Third Time’s the Charm (A review of Pride and Prejudice years in the making)

I’ve always been slightly ashamed of never having read a book as well known as Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. Whether you have read it or not, its fame is obvious from the slew of remakes and parodies on the internet and in literature as a whole.

My first attempt to read the novel was at some point in middle school. At this time, my reading taste was limited to girly YA novels with happy-go-lucky endings and whatever my teen librarian recommended we read each month for book club. (Which by the way, I was the only female member of, and then eventually the only member of at all.) So P & P seemed like something I would read, if I had the brain for it.

I got through a few pages and then set it down, thinking to myself how impossibly boring and abstruse the text was. “People read this, how?” was all I could think.

The second time was less than a year ago. I really wanted to try it, and like it, so yet again I sat and attempted to beat my middle school Pride and Prejudice record. Nada. I felt like giving up on it forever. Until I started my current literature course.

A bad literature teacher or professor can make every book seem like generic brand cereal. A good one, however, can make the most banal of details an hour long discussion topic into which the class is fervently engaged. Luckily, I have a great professor. So great, in fact, that I’ve declared myself a literature major.

This professor happened to assign us Pride and Prejudice as our third novel in the semester. My first thoughts were a mix of how the devil was now coming back (You again!?!) and how I would finally finish this novel. I had to. It was for an assignment.

I was so happy upon finishing it I even took it right to Twitter at that moment.

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OK, enough about me and my snail book-finishing pace. Let’s hear what I actually thought of Pride and Prejudice.

Part of what increased my appreciation for this classic novel was context. Having studied it for a literature course, we read novels chronologically, in the order they were published. So prior to reading Austen’s novel, we read The Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster. We discussed how this novel may have been one of the reasons for the soon-to-come women’s suffrage movement, after having been a bestseller for 50 years. (Can you imagine that in modern times? When was the last time a book was a bestseller for 50 years!?) Pride and Prejudice tells a similar story, yes, but with a dramatically different ending that preaches a different, even more empowering message.

Friends, Pride and Prejudice is not the fluffy, junky romance novel my previous, young self thought it was. Pride and Prejudice is the story of a woman who thinks for herself and gets what she wants as a result. Compare Elizabeth to her sisters and their different marriages and you’ll discover marriages based purely on “but darling, he’s rich! Marry him for money!”, marriages based on desire, and marriages based on both, and the various outcomes for them. The happiest marriages were the ones based on more than just someone’s wealth; the ones based on what you actually think and feel for each other.  For the time period, this novel, and especially The Coquette, were incredibly revolutionary.

So for me, I read Pride and Prejudice not for the plot itself, but for the message, for what the novel accomplished. Pride and Prejudice also represents the introduction of the third person narrator (a huge invention!) into literature, rather than using the epistolary form. (Gosh, say Pride and Prejudice ten times fast. Could I say that phrase any more times during this post?!)

And if Pride and Prejudice (!) is still bland for you, you can always check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, whose movie trailer just debuted this week: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAChymiQC-o

So, now that I have officially read Pride and Prejudice, we can have discussions about it! Have you read it? What did you think? Join me in the comments below!