Happy 200th, “Pride and Prejudice”!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice.

The trivia surrounding the book is vast and entertaining — my favorite, perhaps, is the account of a 40 year old Polish orangutan who is a Pride & Prejudice devotee. And the adaptations are legion — from the amusing “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to the delightful 1995 BBC miniseries to the (in my opinion) execrable 2005 Keira Knightley vehicle to the hideously inaccurate,but nonetheless charming, Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson movie.

Likewise, feminists have sought to appropriate the book, either because of its heroine’s supposed “oppositional relation to power”  or as a cautionary tale. Reams have been written about Pride & Prejudice‘s “significance,” the unjust underrating of Jane Austen as a literary figure, and the like.

But I have never been able to put Pride & Prejudice into any sort of intellectual construct.  Perhaps that’s because I fell in love with it before loving Austen was cool — around 1979, when I read it in the fall of my seventh-grade year. I was entranced by the elegance of the language; by the characters (who doesn’t know a Mr Wickham or Mr Collins?!); by the wit, spirit, and intelligence of the heroine; and (yes, I admit it!) by the love story — which is distinguished by the fact that Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy actually earn their happy ending by transcending major character flaws for each other.

These days, it’s obvious I’m hardly alone in my affection for the Austen oeuvre. The question is why. I suspect that it has something to do with the modern state of intersex relations — that despite the significant and manifold disadvantages women confronted in Regency England, modern women nevertheless yearn for a social system in which some rules govern the behavior of men, women and the relationships between them. (For more on this — and the lessons modern ladies could extract from Austen’s heroines, do read Elizabeth Kantor’s absolutely wonderful The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After.)

But maybe there’s more to it than that.  To what do you attribute the reawakening of interest in Pride & Prejudice and the rest of Austen’s work?

  1. Crow

    Many fine reasons have been pointed out already on this thread. 

    The worlds she creates are indeed beautiful–but more than just physically beautiful or set in idyllic countrysides; Austen’s work is unsparing in its character critiques, but the arc of her characters is always morally beautiful. She sets them in motion in a universe that has meaning, and has a profound moral order pervading it.

    When her characters are quick to judge, sarcastic and dismissive, or foolhardy, selfish, or narrow-minded, we see the consequences play out in their relationships. Just so, we also see their redemption, and we see that their good decisions lead to happiness.

  2. mesquito

    I’m something of a philistine, but what I love about the Austen novels is their soothing, pre-teevee, pre-radio, pre-telegraphy pace.

  3. Merina Smith

    Big Austen fan here.  I too love the language and the wit.  It took me a long time to realize that most Austen characters are actually rather flat–that is you know exactly how to think of a Mr. Collins or Lydia Bennett because they are uniformly foolish.  Most people in real life aren’t so easy to pigeonhole, but that is OK because  Austen tells a darn good story.  And her world is very moral and understandable, though the problems she presents are complex. 

     We recently watched a four part version of Emma–I didn’t recognize any of the stars–on Netflix (I think it was.) It was, of course, very entertaining, but I realized that I found it somehow restful.  It was partly the lovely English countryside and the ordered world, but it was also that there was some agreement on good and bad, right and wrong–rare in the modern world.  Also, for better or worse, everybody had a place in the social body and understood how to treat one another.  I know that industrial England was very harsh for multitudes, but Austen’s countryside version is a welcome break from modernity with all its puzzles. 

  4. Barbara Kidder

    Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is my favorite novel!

    The writing sparkles;  there is a wonderful brevity (which, of course, is the soul of wit) in the dialogue, a briskness to the narrative, as well as a concern for the deeper human qualities, as revealed to us, the reader, from a definite Christian perspective. 

    Elizabeth Kantor’s  book, The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, is a wonderful ‘companion’ to P & P;  I plan on giving it to each one of my five granddaughters, as they approach womanhood. 

  5. Scott R
    Carol Platt Liebau:

     

    To what do you attribute the reawakening of interest in Pride & Prejudiceand the rest of Austen’s work? · · 33 minutes ago

    Colin Firth, wet.

  6. Barbara Kidder
    Merina Smith:  

     We recently watched a four part version of Emma–I didn’t recognize any of the stars–on Netflix (I think it was.) It was, of course, very entertaining, but I realized that I found it somehow restful.  It was partly the lovely English countryside and the ordered world, but it was also that there was some agreement on good and bad, right and wrong–rare in the modern world.  Also, for better or worse, everybody had a place in the social body and understood how to treat one another.  I know that industrial England was very harsh for multitudes, but Austen’s countryside version is a welcome break from modernity with all its puzzles.  · 1 minute ago

    Did you watch the 2009 BBC version with  Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley?

    It was so well done and stayed faithful to the book, Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’.

  7. drlorentz

    I tend to favor Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

    Someone had to say it, right?

  8. skipsul
    Carol Platt Liebau: Today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice.

    The trivia surrounding the book is vast and entertaining — my favorite, perhaps, is the account of a 40 year old Polish orangutan who is a Pride & Prejudice devotee

    tumblr_lrzohy1c6a1qboxefo1_500.jpg

    Is this the fan?

  9. skipsul

    I suggest Bride and Prejudice as a good Amero/Bollywood adaptation.

    I play Aishwarya Rai against your Colin Firth.

  10. Caroline

    I love the Bollywood version called Bride and Prejudice. 

  11. skipsul

    My wife says:

    I love this story because

    Men are real men!

    Women are real Women!

    And Small Flattering Parsons from Hunsford are Real Small Flattering Parsons from Hunsford!

  12. Standfast

    Don’t over analyze.  It is still read today, and loved, because of the  superb writing, memorable characters, and a great plot.  Even in our oversexed violent graphic culture, quality is still recognized.

      And my vote  for best adaptation of a Jane Austen work – “Sense and Sensibility” with Emma Thompson.  A most excellent cast of actors, and I believe the ending in the movie is more satisfying than the ending in the book.  Kudos to Ms. Thompson.

  13. Leigh
    Scott Reusser

    Carol Platt Liebau:

    To what do you attribute the reawakening of interest in Pride & Prejudiceand the rest of Austen’s work? · · 33 minutes ago

    Colin Firth, wet. · 24 minutes ago

    Cynic!

    On one level, P&P is the grownup Cinderella.  Just a little more substance to the love story, and substitute a foolish mother and sisters for the evil stepmother and stepsisters, but the happily ever after is about the same.

    A little more deeply, I think part of the appeal is that Jane Austen shows women valued as women.  Not as feminist superheroes, nor sexual objects, nor yet domestic ciphers; her heroines are thinking, intelligent, utterly feminine, talented women of character who are loved for these qualities by a man worth being loved by.

  14. Scott R
    Leigh

    Scott Reusser

    Carol Platt Liebau:

    To what do you attribute the reawakening of interest in Pride & Prejudiceand the rest of Austen’s work? · · 33 minutes ago

    Colin Firth, wet. · 24 minutes ago

    Cynic!

     

    No, no — I’m saying I, me, really love seeing Colin Firth wet.

    (Truth: That A&E version really is fantastic and has become a family tradition here.)

  15. tabula rasa

    double post

  16. Barbara Kidder
    HoosierDaddy: The Keira Knightley P&P is just as good as the Emma Thompson S&S. I haven’t seen any other adaptations, but I can’t imagine how anyone could call it “execrable.” · 7 hours ago

    Permit me to say that the Keira Knightley P&P, which is only a two hour  movie, cannot hold a candle to the 1995 A&E production, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth and which lasts approximately five hours!

    My recommendation, to those who have neither read Pride and Prejudice nor seen a screen version of the story, is to read the book first;  followed by a viewing of the A&E 1995 version of the story, and then a re-reading of the novel.

    In this way, your understanding of the story and its characters will have had an opportunity to fully ripen!

    You are in for a real treat…

  17. tabula rasa

    Why the renaissance of Jane Austen/Pride and Prejudice?  Here are a few reasons that resonate for me:

    1.  Austen is a wonderful writer, the dialogue sparkles, the plots work, and the lead characters are fully-realized characters whom we love.

    2.  Austen takes us back to a time when–at least in the class in which she lived–virtue meant something.  Marriage was the most important thing a person could do; goodness was its own reward; classy integrity (as opposed to, say, sluttishness) was the mark of a real heroine.

    3.  Men acted like men; women acted like women [No, this is not a plea for us all to return to 1810].  Yet Jane Austen proved that a talented woman could break a mold and still be feminine.

    4.  Her books make people happy and the happiness lasts (as opposed to the evanescence of titillation).

    5.  Her books translate beautifully to TV and movies (especially to the mini-series format).

    6.  She created a language that no one in the world ever used, yet it works perfectly.

    An underrated translation of Austen to the screen was the pre-action movie Kate Beckensale as Emma.  She was a perfect.

  18. EThompson
    tabula rasa:

    3.  Men acted like men…

    Wickham may have been a cad and Collins a sycophant, but Mr. Darcy was positively dreamy. He most certainly stole the show!

    Edit/add-on: I may have to disagree with your choice for the most delightful portrayal of Emma. I thought Gwyneth Paltrow did a remarkable job.

  19. EJHill

    I like the brawling, foul-mouthed Jane Austen of Old Harry’s Game, the brilliant Andy Hamilton BBC radio series set in Hell.

  20. Group Captain Mandrake

    I’m not sure there has been a reawakening of interest.  As far as I can tell, Jane Austen has always been popular.  Over the years, TV and film productions of the novels have appeared and I don’t doubt that there may have been an increase in interest in the novels at that time, but that’s based on a fairly constant level of appreciation and even veneration from readers of English.  I would contrast this with a writer like Anthony Trollope who really did fall out of favour for quite a while at the end of the 19th century, but has seen a resurgence of interest in the last 30 years or so.  Incidentally, Trollope thought that Pride and Prejudice was the best English language novel until he read Ivanhoe and began to change his mind and then read Henry Esmond and gave the “palm” to this latter novel.

    I think Austen and Dickens both have maintained a fairly constant level of support.  Trollope, Thackeray and Eliot have not always fared as well.

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