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?
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.