Pride and Prejudice
I read this for a nascent classics book club I have become a part of. Sadly, I didn’t like it. It was a long haul, and I wouldn’t have finished it if not for the obligation.
The book is fundamentally about a whole slew of terrible things we should probably leave in the past. There are terrible social structures at work here about the almost forcible marrying of daughters, not allowing women to inherit estates, expectations of female behavior, the attitude of men towards their future wives, the effective payment of ransom/blackmail to protect a woman’s reputation, etc. The entire book is basically about women struggling against a male-dominated society without even really knowing it.
In the middle stands Elizabeth, who is either a novelty as the self-sustaining, outspoken female, or perhaps Austen planted her there on purpose to counterpoint the patriarchy. I hope the latter, but I’m not totally sure Austen was even that self-aware.
Beyond the subject matter and context, I wasn’t a fan of Austen’s writing style. It was ponderous. The entire plot was a mish-mash of men (Bingley, Wickham, Collins, etc. – only Darcy really stood out to me) and locations (Longborn, Netherfield, Pemberly, etc.) that all ran together. The action basically consists of people conversing and arguing with each other. Half the time I wasn’t sure what anyone’s motivation was.
I did learn that this book fits into a genre called a “novel of manners” which “a realistic story that concentrates the reader’s attention upon the customs and conversation, and the ways of thinking and valuing of the people of a social class.” That’s an accurate description – in addition to gender dynamics, this is a story about accepting or rejecting people based on their perceived economic value.
I have two daughters. I have told them that I will walk them down the aisle at their weddings, but I will not “give them away.” They’re not property to be given to anyone. Any man that marries either one of them will have to earn that right.
In that context, I struggled with the basic degradation of women in “Pride and Prejudice.” I suppose I should probably look at this as a description of the social mores of the time, but the entire thing made me wholly unsympathetic to all the men involved, which made enjoying the book problematic.