Monday, November 07, 2005

Book Notes: "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

I'm very happy to report that I was shocked by how enjoyable and accessible this book is. Austen has an impressively modern sense of wit and slyness that seems incompatible with our notions of proper 19th century England.

Austen and her protagonist, Elizabeth, are very intelligent and perceptive and she assumes the same of her readers. When Elizabeth's bemused, sarcastic father states that one of his "favorites" is a man of terrible manners it's understood that he means this in jest - that he favors this man only for the amusement this buffoon provides. Austen does not explain the joke nor does she have to, she trusts that her readers will catch on to her charming wit with the same ease as her Elizabeth.

The language and grammar Austen employs is certainly a bit challenging by today's standards. Certain words have fallen far out of favor in today's English (unless you use "disapprobation", one of Austen's favorites) but it's the proper grammar and sentence structure that can provide the biggest stumbling block. It's nowhere near as difficult as reading Shakespeare, but it does take a bit of adjustment.

However, once adjusted you begin to appreciate Austen's glorious command of the language. She is impeccably precise (she would impress any attorney), but her style is never boring or tedious. Her astute observations, her incredible wit, and the clarity with which she communicates all combine to form passages that make one marvel. At its most superficial level her old English grammar could appear stuffy and overly prim and proper, but by the second page it should be immediately obvious that this novel is entirely modern in its sensibilities.

Her writing particularly thrilled me because I instantly found in Austen a kindred spirit to my own love of precision in language coupled with wit and gently sarcastic humor. And through Austen's creation of Elizabeth I found a similarity to my own logical, reasoned approach for preventing one's emotions from getting too far ahead of oneself. And when Elizabeth silently observes the social interactions and faux pas of her friends and family, I find in her misgivings a great similarity to how my own would be in such a situation.

Pride and Prejudice is a shockingly enjoyable novel. At its core it is a love story that is more convincing and more successful than anything Hollywood could hope to attempt. It does get a little slow somewhere in the second half, but it never becomes a chore to read and is well worth the investment.

With a bit of focus I was able to finish it in just over eight hours (yes, I'm timing everything I read so I may gauge how much of or how little of a commitment a book might be). That can easily be spread out over the course of a week or even over an ambitious single weekend.

On deck: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde.


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