So I have finally read Jane Austen’s most celebrated work! This version, published in 1995, has an Introduction by Anna Quindlen.
I actually read it after reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, and was able to smile, laugh and grin at Curtis’s clever variations on the themes, names, locations. Characters such as Mrs. Bennet are so true in each book. Lydia, Wickham, Collins – so perfectly drawn. And such unlikable folk.
This story of a fairly well-to-do family with 5 daughters, whose mother wants them married soon and well, that spends more than its income, and most of whose members place great stock in keeping up appearances, is timeless. I’m sure many families in Cincinnati today could exchange names and locations and fit in perfectly with 18th century England. As a matter of fact, the mores, rules, beliefs of two centuries ago are remarkably similar to, and as disempowering as, many of ours today.
Jane does keep the action moving along, does not allow the story to bog down, does not overly describe the flowers in those gardens, or everything seen along the road from here to there. She does keep us squarely in Elizabeth’s head, figuring out Jane’s relationship with Bingley, Wickham’s mistreatment by Darcy, her own feelings about all these situations.
It is great fun that Elizabeth is blown away by Darcy’s proposal, that she didn’t see it coming. And that she is thrown into utter confusion. He, only later, sees how insulting it was. She is often, as with many of us, much smarter about other folks than she is about herself. Her love for her sister Jane is wonderful, her care for her family even when she can see their flaws so clearly, is amazing. And her attraction to and arguments with Darcy, speak to a powerful passion that she nonetheless doesn’t see until nearly, perhaps, too late. Darcy’s care for her family, which she discovers later, is also powerful information about his feelings for Elizabeth.
But all ends remarkably well. Such a treat. And now I will have to read her other work. As well as see the movie at the Mariemont based on her novella, Love and Friendship. That will all, no doubt, keep my mind busy for a while.