Jane Austen has long been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read my mother’s copy of Pride and Prejudice – it’s the brown book shown in the photo.
I’ve read this now so many times, watched TV and film adaptations that I’m not sure what to write about it. Usually I write about the plot and the characters to help me remember a book, but I don’t need to in this case.
What struck me this time in reading Pride and Prejudice is the language. Jane Austen is never sentimental or preachy, but treats serious subjects with humour and irony. Pride and Prejudice is full of wit and humour and timeless characters – foolish people, flirts, bores, snobs, self-centred and dishonest people as well as “good” people like Jane Bennet, who is determined to see good in everyone.
I was also aware of the many times she used the word “civilities”, and its variations. This was a society where manners were most important, behaving civilly towards each other and observing the correct etiquette. It’s a novel about manners as much as about pride and prejudice, about how people behave and how they see each other and the world. I like the original title Jane Austen gave her book – First Impressions – because the first impression Elizabeth and Mr Darcy had of each other wasn’t love at first sight (or was it?), not a promising start. I used to try to work out which one was proud and which prejudiced, but decided that each of them is both. Fortunately, both weren’t too proud to admit they were wrong.
I enjoy reading about Jane Austen and her world and there are many books available. I have Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s World which looks at daily life in Jane’s England and includes accounts of the numerous dramatisations of her books. When I won a giveaway book from Dorothy at Of Books and Bicycles I was delighted that one of the books she had on offer was Jane Austen: a Life by Claire Tomalin. I’ve started to read it and now I’ve finished Pride and Prejudice I’ll be able to concentrate more on it. I love the cover, which shows the painting The Great House and Park at Chawton, owned by Jane’s brother Edward.
Several years ago I read Carol Shields’ biography, which lead me to James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1869. He was her nephew and of course, knew her personally. I found a copy in my local library. In it he described her as a
clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair, forming natural curls close round her face.
fond of music and had a sweet voice, both in singing and speaking.
And he thought she was a calm and even person distinguished from other people by
that peculiar genius which shines out clearly enough in her works.
And I think that says it all – she was a genius.