, but “Reader, I married him.” was the only one I caught.)

  2. I believe _Jenna Starborn_ was meant as an explicit retelling of _Jane Eyre_, though I can’t be sure as I haven’t read it myself; I burned out on Shinn a while ago.

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