14 July 2015
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
This is one of the most famous and memorable historical romantic novels ever written. In essence it is a story of Much Ado about Nothing set in the slow moving world of intricate manners in eighteenth century Regency-Georgian society. Jane Austen's superb clear prose gives you a ringside seat of that society and how "a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
I have seen multiple movie and TV versions of this story but have never read the book. Austen's prose brings alive a range of fascinating characters notably Mrs Bennett, a pea brain whose main aim in life is to get her five daughters well married and Mr Bennett, who retreats to his Library to avoid excessive contact with his irascible wife. I especially loved the character of Mr Collins, an obsequious and greasy clergyman under the influence of the powerful and manipulative Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who also happened to be Mr Darcy's Aunt. Then there are the various "lovers". Mr Bingley and lovely Jane Bennett and the scoundrel Mr Wickham and headstrong Lydia Bennett.
The main protagonists are Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. While Darcy is one of the richest and most eligible men in the kingdom, at first Elizabeth finds him arrogant and rude and builds up an intense dislike of him. The story is about how these initial reactions change as both of them get to know more about the other. Of course, to the surprise of everyone, including the couple themselves, the romance has the inevitable happy ending.
Throughout the book I constantly thought about how the various relationships would have developed in a modern environment. Most certainly Elizabeth would have told Darcy directly that she found him arrogant and boring and they wouldn't have had any further contact.
In this case I didn't read the book but had it read to me as an audiobook by a professional narrator, English actress Carolyn Seymour, who used her acting skills to bring the book to life with a range of different voices for the key characters in appropriate English accents. This transformed what would might have been a bit of a tedious reading experience to someone used to page-turning thrillers into a brilliant historical adventure. I wonder if I would have really appreciated all the finer points of the writing and the characters without the help of this marvellous narrator.