Sunday, April 20, 2014

[Book and Movie] Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

So I have a bit of a history with this book.  I knew it was important, and it was on my list of books to read, but I tried three times to read it and was unable to do so.  It wasn't because it wasn't well written but I think, ironically it was of the same reasons that other people have reasons with Elizabeth's family, specifically the crazier more flippant members of Elizabeth's family.

I even tried the book on tape.  That normally does the trick but in this case I was still unable to get through it.  There was an amusing incident in which I complained about the book on Facebook and was quietly assaulted by no less than seven ardent defenders of the book in the most emphatic terms that my negative opinion was balderdash.

And they were right.  But the truth was, even after the second and third time I tried to read it...I still couldn't get through the thing.  It was too...flippant and pointless.

Sometimes it takes the right perspective though, or rather the right person to help you see the right perspective.  Julia, my now wife, explained to me about the laws at the time in which a woman could not own property, and the entail, which forced noble estates to male heirs, often kicking those who had previously owned it out into the street.

And that changed everything.  Suddenly this was a struggle of principal vs survival.  It was politics and fighting with the only weapon they had in a patently unjust society.  The characters do not see themselves in such directly but it added to the gravity of everything.  It made Elizabeth's decision to marry only for love gloriously insane but worthy of admiration.

And just like that I fell in love with the book.

Let's start with the characters.  For a "Chik Lit" book, they are surprisingly empathetic and in depth.  I've read modern novels that don't even approach  Jane Austin's approach to things.  Also, the fact that many of the tropes she invented, that are tired in other stories, still WORK in hers, even independent of the fact that she invented it is all the more impressive.  The dialog is also very interesting and fresh.  In fact, the only real criticism is that sometimes it becomes difficult to determine where one character is speaking and another is ending, and that was WITH Julia reading the book out loud to me. 

The villain is believable, and not evil for his own sake, even though he is as evil as any selfish person today.  People are noble or small and stupid just like they are now.  This is a slice of reality in the 18th century that shows us that while some things have changed radically, others have remained radically the same.    The descriptions of the lifestyle is also quite intruiging.

Granted, there are some socioeconomic questions here...such as the fact, that I can't ignore that this is largely about the gentry, rather than the common man, but for a good story I can put that in the back of my mind so long as it isn't about something like the glorification or white washing of slavery.  And despite the uneven nature of resources (and its not like we don't have that now) they had a gentility and nobility to their system of etiquette between themselves that you can understand its appeal in the modern day where informality and a lack of respect has reached epic and disastrous proportions.

In short, the book was fantastic.

Then for Julia's birthday, she convinced me to watch the six hour miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  It was a fast six hours as the casting was good, the settings were fantastic and the acting excellent.  Again, it was an easy watch. I'm not someone who will pull a Peter Griffin at a Chick Flick here, but I like a good story and this really was quite good.  I'd also recommend watching it.  Though I sincerely recommend reading the book first.  You learn things about the book that you might miss on the reading, but the book, as usual does things and explains things that can't be covered easily in the movie.

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