[DWJ] Book recommendations (now long and rambly on Pride and Prejudice)

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Fri Nov 17 06:45:49 EST 2006


>I'd love some idea of why P&P is so good, as my 17 year  old daughter has
>just read it and remains rather underwhelmed. She agrees that it is a good
>book, but is hard put to understand why it is "great".  Part of that is that
>the current advice to 'show and not tell' was not the way of doing things in
>Austen's time. I suggested that perhaps it was that JA is so mush more
>intelligent than those who surrounded her that she tends to survey her
>characters from a great height rather than engaging with them, and therefore
>we are less engaged than we are used to being. But literary criticism is not
>my strong point. Any hep would be much appreciated, including being pointed
>in the direction of some litcrit.

Phew - talk about an enticing invitation!  (And I can even throw in 
an on-topic mention - not that being unable to would stop me.)

First of all, I'm with Dorian - I read P&P when I was about 12 or so, 
after my mother handed it to me, loved it then and have loved it ever 
since - even after studying it in uni., which rather worried me 
beforehand.  It may not be that likely that your daughter will love 
it, but it's possible, and just throwing out some things that might 
intrigue her could help either way. 

I can't imagine that telling her that JA looks down on her characters 
would help her like it, however, and I'd take some persuading that 
this was the case anyway (won't even get into  *Northanger Abbey* 
atm, tempting though it is also).  One of the things for which Austen 
is highly praised is her development of narrative - specifically the 
use - almost invention - of free indirect speech/discourse and very 
subtle use of focalization.  F.I.S. is third person narration which 
slips quietly into the voice of a character, without saying things 
like 'Elizabeth thought' or 'she felt'.  But this actually makes it 
much easier to engage with the main characters, and means there's a 
lot less telling involved. (If you want convincing of this, then I'd 
recommend reading a Fanny Burney - nothing showed me so well how much 
JA brought the novel on!)

I've no idea if looking at the way narrative structure is used to 
illuminate character is likely to make your daughter's heart beat 
faster, but it *can* be downright fun, spotting things which are so 
lightly tossed out that they're easy to miss.  One lovely example 
(which I'd not noticed over many, many reads!) is in a scene when 
Jane is ill and Elizabeth stays with her in Netherfield.  Elizabeth 
and Darcy are doing the intrigued-but-prickly dance, though she's 
observing him with less approval than v.v..  Bingley gets a direct 
hit from Darcy on 'the appearance of humility' and they lead on to 
Bingley's ability to be persuaded by a friend.  Elizabeth, of course, 
jumps all over Darcy for disapproving of this - his appearing to 
'allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection', and 
pretty much says that someone ought to allow a friend to dictate a 
decision, just relying on the 'regard for the requester'.  All 
hypothetical, and she does have the escape clause of its being a 
resolution 'of no very great moment', but, of course, when Darcy does 
dictate Bingley's decision about Jane, out of friendship and 
affection, however misguided, she's furious with him. 

Actually, the two scenes in the library at Netherfield are just full 
of wonderful little lines which add enormously to the whole, as well 
as often being very funny.  When Miss Bingley invites Elizabeth to 
'take a turn around the room', Darcy rightly guesses that she does so 
because she knows their (or in her mind, her) figure will appear to 
the best advantage that way.  But think of wild Lydia and her 
'exposing' herself in front of the officers!  There's really no 
difference except in Miss Bingley's mind, based entirely on her 
having been born into a higher-class family. 

There are also nice little touches like when Miss B. is hanging over 
Darcy as he writes a letter to his sister.  She goes on about how she 
dotes upon Georgiana, and asks if she's much grown, and will she be 
as tall as she (Miss B) is.  Darcy replies that he thinks she will as 
she's now about Elizabeth's height.  Did anyone but Miss B. doubt who 
he's *really* thinking about?

If your daughter's at all interested in the engagement with serious 
debates of the time, there's a lot in these few scenes in Netherfield 
as well: the question of the education of women (seen in the 
discussion about what accomplishments a woman should have), the 
pairings between characters other than just the supposedly 
oppositional Elizabeth/Prejudice and Darcy/Pride (Miss B. and Lydia 
being just one example), which show the wrongness of class bigotry 
fairly clearly.  There's also one line, which was discussed on an OU 
tape for the course, and I *think* it might have been by Isobel 
Armstrong (Ta-da - the DWJ on-topicness!).  Darcy - again fending off 
Miss B. - says 'I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library 
in such days as these.'  The critic said this line was much more 
significant than it seemed because there was so much repression in 
response to fears generated by the French Revolution, that it 
indicated a belief in learning as a protection against despotic 
power.  (Combination of paraphrase and quote noted in my study copy 
of P&P.) 

If you can get the Oxford World's Classics edition with the 
Introduction by Isobel Armstrong, there's lots of fascinating 
material in that, and it's readable too.  Of course, if your daughter 
just read the book and is idly wondering what the fuss is about, she 
may not be interested in bothering.  I'm guessing that your asking 
for lit crit indicates she's studying it though.  Oh, and another 
wonderfully readable work is Barbara Hardy's *A Reading of Jane 
Austen*.  It doesn't have separate sections for the different novels, 
but you can easily find the P&P material and I thought it was just 
great. (Old, but you should be able to get it easily enough in a 
library, hopefully?)


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