Jane Austen January – Pride and Prejudice – an opening post

I have happily settled in to the reading of my favorite novel Pride and Prejudice.  I really should have started my January with Northanger Abbey, which I find very charming but which is rather inferior to the other books and cannot but suffer by the inevitable comparisons, but I just don’t possess very much self-control.

“Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, “is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds: but, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”

Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst are two of my favorite characters in P&P, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way.  They are gloriously awful, but it amuses me that they are just as silly and empty-headed as Lydia and Kitty but obsess about petticoats and beautiful little designs for tables instead of officers and dancing.

For anyone participating in this Jane Austen January, who are your favorite characters from P&P

Also, please check out Austenprose to discover all the various ways that one can celebrate the bicentenary this year of Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813.

11 thoughts on “Jane Austen January – Pride and Prejudice – an opening post

  1. It’s cheating to say Elizabeth Bennet, right?

    In seriousness, I know that I’m getting older because I now sympathize with the mothers of P&P as much as with the daughters. “How awful it would be,” I think, “to have all these children and no idea where your income is going to come from and no way to make money.” Mrs. Bennet isn’t any more likeable, but she’s more empathetic. Or maybe I am?

    But I think I’m going to have to go with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner who have one of the few happy marriages in Austen and who provide advice and support for Lizzie and Jane when they’re not getting it from anyone else.

    • It was Brenda Blethyn’s performance as Mrs. Bennet in the 2005 film that taught me to be sympathetic to that lady’s plight. The Gardners are excellent characters, and Mrs. Gardner is one of the four examples of reasonable female (I count Mrs. Reynolds…) in the book. I’ve got to love her for that. Good choice! I think I love Darcy better than Lizzy, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve an unnatural fondness for broody men…

      • Yeah, I’d definitely take Henry Tilney over Mr. Darcy any day. ; )

        I get the problems that many had with the 2005 P&P — too much angst; it had the tone of a Bronte adaptation, not Austen; Keira Knightley; etc. — but I thought it was the only version to treat Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins sympathetically and not just as sources of humor.

      • Mary Bennet, too, got a much more compassionate portrayal than she does in the BBC version or, perhaps, in the book. I loved the Gardiners’ portayal in both films, but I am partial to the BBC version. So much of my youth was spent in watching those videos, it’s difficult to separate the characters from their BBC counterpart versions.

        Henry Tilney is absolutely lovely, but I love Darcy better because he determines for himself, without any kind of prodding, that Lizzy is right for him and has to win/earn her affection. I go nuts for stories with a male suplicant. I’m just subversive that way. ;)

  2. I’m sure we’ll get to it, but yes, the ending of Northanger Abbey always disappoints me, but I think some of it is a function of Henry being younger than most of the other Austen heroes.

    Previously, I’ve would have argued that Lizzie changes much more than Darcy, but on this re-reading, I’m also beginning to felt like that’s a function of POV than anything else. Austen never gives us scenes of men without women, so while it isn’t written in the limited third POV that most contemporary romances are, it is much more sympathetic to her than him.

    re: adaptations, I feel like it tends to be a choice between those that are faithful and those that deviate from the material but “get” something else, be it alternative characterization or pacing. What’s lost most often is Austen’s tone. The ironic, witty, detached, and sometimes cruel social commentary of the page often gets translated into mere humor. And there’s a clear delineation between the characters who are supposed to be funny and those that a serious that I don’t think is supported.

    The best example of this in P&P is Mr. Bennet, who I think gets an entirely too sympathetic treatment on the screen whereas on the page, I think Austen has serious concerns about his parenting (e.g., the Lydia situation, etc.), but there are many, many others.

    • Yes, exactly! It is the loss of Austen’s tone — the source of most of my enjoyment of her books, to be honest — that prevents me from seeking out and enjoying the many story adaptations that are available in the wide world of Austen-influenced fan fiction. (As an aside: I read one yesterday that perfectly maintained that tone… it was lovely!) I read P&P before I saw the BBC film adaptation, but the latter ended up supplanting my impressions of the former over the years during which I watched the BBC film on a weekly basis (I was obsessed). Since then, whenever I read P&P, I am always surprised by how much of Darcy’s struggle with his feelings we readers are shown. I’m in favor of adaptations of these amazing stories — we all read them differently, after all, and are drawn to different nuances within the stories — but my chief enjoyment, these days, will always be in the stories themselves.

      Back to Northanger Abbey, have you ever seen a good film adaptation? I don’t know that I ever have, but I’d be interested in checking one out. I really do love that story, even though the ending leaves much to be desired.

      Cheers–

      • Have you read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell? It’s not really a romance — though the very understated romance in the book is great — but I think it gets the tone almost exactly right.

        The only Northanger filmic adaptation I’ve seen is the 2007 ITV one, with Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan. Mulligan is wonderful as Isabella Thorpe but the rest wanders between silly and just okay. I think its a difficult book because its so much about literary culture and most contemporary readers, even those reading Austen, aren’t immersed in Ann Radcliffe and Horace Walpole and Samuel Richardson.

        re: Austenesque novels, I’m not really a fan of Austen prequels, sequels, and retellings as a rule. I’ve read a few and some are decent, but if I want Austen then I want to read Austen, you know? I love contemporary books set in the regency period, but I guess I like them best when the writer brings his/her own sensibility and does something original.

      • I have not read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but I do own the book. I never seem to remember it whenever I am casting about for a new book to read, but I will try to remember it when I am next as leisure. I love that tone.
        Now that you mention it, I think I have seen the 2007 ITC version of Northanger Abbey. It is so much better than the boldly terrible 1986 version (so, so bad) that it seemed excellent by comparison, but I think you are right that it is missing much of what is so wonderful about that book. While there may not be a decent film version, I did just finishing listening to an audiobook recording of the book narrated by Flo Gibson (I believe she narrated recordings of all six finished novels), and I enjoyed it very much.
        I am inclined to agree with you regarding Austenesque novels–though I am sometimes tempted by what-if variants and have liked a few–particularly the prequels, sequels, and retellings. I think my susceptibility to what-if variants is largely due to the mini-series Lost in Austen, which I heartily enjoyed (despite its occasional bad acting) for putting a very different spin on these iconic characters. In that way, P&P and its characters take on a role not unlike mythology in providing a context through which the world, or some small part of it, may be illuminated.

  3. I really love all the characters in P&P, but I think I’m most intrigued by Anne De Bourgh. What is up with that girl? Did she really expect to be married to Darcy? Why does she let her mom boss her around so much? I suspect she has some scandalous occupation and that her illness–whatever it is–is just a cover.

    • What a fabulous idea! I agree that Anne De Bourgh might be one of the most mysterious characters, simply because we don’t really learn anything about her. I read an adaptation once that paired her with Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I really enjoyed that she got more of a story (and a serious dose of backbone) in that adaptation. :)

  4. So Lady Catherine is definitely my favorite “guilty pleasure” character from P&P. Elizabeth and Darcy are definitely my favorites overall though. Even though Darcy is a huge jerk at first, you can’t help but melt when he transforms into that heavenly gentleman.

    Can we also get a holla for Col Fitzwilliam and Georgiana? I love them and want them to be together. Georgiana’s shy girl exterior is definitely a front for her “bad boy urges”. She likes bad boys. (Hello Wickham?) Col Fitz could totes fit that role.

    Also – re: Northanger. Love that book! I affectionately refer to it as Nabbey.

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