Monday, April 5, 2010

Pride and Prejudice, Chapters 1-11

For this week we read the first 11 chapters of Pride and Prejudice, and I have to start by saying that this is the Austen novel I've most been looking forward to reading. It's the best known, certainly, and it has spawned two great movie versions — the 1995 BBC series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle and the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen — so I already know the plot going in. The novel has also lead to innumerable mash-ups, spin-offs, and tributes, so clearly the characters and plot resonate with people to an extent that her other novels do not.

So what I really want to discover about Pride and Prejudice is whether it lives up to the hype. Is Austen's Elizabeth Bennet going to be just as dynamic as her on-screen portrayals? Is Mr. Darcy really the ultimate Austen hero? My gut tells me yes, and at only 11 chapters in, I already like Pride and Prejudice more than I liked Sense and Sensibility; Austen still does too much narrating in lieu of having her characters exhibit or talk about their feelings, but Elizabeth and Darcy have crackling repartee and the Bennet parents are hilarious.

The novel starts with Mrs. Bennet's announcement to her husband that Mr. Bingley, a highly eligible bachelor, has moved into the neighborhood, and she instructs him that he must go visit him so their daughters can meet him. He does, and the sisters — Jane, the eldest, is pretty; Elizabeth is smart; Lydia and Catherine are boy crazy; and Mary is quiet and kind of odd — meet him at a ball, where Bingley is quite taken with Jane. We also meet Bingley's friends who are staying with him — Mr. Darcy, his sisters Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, along with the latter's husband. Darcy is quite rude to everyone at the ball, refusing to dance and telling Bingley that he doesn't find Elizabeth pretty. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth and the others want little to do with him, though Miss Bingley keeps blatantly trying to get his attention.

The Bingley sisters invite Jane over for dinner and she falls ill while at their estate (having ridden there on horseback in the rain, per her mother's instructions) and is unable to leave. Elizabeth walks over there to stay with Jane, and both sisters spend time with the Bingleys and Darcy. Elizabeth doesn't care for the Bingley sisters, finding them shallow and frivolous, while she likes Mr. Bingley, mostly because his regard for Jane is obvious.

Austen tells us that Darcy realizes he actually does find Elizabeth pretty, but Elizabeth thinks he is excessively proud. At the close of chapter 11, Elizabeth and Darcy tell each other what they perceive each other's main flaw to be — "Your defect is a propensity to hate everybody," Elizabeth tells Darcy. "And yours… is to willfully misunderstand them," he replies.

And with that, we're off to a great start with this novel. Who's playing along (or has read Pride and Prejudice) before, and what do you think of the book so far?

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