Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice

 

„It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.“

This might be one of the most famous first sentences of a novel.

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Although this book was published more than 200  years ago, it is still read and loved by many readers nowadays and has been made into movies for several times (in my opinion the best adaption is the BBC mini series from 1995).

For those who still haven’t read „Pride and Prejudice“  I’ll summarize the content shortly.

The Bennet family has five daughters (the beautiful and kind Jane, the witty and clever Elizabeth who is her father’s favourite, the boring  Mary, and the untamed girls Lydia and Kitty) and no son which means that Mr Bennet’s estate and money will be inherited by the closest male relative. Because of that Mrs Bennet is eager to find a wealthy and suitable husband for her daughters. When a young wealthy gentleman, Mr Bingley, his two sisters, Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst with her husband, and his friend Mr Darcy arrive in Meryton (Mr Bingley has rented a mansion, Netherfield Hall), hopes are high that he will be looking for a wive in the village. However, the first meeting is disappointing. Although Mr Bingley is a handsome young man and seems to have genuine interest in Jane, his relatives and Mr Darcy seem to be completely uninterested and arrogant. As the story continues, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth bicker constantly. But is Mr Darcy as proud as Elizabeth believes?

While writing the summary I realized how hard it is to put everything what’s in this book in a few short sentences. It’s more than just a love story- it’s a novel that portrays society and class in 19th century England. The summary omits many characters and story lines but I didn’t want to spoil anything – I vividly recall the embarrassment I felt every time Mrs Bennet spoke, laughed about the ridiculous Mr Collins  or the feelings I had towards Mr Darcy and his arrogant behaviour when I was reading the novel for the first time.The novel is mainly told from Elizabeth’s point of view and I could perfectly understand her feelings towards Mr Darcy. Moreover, I love Elizabeth’s character – she is a woman who has her own mind and I (and I think many other readers) could relate to her views of love and marriage. In a time when marriage meant (financial) security for women, she doesn’t understand that a woman should ever marry a man she doesn’t love. After she is informed that her best friend is going to marry a man without loving him, she is devastated.

„The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it; every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.“

 

In 2010, the Harvard University Press published an annotated version of the famous novel. It was edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks who is an emerita professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Although I’ve read the book at least five times and had access to  additional material , I’ve really enjoyed reading this annotated version. It delivers insight into the role of women and the importance of marriage during the Regency era. Some annotations are short explanations of today obsolete and unusual expressions and words, but most of the annotations build a bridge to Austen’s biography and novels, other novels of the era and  social conditions. Many questions that could arise while reading the novel are answered very well, e.g. why it is a problem if Mr Bennet doesn’t call upon the new neighbours (no social connections  between the families would have been possible if he hadn’t) or why Mr Darcy avoids being introduced to anyone at a dance (a man and a woman  who hadn’t been formally introduced before couldn’t dance). Moreover, there are pictures of illustrations, paintings and sketches which are very well-chosen to get an idea how life looked like 200 years ago.Besides all the interesting and fascinating information given, the book itself has high-quality binding and paper and is an eye catcher for every shelf or coffee table of Janeites. This annotated edition can be recommended to everyone who has already read Pride and Prejudice  because it gives uncountable additional information of various Jane Austen scholars so that the reader can enjoy this brilliant story even more. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for first readers since I think it the amount of information can be overwhelming and also spoil some fun.

 

Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice – An Annotated Edition

Harvard University Press, 2010

ISBN: 978  0 674 04916 1

 

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