In Which I, A Manly Man, Read the Ultimate Chick Book

by J.D. Rhoades

When I told people I’d finally gotten  around to reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, most were puzzled. “Why are you reading THAT?” some ask. After all, I am, as you all know, a manly man, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is the ultimate chick book, right?

 

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Nevertheless, I did read it, and I did so for a number of reasons:

  • I’d just read William Gibson’s SPOOK COUNTRY, and while I liked it a lot, I was in the mood for something completely different;
  • I was also in the mood for something more classic, I’d read all my Twain numerous times, and I just wasn’t up for CRIME AND PUNISHMENT quite yet;
  • I’d heard many friends (almost all of them female, it’s true, but a couple of men as well) rave about what a great book it is;
  • I may want to read the new PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES send-up and I wanted to make sure I got the jokes;
  • It was right there on the bookshelf, so I thought “”hey, why the hell  not?”

Anyway, I finished it last night. and quite  enjoyed it. A few observations, jotted down as I read:

  • Why didn’t anyone tell me the book was this funny?

 

  • I particularly liked Mr. Bennett. He handles the travails of dealing with a house full of marriage-obsesed women pretty much the way I hope I would: with deadpan wit and gentle mockery. He obviously adores and sympathizes with his daughter Elizabeth, and the scenes between them are some of the sweetest in the book. But dear lord, his wife is just awful. I want to kick her down a flight of stairs.

 

  • I’m not sure why Mark Twain had such an antipathy to Jane Austen. He once mentioned in a letter to William Dean Howells that “Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.” In another letter to Joseph Twichell, he claimed that “Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig [Austen] up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” Whoa. A little harsh there, dude. And puzzling as well. Both Twain and Austen have a similar dry wit, as well as that wonderful gift of lampooning ridiculous people by just letting them speak in their own voices.
  • Everyone seems to use the word “amiable” an awful lot. In fact, it seems to be a prized quality in a spouse. I guess they had a lot lower expectations in those days. I mean, I’m pretty damn amiable and always have been, but I don’t recall women beating down the doors to marry me.
  • Okay, wait, Collins wants to marry his cousin and DeBourgh wants Darcy to marry his? What the hell is this, West Virginia?

 

  • Man, I need a scorecard to try to keep all these people straight. (Fortunately, there’s a chart at Wikipedia.)

 

  • I’m not sure how much of the female fascination with the character of Mr. Darcy comes from the hunkiness of the actors who’ve played him in films and on TV, most notably Colin Firth. Because I’ve got to tell you, the guy doesn’t come off all that well on the page. To be frank, he’s kind of a dick. Sure, he does the right thing in the end, but he never gets around to removing the large stick he has up his ass. This is not, in short, I guy I’d be eager to have a beer with. Maybe the female readers can enlighten me.

 

  • Austen has kind of a tough row to hoe here, story wise. Her characters, due to the strictures of their society, can’t actually take much of a hand in solving their core conflicts (not if any reader is  going to believe them). They spend much of their time waiting  for someone else to move and worrying about what’s going to happen. Their Happy Ever After is largely dependent on what others do. So what you get is a lot of chicks walking around and talking. They talk real pretty, mind you, but this sort of thing can only carry you so far.

On the whole, though, I enjoyed it. I’m not going to run out and read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY or the rest of Jane Austen’s oeuvre right away, mind you, but PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was fun.

And now to the discussion: what book have you read that’s farthest out of your usual genre or preference? Why did you read it? Did it change your perceptions any? Did it give you a fresh look at what you normally write or read? How do you solve the problem of keeping the story moving when your characters can’t move, at least not much? And of course if anyone wants to set me straight on PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or tell me what a doofus I am for not seeing teh hotnezz  that is  Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, feel free.

 

39 thoughts on “In Which I, A Manly Man, Read the Ultimate Chick Book

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    That’s an interesting question about what makes Darcy hot on the page.

    Colin Firth is obviously ultimately hot but I think every women who ever sees that version agrees he was perfect casting (to the point of being mirrored in the homage of BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, book and movie).

    But what is it on THE PAGE that inspires casting of hotties like Firth?

    I can’t think of anything in particular except that it is so patently obvious that Elizabeth finds him hot, and for me, reading that book is being Elizabeth. So I experience Darcy as hot because she does.

    Reply
  2. Jake Nantz

    Dusty,
    My wife couldn’t explain it either, until I explained the ‘Byronic Hero’ concept. That character (embodied by Lord Byron) who is mysterious, isolated, a loner with a bit of a tortured soul, follows his own-moral-code sort of thing. Think Batman, or maybe Reacher. Hell, Jack Keller fits the bill.

    Because if you think about it, at least in that society, Darcy is the closest thing you can come to a "badass bad boy". He’s rich, follows his own motives, and ultimately falls for his kindred spirit, Miss go-against-the-grain Elizabeth Bennet.

    Yeah, he’s a dick, but he’s got that ‘heart of gold’ that some women are so certain lies at the center of the hundreds of thousands of bad boys out there (who really don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves).

    Reply
  3. Jenni

    Hmmmm, I actually never read or saw PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Guess that is strange since I am a chick. I’m thinking now I should read it, although I can’t say I’ve read too many chick books or seen many chick flicks.

    In answer to your questions the books I’ve read that are out of my genre are The Twilight Series, My Sister’s Keeper, and Lonsome Dove. Twilight I read simply because my daughter is into them and it was nice to read something with her and discuss it. I found myself frustrated with the books and the characters, yet I couldn’t put them down. I’m not sure if it has to do with the books themselves, or the fact that I enjoyed the discussions with my almost grown up kid. I read My Sister’s Keeper because my daughter again told me too. She had to read it for school and she loved it. I did enjoy it, but I think I enjoyed the discussions more. Lonsome Dove I read simply to read something different and I loved it. The characters were great.

    With all that said, I think reading something that is different is very good for the writing and does change ones perspective, at least it does for me. I generally look at character and the writer handles it and why I like or dislike the character. But it also helps me stretch my own writing. Make it better. I think.

    Reply
  4. Carrie

    Totally agree with Jake’s assessment of Darcy…he’s that sort of guy you know has issues, but you can’t help but swoon at the confidence…thinking you can break through that shell and make him the better man you know he’s supposed to be. Yay you for reading it!! A guy friend of mine just tried and failed, so I applaud you for finishing. Now, did you also watch the full mini series with Mr. Firth? Reading this post makes me want to stay home and watch rather than going to work…alas, that’s not going to happen.

    I think recently, the book I’ve read that is the most diverse is Lost Dog (Bill Cameron). I don’t typically read thrillers or things with that much violence, but I found I couldn’t put it down because it was so well written and I really just wanted the killer to get his. It definitely showed me that I could read thrillers, and while I don’t know that it will become a favorite genre, it’s nice to have that diversity in the middle of all the other random stuff I read.

    Reply
  5. Dana King

    Twain must have found something he liked about Austen. His comment ("Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ ) implies he’s read it multiple times. The "allowed to die a natural death" line is a bit strong, but very Twainian. (Twain-esque? Twain-like?)

    I can’t think of a book as far from my usual reading habits as Pride and Prejudice to cite as an example. I loved, and was moved by, John Irving’s A Widow For One Year and I’m a big fan of Richard Russo, but I don’t consider either of them to be great departures from crime fiction, probably because they’re contemporary.

    Maybe I shoud give Pride and Prejudice a tumble, since I did want to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and JD makes a good point about wanting to get the jokes.

    Reply
  6. toni mcgee causey

    I read so many genres, I am having a hard time finding an example. Every time I think of one, I realize no… that one led me to that other one and now I have a whole shelf of the stuff. [I read close to 200 books a year. I wish I had time to read more.]

    I’d have to disagree with the characterization of Darcy as a "bad boy." Darcy is a snob, and is all about following the rules. (Bad boys break the rules and don’t give a crap who it hurts.) Darcy is entombed in those rules and forces his perception of what’s right on the world, regardless of who it hurts (including Elizabeth and her sister). I think one of the reasons women think he’s hot is that he has the strength of character to learn from his mistakes and to break free from the strict rules of society–which would have come at a personal cost to him, reputation-wise–and follow his heart.

    Plus, it really doesn’t hurt that Colin Firth was cast in the BBC series. (Although 5 hours is too much.) The Kiera Knightly movie was good–I wasn’t enamored of the guy playing Darcy, though, which, I think, lessened its impact.

    [If you’re not going to read Sense and Sensibility, watch the Emma Thompson version of the movie. She won an Oscar for that adaptation.]

    Reply
  7. R.J. Mangahas

    Dusty,

    we all know that you’re a manly man and you certainly proved that by reading….what did you call it? Oh yes, the ultimate chick book.

    I’ve never read it, but a good lot of my female friends seem to enjoy it. Perhaps I’ll pick it up myself and see what it’s all about. And who knows, maybe I’ll see the hotness that is Mr. Darcy or wind up being a doofus too for not recognizing it.

    Sci-Fi and Fantasy are a couple of genres that I never read. (movies are a little different for what ever reason). But someone introduced me to the world of Terry Pratchett through his book The Color of Magic. I figured that I would read it, and that would be that. Surprisingly, I really liked it and have since read all his books. Since then, I’ve found a few fantasy authors I like. I suppose it’s always good to expand the old reading base.

    Reply
  8. toni mcgee causey

    She did, Dusty, but the casting was smart. The woman who plays Jane was truly beautiful and for most of the movie, Kiera (while still beautiful), was not made up quite as gorgeous as the woman playing Jane.

    Reply
  9. Jeff Abbott

    Dusty: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is one of my favorite novels. That often comes as a surprise to people. What I love about Austen is how she shows that human nature has changed very little, despite all our technological and social progress. You should try SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. I think every teenager should read it before dating.

    The most farthest afield reading I’ve done lately is trying Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels, which are a mix of sci-fi fantasy and political intrigue, about a royal family fighting for control of "the one true world" (our world is merely a muddied reflection of this center of the universe). There are ten of them and I have read four; they were recommended to me by book critic David Montgomery. I’m enjoying them and like you, I wanted to read something entirely different from my usual diet of crime fiction and nonfiction.

    Reply
  10. Pari

    Dusty,
    I’m reading P & P with my 4th grader and we’re having a grand time with it. I, too, was shocked at how funny it was (Jeff, it was lethal in high school; I didn’t get any of the humor — only the stodginess).

    Toni nailed it about Darcy; he’s such a horrid snob in the beginning and by the end he’s actually grown. That must’ve been super sexy when Austen wrote it and it remains so now.

    Out of my genre? Humm . . . Twilight — just because I usually don’t go for major angst, but enjoyed this version. I’ve started Spook Country a couple of times but haven’t gotten far enough into it . . .

    Reply
  11. J.D. Rhoades

    Pari: SC starts slow, but picks up considerably about halfway through.

    Jeff: I LOVE the Amber books. At least the first series, never got through more than a book or two of the second.

    RJ: Pratchett rules.

    Reply
  12. Louise Ure

    I love your manly review!

    I guess Satanic Verses was a similar "challenge read" for me. And while I liked it, I didn’t consider it either award- or fatwa-level reading.

    Reply
  13. Wilfred Bereswill

    Bravo Dusty, and how did you like the movie Made of Honor?

    Sorry, I didn’t know you had a sensitive side. I tried to read Kite Runner once. I really tried. Maybe it was under the circumstances that I was going through at the time, but after a chapter it found its way back on the bookshelf where it sits today.

    I did read "The Shack." Way out of my wheelhouse. I found it quite interesting.

    Reply
  14. Jeff Abbott

    I would like to defend Darcy for a moment. Yes, he is a snob. But remember, Elizabeth prejudges him too much at the beginning (hence the title!). Both of them are too bound by stricture and habit. Darcy is not the only one who grows; Elizabeth does as well, when she is willing to see past Darcy’s face he presents to the world, when she recognizes his generosity as his love for her. That change in both of them makes them one of my favorite couples in all of fiction.

    Now I want to go back and read it. I’ve never seen any of the movies or miniseries.

    Reply
  15. kit

    I amy be off base here …but I believe Mark Twain’s critism of Jane Austin to be in the realm of reverse snobbery, for whatever reason. Personally, I enjoy both writers’ work.
    Piers Anthony, was the first name that came to mind as an answer to your question of *out of my genre* .

    Reply
  16. Cornelia Read

    I’ve always wanted to do a Jane Austen Noir anthology, but I guess the zombies beat me to it

    Good on you for reading this, Dusty. I guess I should go listen to some Captain Beefheart now.

    Reply
  17. Celine

    I’m with Stephen; Real Men(tm) read whatever they damn well please!

    That said, I’ve never read P&P myself, and I probably ought to. This falls into the same category as not having read Dune or SIASL — part of the reason I’m resistant is the number of people telling me, "Oh, you HAVE to read this!" But I did pick up a DVD of the BBC production off the dollar shelves recently, with the specific thought that watching it would at least let me be able to follow P&P discussions in my friends’ blogs. Sooner or later I’ll actually get around to putting it in the player…

    Reply
  18. JT Ellison

    I love Austen, and I love that you’ve given her a shot, Dusty. I actually like Sense and Sensibility better, and I love the Gothic Northanger Abbey. The Kiera Knightly version is true Hollywood, with some, ahem, additions, and I couldn’t stand the hairdressing. Yes, they didn’t bathe that much, but watching all the sisters run around with drippingly greasy hair drove me nuts.

    Foe Sense and Sensibility, the Masterpiece Classic version is wonderful, much better than the modern version, though I do love Emma Thompsen.

    What’s great about these books is they touch a part of all of us. Austen’s genius was her ability to show every day life in such a true form, and make it fun and interesting. And she remembers the happy ending.

    Reply
  19. Pari

    Jeff,
    You’re right about Elizabeth. That’s part of the reason the book is such fun and holds up so well. Both of the leads grow while others remain, regrettably, stuck entirely in their ways.

    One of the defining moments for me vis a vis Lizzie is when she realizes that her father, her beloved father, might actually have some faults.

    Reply
  20. John Dishon

    I had to read Tess of the d’Urbervilles in high school. Everyone in the class hated that book (typical for high school, right?) but I loved that book. I don’t know why, exactly. For some reason I really cared about Tess’ plight.

    Reply
  21. Jake Nantz

    Toni,
    I’m not saying Darcy is a bad boy. I’m saying that he is as close (in that society) a portrayal of the Byronic Hero that is embodied today by the "bad boy."

    The reason I say that is the guy who breaks all the rules is Wickham. But he’s not the "bad boy every woman thinks they can change" in that society. He’s a slimy piece of shit that no woman in her right mind would want anything to do with (which is why he’s perfect for the younger Bennett sister, who has no right mind).

    I guess we agree to disagree…

    Reply
  22. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    One of my favorites is Steinbeck’s "The Winter of or Discontent." A wonderful character study.

    Reply
  23. Fran

    I was always more of a "Jane Eyre" gal rather than a "Pride and Prejudice" one, but I’ve always been a step off.

    Things that, on the surface, seem to be out of my genre? "The Clowns of God" by Morris West, which is a book I read every year without fail. In fact, I’m due to read it again soon.

    Congratulations on being bold enough to read official chick lit and enjoy it! But then we always knew you were a cut above, Dusty!

    Reply
  24. Jenni James

    LOLOL! This review cracked me up soo much! It’s wonderful and so awesome to see it from a male’s perspective! LOL! So thanks for the laughs. As for me, I’m a die hard Jane Austen fan–I must be, I’m rewriting them all for teens. And as for Darcy, I think what is so great about the whole relationship is both of them make assumptions and then find out they’re wrong. But he is seriously dreamy. No, really, he is. Especially when he stuns elizabeth with his horrible proposal and then letter! Yes, even bad surprises are dreamy! LOL! Then when she shows up at his house and he tries anything and everything to prove to her that he’s a good guy, instead of treating her like dirt. Sigh. He’s so in love with her–even with Bingley’s sister throwing herself at him–that it’s awesome to see them finally get together.

    I read 4 books of Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World series (out of my genre) blew me away and opened up a whole different respect for authors in general. Especially fantasy, I don’t know how they can do it.

    Reply
  25. Karen from Mentor

    Hey, I’m a chick and I didn’t get around to Pride and Prejudice until my late forties when I read Wuthering Heights and said, whoa, what else can I read that’s considered classic enough to shove down a tenth graders throat???
    Great post. I laughed out loud several times.
    I agree with RJ Mangahas that Terry Pratchett’s disc world series is AWESOME I have them all. I always recommend his Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky for the tweens.
    I went out of my comfort zone to sample some pretty extreme gore recently and backed right out. Not for me and not too proud to admit it. Vampires either…ick… if men in evening wear want to come into my bedroom window at night I’d rather they didn’t come to suck my neck….
    Thanks!
    Karen

    Reply
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    About "amiable".

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