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10 January 2012

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

Years before I saw the BBC production of this book, Mrs. Bennett's voice was distinct, clear and annoying in my head.  I was relieved to hear the same voice in the mini series.  Jane Austen had absolutely conveyed a character; her job is so well done that we still enjoy her stories 200 years later.  The book itself is one of my favorites.

At first, of course, Elizabeth had my attention and she often still does.  She embodies the wit, charm and strength of character I wish I had had in combination at her age ("not yet one and twenty").  Moreover she has the most unbelievable patience with her mother.  Talk about embarrassing parents, Mrs. Bennett is the blue print for all the rest of us.  The behavior displayed by Mrs. Bennett (and even occasionally Mr. Bennett) causes Elizabeth and her sister, Jane, material harm... for a time.  Lose tongues and no brains have sadly not remained in the 19th century.

Jane Austen's ability to create unique characters that are familiar and recognizable make her books special and enjoyable even in the age of smart phones.  Human nature has not changed, so what we communicate has not changed, only how.  We all know one of those people who move through life a la Lydia Bennett, selfish and ignorant, who never the less have luck in life (or more luck than we think they deserve).  Nothing happens to make them believe that their behavior will not continue to get them what they want.  Often a husband, father or sister has had to fix, pay or apologize but rarely are the Lydias of this world held personally accountable.  Why though?  Maybe it is our own laziness.  I do not want to have that kind of fight or discussion.  Three different characters speak to Lydia about her thoughtless behavior without causing a moment of hesitation or conscience on her part.  Jane Austen does not get frustrated.  She has a laugh; this is the way of the world, she seems to say, why not laugh about it and get on with your life, like Elizabeth and Jane, things will work out for you as well.

Other characters are equally interesting.  Sir William Lucas is inoffensive and friendly.  The author has a laugh with him as well.  He asks polite questions and receives loaded answers.  There is one in every group.  That one person who is friendly and innocent of whatever the circumstances are, but puts his or her foot in it quite regularly?  This book is full of character studies.  I read Pride and Prejudice about once a year, if not then another of Jane Austen's novels instead. Her books are always fresh because I can focus on other things aside from the obvious story.

The Mrs. Bennetts in my life (yes I have more than one) make me insane when we are in the same room.  Contrary to my ironic instincts, laughing at someone like Mrs. Bennett can be considered cruel.  I was caught laughing once.  Jane Austen must have been quite brave or quite certain that no one ever associates themselves with the irritating, ignorant, selfish, officious or stupid.  You are more likely to sympathize with Hannibal Lecter than think that you are truly the most boring patient your therapist has.  Jane Austen's joke is on us, the readers, who are clearly Elizas and Darcys all.

ISBN: 9781853260001

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