The Brilliant Comedy of Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) is the first book on the BBC book list.  I think that is fitting, given the fact that it is a popular novel, even among young people today.  In its time, the book was admired and imitated (see Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South).  The title was originally First Impressions, which fits the mistaken notions Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have of each other.  However, it ended up being called Pride and Prejudice, apparently taken from a novel that Jane Austen admired, Cecilia by Fanny Burney published in 1782.  All this time I thought that the pride and prejudice theme was a Jane Austen original.  Despite her borrowing of the phrase, her novel is one of the most well-known classics, and several movie and miniseries versions have been made of it.

My personal favorite of those dramatic interpretations is the 2005 version with Keira Knightley.  I know, I know.  You don’t like that one at all.  However, I do.  The screenwriter kept a lot of the original language and quotes from the book.  But most compelling for me is the music by Dario Marianelli.  It’s stunningly beautiful, and I don’t know any pianist that didn’t immediately buy the sheet music after seeing that movie.  Apparently, Beethoven’s sonatas were the inspiration for the score.  And now I realize why I love the music so much.  I love Beethoven.  I remember my motivation for becoming a better pianist in fifth grade was Beethoven’s Fur Elise, as it is for many young pianists.  Beethoven is one of the few composers that I spent time with on my own without prodding from a teacher as a young child.  I used to pull out this large, heavy collection of his work and just page through it, stopping to play the pieces that looked most melodic or approachable.  I learned Sonata No. 8 (Pathetique), Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight Sonata), and Adieu to the Piano (actually not confirmed or known as a Beethoven composition for sure) this way.  Because of Marianelli’s basis of Beethoven, it’s no wonder the score was nominated for an academy award, along with Keira Knightley for best actress.  Neither won.  Despite my love for this adaptation of the book, I do own the 1995 BBC version, which is fabulous as well.

Photo by Tony Shek from Wikimedia Commons; Keira Knightley at the premiere of Pride and Prejudice in Toronto International Film Festival 2005.

I first read Pride and Prejudice as a high school student during a summer break.  My mother instituted a book club that summer with my sisters and me.  We each had to read a book every week, and then on Sunday afternoons we would meet and tell each other about the books.  The premise of reading something in a week felt daunting, but we all were able to do so and it is one of my fonder memories of my mother.  She instilled a love of reading in me that has obviously shaped the course of my entire life and work.

I loved Pride and Prejudice that summer.  I couldn’t wait to finish my chores and piano practice each day so I could spend the afternoon sprawled on my bed with that heavy, red, leather-covered book.  My mom had a small collection of leather-bound books, and from that group I chose Pride and Prejudice.  I found myself surprised at the ease with which I could understand the unfamiliar and Romantic prose.  I fell in love with Mr. Darcy as Elizabeth did, and I sympathized with Elizabeth over her mother’s ridiculous notions and follies.

My favorite part of the book is when Elizabeth is contemplating her unwanted proposal from Mr. Collins.  He isn’t right for her, she doesn’t love him, and the marriage would always be unhappy on her end.  It would be a pity marriage, or like marrying the class nerd just because you felt sorry for him.  Marriages shouldn’t be made out of pity.  Elizabeth’s mother is putting this pressure on her, reminding her that she’s the oldest daughter and telling her that if she refuses, she will never speak to her again.  Mr. Bennet in all of his wit and wisdom says, “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth.  From this day, you must be a stranger to one of your parents.  Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you if you do.”  I just wanted to throw my arms around Mr. Bennet and kiss him when he says this.  It is brilliant comedy and also shows the love and concern of a father who understands his oldest daughter.

What is your favorite part of Pride and Prejudice?  (I know you have one.)

In the last few years, a lot of zombie books have been coming out.  One was titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.  It is Austen’s original text with scenes and words added to include zombies.  I tried to read it.  Truly I did.  I got to the part where Elizabeth and her sisters are crossing the field to visit Netherfield, and on their way they are attacked by zombies.  So, when they arrive, the mud on their skirts and in their hair is a result of their fierce ninja skills, not the muddy countryside and the persistent rain.  I just couldn’t finish it.  The novel is a great idea, a fun idea, but just not for me.  Have you read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

I found this character map on Wikipedia.  It is quite interesting and I thought you might find it helpful and enjoyable as well.

from Wikimedia Commons