Thursday, June 09, 2011

Rereading Pride and Prejudice

How many times can one read Pride and Prejudice?  

Since Austen wrote six novels, it's possible to reread them every year.  Janeites read Pride and Prejudice countless times.  Members of JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) discuss it frequently at conferences. The Pride and Prejudice board is the busiest discussion at The Republic of Pemberly (a Jane Austen internet site with the subtitle: "Your haven in a world programmed to misunderstand obsession with things Austen).

I just reread P&P myself, for the God-knows-how-many-timeth.

When I last blogged about P&P on June 2, 2009, I concentrated on the character of Elizabeth. I said, "Elizabeth Bennet is curiously modern, vivacious and witty, but also bitchy (in a good way), an outspoken young woman who can charm or sting, and who speaks her mind, unintimidated by wealth and the class system." 

A friend and I used to argue about P&P. Was it greater than Emma?

"Yes," she said.  

"No," I said.
Now I say sometimes yes and sometimes no.  It is a very great novel.  Emma is my favorite, a sharp, complicated comedy about misunderstanding and misbehavior, but perhaps the charming Pride and Prejudice is more symmetrical.  And certainly readers like Elizabeth Bennet more than Emma.

Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse are similar.  Both are smart; both are critical.  Both are outspoken; both have great senses of humor. Both have a tendency to misinterpret characters.  Elizabeth misunderstands Darcy and Wickham.  Emma misunderstands Harriet, Mr. Elton, and Frank Churchill.   Emma crosses class boundaries and has the potential to damage lives by fantasies about matchmaking.  

This time through P&P I was enchanted.  I was lost in Elizabeth and Darcy's satisfying romance.

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard (Anchor Books), enhanced my delight.  The text is on one page; the notes on the facing page. I read the text in my old paperback, because I found the facing notes in the annotated version too distracting.   Then I went back.

It is doubtless redundant for scholars, but is a nice companion to the text for the common reader.  Some of his notes are entertaining mini-essays on historical background, plot, literary techniques, and style. Shapard is a very good writer.  If you read the notes down the page without a break, it is almost like reading a prose poem.

Shapard himself says in "Notes to the Reader," "First-time readers might prefer to read the text of the novel first, and then to read the annotations and introduction."  

I am by no means a first-time reader of Austen, and sometimes he wastes my time defining the nuances of words like "dull," "impudent," and "hesitate."

But, as I said, I like the expansions on the text and background.  Here is a sample of a note on Volume III, Chapter XI, p. 599.

1.  Since Mr. Bennet was unwilling to go to Brighton, which would be at most 75 miles away, it is hardly surprising  that he does not wish to voyage to Newcastle, which would be at least 200 miles away--and this is not even counting his disinclination to see Wickham and Lydia.
 Interesting, yes?  It's like having a conversation with another reader.


Ellen said...

The Shephard book is like a an encyclopedia.

I was rereading P&P today while I was watching the 1995 Davies P&P. I have been having good times watching more of his movies (and blogging about some).

P&P by Austen is just so intelligent and has so much wisdom in its lines. I find each time there are a new set of utterances that stay with me.


Frisbee said...

Yes, I'm THRILLED by Pride & Prejudice. It's odd how different Jane books affect me on rereading. A few years ago I hated Mansfield Park; then it became one of my favorites. It's been awhile since I've read P&P and I appreciate it so much.

Nicola said...

I've just re-read P&P, too. With each re-read I find myself more fascinated with Charlotte Lucas/Collins. Austen suggests that she is doomed to many years of unhappiness with him and yet the fact that she is pregnant at the end of the novel suggests maybe she will find solace in her child.

I find annotations distract me from the text, I don't think I'll purchase another one.

Frisbee said...

Lizzie is upset by Charlotte's unromantic view of marriage, but, like you, I don't think she has done that badly. When I was young, I was scandalized like Elizabeth. Now I see that she managed to get away from home and to have some control over her life.