reviewing pride & prejudice

I find myself coming back to this story quite a bit, it seems. While I like it a lot, I'm still surprised. I decided, though, after my earlier comments on the various screen versions, to re-read the book. It had been several years since my last perusal, and I had only read it once before.

Unsurprisingly, since I rarely remember too many details of a book on first viewing, it almost felt like a first reading. Since I had so recently re-watched the mini-series, though, it made for an interesting amount of immediate comparison.

I remember when the Keira Knightley P&P movie came out, how people were enthusing about how great the book is, and hearing Austen's name spoken in the same sentence with Shakespeare. While I was rather pleased to hear that at the time, I can't say as I gave it a whole lot of thought. After re-reading P&P, though, I have to say that that's significantly overblown.

It's a fantastic book, and I enjoyed it a great deal (especially the last several chapters, which kept me, literally, laughing out loud). However, it is certainly not without its flaws. The most significant of these was a strong tendency to summarize conversations, without giving them verbatim. I'll admit, this can be very difficult to do, but it does add a great deal. That is, the reader can see the speaker's personality, without requiring the author to explicitly tell them what that personality is. As the saying goes, "Show it, don't tell it." The mini-series, in fact, actually improved on the original, in this respect, as that necessitated spelling out many of the exchanges. It also required moving some phrases from words from the author to actual dialogue, which is to the good.

Another thing that significantly separates her (and, so far as I'm aware, everyone else) from Shakespeare was his extraordinary inventiveness with language. I read once that he created 1700 words and phrases that have become common koine. I can't personally vouch for the number, but that there were a lot of them is incontestable.

(As a side note, this is actually why I think the Oxfordians are full of it, in attributing Shakespeare's works to the Earl of Oxford. A better educated person would be less likely to be so creative in phrase, as they would likely have a larger lexicon from which to work. For what it's worth, I do think it quite likely, though, that the actors with whom Shakespeare worked probably contributed materially to the finished product.)

In any event, getting back to the original comparison, Ms Austen, while occasionally showing great turns of phrase (her dialog varies between quite good and outstanding), does not even approach the Bard, in that respect.

Getting back to the story itself, it is also interesting to compare life in that time period. Though the story is confined to the rich (even the Bennets, described as being less than rich, can hardly be seen to be so, having live-in servants and such), it is easy to see many things that are possible now, even for the very poor, that were not possible for them. And the social engagements are difficult to comprehend, for me. Sitting around, waiting for the mail is just unimaginable in this day of phone and email. And the amount of chaperonage; ridiculous!

I suppose I might change my mind about the necessity when my daughter is a bit older, but that amount of supervision would have driven me quickly nuts. How does one actually grow up, in such an environment. One can see how that might lead to the "nanny state" in which the UK currently finds itself. What is harder to understand is how the Brits would have accomplished so much in the meanwhile. Yes, yes, I can hear someone with a thick brogue saying, "With Scottish leadership". Be that as it may, it's an odd set of circumstances.

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