We had to read Sense And Sensibility in high school but I didn’t think much of it at the time; it wasn’t until I was in college that I actually LOLed at Emma and then proceeded to devour Jane Austen’s other books in a matter of a couple of very happy weeks. I have deep love for five of the six full novels, and a friendly regard for the sixth (Northanger Abbey). What I love best about them is that they are perfect re-reads: I can open the first page and sigh a deep sigh of gratitude, secure in the knowledge that for the next day or so I am going to be reading something intricately witty and emotionally thought-provoking. I know how they all end—the main dudes and the main ladies all hook up, you see—but I don’t care, I get right into the stories every time, furrowing my brow when Captain Wentworth seems to be going for Louisa Musgrove, like: what? and laughing at Mr. Woodhouse’s offer of a basin of gruel and shaking my head thinking, “Mmm, girl, this is NOT going to end well,” when they get the green baize for the theatre rehearsals at Mansfield Park.
Of all the completed novels, Pride And Prejudice holds a special place in my heart, the way I think it does for a lot of people. I’ve read it twenty times at least, probably twenty-five, and I will never, never, never get tired of it, never never never.
There is not a single thing wrong with this book—I love everything about it and every time I read it I find something new to adore, some little detail. Mr. Bennett telling Mrs. Bennett that her nerves have been his old friends these twenty years, Miss Bingley complimenting the evenness of Mr. Darcy’s writing, Mr. Collin’s proposal in the breakfast room, Mr. Wickham’s last conversation with Elizabeth at Longbourn, Lydia’s meaning to treat her sisters to lunch when they get back from London but she’s spent all her money, on and on and on. What I’m really saying, I guess, is that I love the people in this story, I love that I know them well enough after having spent fifteen years with them that I can shake my head and go “Really, Mr. Collins?” when he tells the Bennetts it would be better if Lydia had died, and think ”That is just like Jane to say that,” when she tells Lizzie that, yeah, well, Mr. Bingley is like the most fantastic guy she’s ever met, and he’s even better now that she’s seen him after a year of no contact, but no big thing, she’s not that into him…I mean she doesn’t like him or anything. WhatEVER, Jane Bennett, you SO do too like him.
When I’ve read it before I’ve found myself dwelling on different things every time. Sometimes the anthropology, like servants’ livery and the trimmed hats and hackney coaches and the entailed estate and all those cousins trying marry each other with, apparently, no shame whatsoever. Sometimes I’ve thought about the class issues: the ten-thousand-a-year, the insurmountable problems with Mrs. Bennett’s family, the practical reasons for Charlotte’s marrying and the foundation of Lady Catherine’s severe attitude problem: like it really isn’t enough that Darcy is a gentleman and Elizabeth is a gentleman’s daughter! It’s like actually a thing! Sometimes I’ve thought a lot about the relationship between Elizabeth and Jane, or about how, out of that entire sort of inappropriate and annoying family, those two somehow magically grew up to be awesome. And of course, of course, the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. I love it when he tells her, when they finally get together (spoiler alert!) that he doesn’t know when he started loving her because he was in the middle before he knew he’d begun, and that’s very obvious to the reader, and not just because the narrator drops oh-so-subtle hints about him being in danger if not for the inferiority of her connections. I think the same thing actually happens with Elizabeth, she’s in it before she even knows about it herself—by the time she’s realizes that he’s not going to ask her to marry him again (thanks a lot, LYDIA) and that’s kind of a bad thing, I’m always rolling my eyes and going “See, Lizzie? SEE?”
I think I sold my old copy from the Huntley Bookstore, reasoning that most English-language libraries will have it, as the Wellington one certainly does, but a couple of weeks ago, soon after the ball, I started slowly cruising by the beautiful orange-and-white stacks of Penguin Classics at Unity Books, feeling the pull once again, and hence I got to re-read—few pleasures so sweet—my very own copy for the first time a couple of weeks ago.
This time what caught my eye was the timing—not the timing of the plot (which is pretty damn perfect to my untrained eye) but the timing of the story, if that makes sense. Everything happens so quick! The whole thing takes place within a year. First Jane and Bingley see each other and everyone’s all making kissy faces at them going “Oooooooohhhh!” and at the Netherfield ball, after like two months, where, you know, it’s not like they can even date, or even be alone together, like, at all, everyone’s all “He’s going to make her an offer! OMG!” Two! Months! (“So, Mr. Bingley, how did you and Mrs. Bingley hook up?” “Well, we totally hung out in public with her crazy mom and my bitchy sisters for a couple of weeks, and we danced once or twice at this sweet party I had at my house, and then I proposed, and then we got married, and then we had our first kiss, which totally rocked, not that we were that bothered about waiting because we’d only known each other for like three seconds so no big deal because now we indulge in the pleasures of the bedchamber like all the time.”) And then of course there’s Mr. Collins, who, having been rejected by one girl whom he’s known a week, goes on to propose marriage to a completely different girl whom he’s known for even less time. And it’s true, the other characters think it’s like a little weird that he switches over from Lizzie to Charlotte in a DAY, but not as weird as you’d think they would. They’re all like, “Yeah, that’s quite a turn-around there, but she is this total old maid at twenty-seven, so she should take what she can get, even if even she knows he’s totes hideous. Good thing she set out to accidentally meet him in the lane, you know?”
I guess it’s really like that, though, sometimes. Sometimes people can’t fall in love quickly enough, no matter what century they’re living in, no matter who’s writing the story. Still, when I was reading, I kept hunching forward with worry, thinking, wait, stop, wait, think it over, be careful, wait, wait, wait. Maybe I will always think that, no matter how many times I re-read, no matter that I know that they all live happily ever after in the end.