Fiction: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

pride & prejudice

So I have no idea what this review is going to look like. Dear High School Students Who Are Beginning to Write Their Essay on Pride and Prejudice Approximately Twelve Hours Before The Essay Is Due Who Happened to Find My Blog Via Google: I fucking feel for you. However, I must advise you: I’m writing this review four fucking months after I read it, and to make matters fucking worse, I’m smack-fucking-dab in the middle of my upty-ninth attempt to finish Deadwood, and Al Swearengen is not only at the top of his game, but also impacting my fucking words.

If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t already know the plot of Pride and Prejudice, raise your fucking hand.

Goddammit, E.B.

[[sidenote: I spend at least five minutes of every Deadwood episode cursing out E.B. Farnham and his goddamned jackassery.]]

Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s classic tale of classist marital strife. Mrs. Bennet wants to see her five daughters get married off, because their estate is entailed to a male cousin. Basically, when Mr. Bennet kicks the fucking bucket, the females of his family will be cast out upon their shapely rears without so much as a farthing to their fucking name.

Jane, the eldest Bennet, falls in love with Charles Bingley, new owner of Netherfield Hall. He falls in love with her likewise; but his love is curtailed by the misguided advice of his trusted friend, Mr. Darcy. Darcy doesn’t think that Jane truly loves Bingley, because she doesn’t swan about like any other fucking —

[[here’s where my writing exercise comes to blows with my actual feelings, re: Pride and Prejudice: my attempt to write in Al Swearengen’s voice wants to say “fucking whore” here, but my normal sensibilities wouldn’t allow that.]]

[[to be honest, I also don’t want anyone to think that I hate the book because of all the swearing – far from it. I love this book – having come to love it after a few years of detesting it, and then also being fairly meh about it. But Al Swearengen would be the first to fucking tell you that copious amounts of fucking profanity does not mean that the cocksucker using those terms hates the thing of which he’s fucking speaking.

so please note: I really do love Pride and Prejudice. But I also love exercising my creative writing skills, and “Al Swearengen reviewing Pride and Prejudice” is an excellent exercise, second only to “Addison De Witt reviews Hamilton“.]]

So Mr. Darcy not only turns Bingley away from Jane, but he dares insult Jane’s younger sister, Elizabeth, behind her fucking back. He almost goes out of his way to be fucking miserable to Elizabeth, and when Darcy and Bingley return to London, Elizabeth is glad to have seen the back of him.

Elizabeth goes to visit her friend, Charlotte, who married the male cousin who has the entail to the Bennet estate (it should be noted that the male cousin, Mr. Collins, a right fucking hooplehead if ever there was one, attempted to marry both Jane and Elizabeth first; when Elizabeth rightly turned his proposal down, he  moved on down the fucking lane to Charlotte). The hoopleheads live on the property of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who happens to be Mr. Darcy’s aunt. When Darcy also visits the estate, he gets Elizabeth alone at the parsonage and fucking proposes, completely blindsiding her. She rejects him, and he goes on his fucking way, the way a man should, because no means fucking ‘no.’

Later, Lydia runs off with Wickham, a right fucking cocksucker who shares a history with Darcy. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth (until nearly the end of the book), Darcy works behind the scenes to get Wickham to marry Lydia so that she is not “ruined,” but Lydia’s such a spoiled little brat that she would have deserved a good ruining. Anyway, Elizabeth finds out about Darcy’s involvement with the whole fucking situation, and when she thanks him for his efforts, he tells her he did it all for her.

[[Okay, I’ve finished watching this episode of Deadwood, so my exercise is over. I actually do want to point out a couple of things, and I need my Alaina-voice to do so.]]

First of all, let’s talk about Mr. Darcy and how he is yet another fictional character who has ruined me for all non-fictional men. Sure, he starts off as an asshole, but through his conversations with Mr. Bingley’s sisters we the reader find out that his dickishness is brought on by an attempt to hide his feelings. And, to his point, Mrs. Bennet is an awful, embarrassing character; an opinion of Mrs. Bennet could indeed set someone off from one of her daughters.

And so Darcy wrestles with his feelings – he doesn’t understand why Elizabeth enchants him so, and he struggles to subdue how he feels because a) marrying into the Bennet family would be a step down from what he has, and b) who wants to marry into a family with such a shrewish mother-in-law? and c) I don’t think he knows what love was up until Elizabeth, so maybe he doesn’t know what he’s feeling.

His wrestling with himself, to Elizabeth, comes across as being an asshole. So when he visits her in the parsonage, and he starts pacing back and forth, she has no fucking idea that this is what he’s going to say:

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” [p. 213]

It’s not until the last four words of that paragraph that Elizabeth even knows how he’s feeling. For all she knows, up until “admire,” he could be gearing himself up to say “loath and detest you and your family.” She doesn’t know!

And people will say that Darcy is not romantic; that being so mean to Elizabeth and then coming into her guest room and basically saying, “I love you, and even though I hadn’t given you any inclination to that up until now, we should marry because I say so” isn’t romantic. But when you look at the literary definition of romantic, to mean “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized” [Thanks, Merriam Webster!], then Mr. Darcy is the exact definition of romantic.

And speaking from the perspective of someone who never has any idea if someone is flirting with me (see this review for an entirely real conversation between myself and my Dear Friend Kerri; it’s below the quote from When Harry Met Sally…), this is what I expect to happen in my life. I’ll be dealing with someone – a stranger; the Aaron Burr to my Alexander Hamilton (“we keep meeting…”); and I don’t love him. He’s kind of a dick. But he’s the one to break the ice and tell me that he loves me, because I have not experienced what romantic love looks like outside of novels.

Want more proof that Mr. Darcy is romantic and, also, imaginary? When Elizabeth declines his proposal, he accepts it. He does write her a letter in an effort to explain his point of view in the whole Wickham mess; and at the beginning of the letter he tells her that he’s not writing her in an attempt to change her mind; he’s writing to give her the full view of the story. Do you hear that, Tinder Guys I’ve Heard So Much About But Never Interacted With Because Yick? No means no means no.

Mr. Collins, the Original Hooplehead, does not understand the basic concept of consent, as evidenced here:

“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this subject I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.”

“Really, Mr. Collins,” cried Elizabeth with some warmth, “you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as may convince you of its being one.” [p. 124]

It also doesn’t hurt my esteem of Pride and Prejudice that one of my favorite books and movies is based on it, to the point of a) naming its male romantic lead Mark Darcy, and, in an inspired twist, b) hiring Colin Firth to play Mark Darcy in the film, after playing the formative Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice; this would be Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I could go on about how Elizabeth is also one of the first feminist characters in literature – or, at least, more feminist than what we’ve seen for a couple of centuries; I’d wager that Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing was a feminist, but when centuries pass and we’re left with Emily from The Mysteries of Udolpho for a while, Elizabeth’s determination to marry for love seems downright earth-shattering – but I’m not going to. For two reasons: 1) I need to go the fuck to bed, and 2) I also won’t write the goddamned essay for the high schoolers; they should look shit up on Wikipedia, like I couldn’t, because it didn’t exist back then.

Also, if you haven’t watched Deadwood, you should get the fuck on that.

[[sorry i said ‘fuck’ so much.]]

Grade for Pride and Prejudice: 5 stars

 

 

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Fiction: “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

northangerWhen October rolled around, it was time to pick my next Fall Classic. And while my pick for the actual Fall Classic fell slightly short of the goal (IT WAS 2015, THE CUBBIES WERE FATED TO GO TO THE WORLD SERIES, MARTY MCFLY SAID IT WAS SO – why no, I’m not over it yet, why do you ask?), my literature Fall Classic was a poor attempt at trying to come full circle with my (admittedly, thanks to hindsight) poor choice for May Classic Literature Month.

Remember, for 2015’s selection, I elected to read The Mysteries of Udolpho. I am still kicking myself for that library choice. I mean, I just tallied up the books I read last year, and I’m two shy of 2014’s total, and I’m sorry, Ann Radcliffe, but I’m putting all that fault on your shoulders. If I wasn’t so busy reading about Lady Emily having hysterics I could have finished — who knows? Five more books? Seven? I could have hit forty, you bitch.

Ahem.

ANYWAY. When October came around, I realized it only made sense that I should read Northanger Abbey — after all, Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s open attempt at satirizing Ann Radcliffe’s master work.

Northanger Abbey was one of the first novels Ms. Austen wrote, but it was only published after her death. The heroine is Miss Catherine Morland, a charming yet naive country girl who gets the chance to experience a Bath season. She is introduced to society at the Pump Room (a Thing in Bath – where debutantes paraded around a fountain and gossiped about everyone else) and becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, who appears to be a great role model of the upper class to which Catherine aspires. Spoiler alert!: she’s not.

Isabella’s kind of a bitch – she becomes fast friends with Catherine because Catherine’s too naive to see through her Regina George-esque facade. Well, she’s like Regina George only if Regina George was a manipulative husband-hunter.

Maybe she’s more like Karen:

“Very well, Catherine. […] I have not forgot your description of Mr. Tilney — ‘a brown skin, with dark eyes, and rather dark hair.’ Well, my taste is different. I prefer light eyes, and as to complexion — do you know — I like a sallow better than any other.” [p. 47]

So she likes sickly men that she can easily overpower; that’s how I’m interpreting that sentence.

Catherine’s afore-mentioned Mr. Tilney is Henry Tilney, a young parson who has accompanied his sister Eleanor to Bath for the season. (I should mention that in Jane Austen-land, a country parson is someone who can still marry and flirt with girls – we’re not talking a Catholic priest or a Jesuit monk, here.) They hit it off quickly, although Isabella’s brother John also develops an attraction to Catherine. Isabella, meanwhile, begins to fall for Catherine’s brother James. The Thorpes’s attraction is derived completely from a falsehood going through Bath that the Morlands are extremely rich, however.

It all sounds pretty sedate, right? Basically it’s what a modern-day take on a historical romance sounds like. Two fast friends find each other becoming nearly related and one of the girls has a secret admirer. It’s all very quaint. But here’s what Jane Austen’s doing – she’s satirizing the whole damn thing.

Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s treatise on what should happen to silly little girls who read too many novels. And in creating that treatise, she tried to put in as many “silly little novel” tropes as possible: the Naive Everygirl; the Love Triangle; the Lemony Narrator, even. And then she subverted them, or heightened them to the point of parody.

Catherine, who is such a fierce lover of literature – including The Mysteries of Udolpho, which, true confessions, I almost typed that just now as “The Musteries of Udolpho,” which implies that Udolpho smells really mildew-ey — automatically goes to the Most Dramatic Option when presented with something that could have even the slightest hint of mystery. When she visits with the Tilneys and finds a large wardrobe in her room, she doesn’t assume it’s a guest wardrobe; she believes she’s going to find something ghastly and suspenseful inside. She gets herself so worked up that when she finds a key in a keyhole and turns it to open it, she actually locks it on herself, and then takes about five minutes before she tries turning it the other way. And when she finally peers inside the drawer, what does she see? Not the desiccated hand of a long-lost Tilney ancestor, but an actual, honest-to-God laundry list. It is a list of laundry items.

That might not seem very funny to us as a modern-day reader; but to someone of Ms. Austen’s time, when The Mysteries of Udolpho and its ilk were the height of literature and there was nothing funny about them, the tricks Ms. Austen pulls on the reader becomes that much sharper and cleaner. General Tilney is oppressive and taciturn – maybe he’s a robber baron like Count Montoni! Oh no wait, he’s just a snob, who also heard the lie about the Morlands being rich. Wait, where does General Tilney go during the day – up to his dead wife’s room? Maybe she’s still alive! So then Catherine goes sneaking around to try and find a maybe-not-so-dead wife, only to be discovered in the act by Henry. But instead of cutting her out of his life for her crazy ideas – because General Tilney actually loved his wife and is still mourning the loss of her, that’s where he’s going, he’s leaving you for some goddamned peace and quiet, Miss Morland! (sorry) – instead, Henry gently mocks her and her propensity to turn the Drama Dial on everything up to 11. In Udolpho, Lady Emily cuts Vaillancourt out of her life when she hears about his gambling without giving him a chance to explain himself. Here, Henry actually listens to Catherine and finds her overactive imagination charming.

Ms. Austen, in her role as narrator, also takes stabs at the fact that Udolpho and its contemporaries are overly long. For instance, our introduction to Isabella Thorpe’s mother:

Mrs. Thorpe was a widow, and not a very rich one; she was a good-humored, well-meaning woman, and a very indulgent mother. Her eldest daughter had great personal beauty, and the younger ones, by pretending to be as handsome as their sister, imitating her air, and dressing in the same style, did very well.

This brief account of the family is intended to supersede the necessity of a long and minute detail from Mrs. Thorpe herself, of her past adventures and sufferings, which might otherwise be expected to occupy the three or four following chapters; in which the worthlessness of lords and attornies might be set forth, and conversations, which had passed twenty years before, be minutely repeated. [40]

Dear Mrs. Radcliffe: can I get you some ice for that BURN? (But it’s true, it’s totally, one million percent true.)

Finally, because this is Alaina’s blog called That’s What She Read, and I am the most twelve, you can only imagine how hard I laughed while I read this otherwise-innocuous paragraph about John Thorpe’s curricle:

“What do you think of my gig, Miss Morland? A neat one, is it not? Well hung; town built; I have not had it a month. It was built for a Christchurch man, a friend of mine, a very good sort of fellow; he ran it a few weeks, till, I believe, it was convenient to have done with it.” [p. 51]

The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I didn’t have the background of The Mysteries of Udolpho. I’m not sure I even knew it was a real book, to be honest. But now that I’ve read both, knowing Udolpho definitely strengthens Northanger Abbey for me. It’s funnier, smarter – knowing the past heightens the present.

That’s not to say that The Mysteries of Udolpho is a piece of shit that should be mocked; just because I didn’t like it and my opinion of the book closely paired with Miss Austen’s opinion of the book which in turn made me enjoy Northanger Abbey more doesn’t mean that someone else might have the opposite opinion. (Right? Right.) After all, I read new books for the adventure – I won’t really know if I’ll like it until I try. And even when I don’t have a favorable opinion of a book after reading it, the pleasure of reading is always present.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with this conversation between Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney:

“But you never read novels, I dare say?”

“Why not?”

“Because they are not clever enough for you — gentlemen read better books.”

“The person, be it a gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” [p. 107]

Well said, Mr. Tilney; well said.

Grade for Northanger Abbey: 4 stars

Fiction: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Now with zombiesI finished reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES tonight, about four hours ago. In celebration, Sydney the Laptop has decided to play “Thriller.” Syd, I heartily approve and applaud your choice. Because there is, I swear to God, a “Thriller” reference in this book:

“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy!”

“Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance. Why, I imagine even zombies could do it with some degree of success.” [22]

Anyway. Seth Grahame-Smith is totally my second pretend boyfriend (after Daniel Craig, of course). He did indeed keep about 90% of Jane Austen’s original novel, and simply added some scenes of supreme zombie violence. The plot, even, is exactly the same: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn have five daughters, and Mrs. Bennet’s only goal in life is to see them married off, and hopefully well. Mr. Bingley and his sisters and friend Mr. Darcy arrive at Netherfield, a neighboring manse, and Mrs. Bennet pushes her eldest, Jane, into the arms of Bingley. Elizabeth is headstrong and independent, and is less than impressed with Darcy’s impertinence and pride.

The difference? Zombies.

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