Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Project Gutenberg
Fiction, General Fiction/Romance
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn wants nothing more than to see her five daughters well married, preferably to men of higher social standing than her modestly-placed husband. But with the scant pickings around Meryton, and the eldest Jane in her mid-twenties with no prospects in sight, she despairs of them ever honoring her with sons-in-law, let alone grandchildren. Then a neighboring estate is purchased by Mr. Bingley, a wealthy (if impulsive) young man fortuitously unattached. He even brought a friend, the even wealthier and equally available Mr. Darcy. While Mrs. Bennet entertains hopes of him favoring Jane, the next-eldest Bennet sister, Elizabeth, finds herself on the wrong side of Mr. Darcy's aloof pride... and, unlike most society girls, Lizzy has never hesitated to match wits and words against a man. Thus begins one of literature's most celebrated relationships in Austen's classic novel of English manners.

REVIEW: This was not an easy book to read. Every sentence dances and turns intricately through labyrinths of meaning, requiring very close attention and occasionally rereading (especially with the differences in style and language between Austen's world and mine.) The majority of this tale is told in dense dialog thick with multiple layers of meaning and frequent social barbs; the rest is either deep turns through the gardens of characters' thoughts or relatively brief summaries. The social elite of Austen's England are a species apart from the average human, bent and trained by generations of custom into peculiar cultivars only vaguely resembling their uncultured relations... and even among themselves the lower ranks exist on an entirely different sphere than the higher, all of them obsessed with incomes and properties and relations and alliances. A single look (or lack thereof) can spark a scandal, a misspoken word might ruin a reputation, and emotions are so carefully guarded that Austen must flat-out say when Mr. Darcy takes a fancy to Elizabeth, else it would never have revealed itself. Courtship in this world is a matter of balls and large dinners, with the occasional turn in the garden or exchange of letters; one almost wonders how the aristocrats managed to breed, they were so restrained in matters of affection. The story itself is deeply steeped in the manners and morals of early 19th-century English society, which sometimes seemed as intriguingly alien as any science fiction invention. The obsession with marriage by the Bennet girls, belonging to a society where marriage was basically the only career path available outside church vows (making the pursuit of matrimony a career every bit as demanding as a college degree) is just one thing that set the characters' world well apart from my own experiences. The characters, particularly at the periphery, tended to exaggeration, not uncommon in older works I've read. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth seemed decently matched, as did the other pairings in the story. On the whole, though, the story meandered overlong through social convolutions for me to truly enjoy it.

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Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) - My Review
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