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

Elizabeth Bentley elizabeth at wardrobe-on-the-web.com
Fri Nov 17 12:27:46 EST 2006

On 17/11/06 11:45, "Hallie O'Donovan" <hallieod at indigo.ie> wrote:

> Elizabeth:
>> 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?)

Fantastic - that is so helpful. I'll use it to discuss the book with

By the way, where should I send back Nick and Norah? I've struggled with
having a sensibly written reaction to send you, and felt too embarrassed to
send it to you. 

This was all I managed:

"To be honest, I was really unsure how to respond to the book itself, as I
have a real aversion to repeated use of the f-word. Which meant it took me
ages to get further than the first page. (It was therefore ages before I
found your pretty card inside, as I kept avoiding the book. I've never
watched Four weddings and a funeral for similar reasons.)

But I have now read it, and persuaded my 17 year old to read it too.

I'm still not sure what I think of it, though I think I did enjoy it on the
whole. I certainly liked Nick and Norah as people, which is half the battle
for me. And indeed most of the other characters, apart from her ex, of
course. Even Tris came over quite well in the end."

If you send me your snail mail address, I'll put N&N in the post.

Thanks again.

Elizabeth Bentley
mailto:elizabeth at wardrobe-on-the-web.com

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