Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jane Austen: Dec. 16, 1775--July 18, 1817

Jane Austen's propensity for making strong statements and then subtly taking them away or quietly qualifying them is one characteristic that I really enjoy in her writing. Take, for example, the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, probably one of the most famous openings in English literature.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

That's strong clear statement--universally acknowledged--something that everybody agrees with. Austen doesn't equivocate here. And the truth that's universally acknowledged--he must be in want of a wife. There's no question here either--he must be. There's no doubt here.

Then comes the second paragraph:

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rughtful property of some one or other of their daughters.

This universal truth doesn't seem to be that universal since the feelings of such a man are really little known. So, this universal truth seems to be limited to the families in the neighbourhood.
However, the following conversation between Mr. and Mrs Bennet suggests that perhaps this truth isn't universally acknowledged by all members of the families.

Mrs. Bennet says, response to a question from Mr. Bennet, "Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune, four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

"How so? how can it affect them?"

"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."

"Is that his design in settling here?"

"Design! nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes."

While Mr. Bennet is obviously teasing his wife, it also seems clear that he doesn't share in the universality of Mrs. Bennet's truth. Perhaps, after reading the opening paragraphs, one might say that this universally acknowledged truth resides mostly in the mothers of the unmarried young ladies in the neighbourhood, while the fathers play along solely to get some peace in the house, especially with a wife such as Mrs. Bennet. The fathers, no doubt, also consider the financial outlay associated with wedding ceremonies and tell themselves that after the wedding, the husbands will now be responsible for future expenses as they live happily ever after.


  1. Fred,

    Pride and Prejudice is one of my top favorite books. Have you ever read any of the current P&P "sequel novels" written by contemporary authors? I haven't, but wondered if any were worth reading. Amazon has a bunch of them for free ( Kindle version) here:

    I'm almost afraid to try one.

  2. Cheryl,

    I've never tried reading any of the "sequels" to Austen's novels. In fact, I don't think I've ever tried to read a sequel to a novel that wasn't written by the original author.

    I think the closest I've come to doing something like that is to read a novel that was finished by another author. The few that I tried were disappointing.

    Since you can get some free ones, I would suggest that you go ahead and try one; you might enjoy it. If not, then you haven't lost any money.

    If you do try one, let me know what you thought of it.

  3. Fred,

    Well, I downloaded Mr. Darcy's Diary, which was the P&P book offered with the highest rating ( 4 stars). Some just seemed to be "bodice rippers", and had reviews like this one : "I Shredded This Book and Used It for Kitty Litter". I can't guarantee I'll finish it, but at least it's free.

  4. Cheryl,

    Is that the one that is parallel to P&P, but from Darcy's point of view?

    Let me know what you think of it.

  5. Fred,

    Yes, Mr. Darcy's Diary is parallel to P&P. It's written as diary entries, and reads like the cliff Notes version of the book. It's very faithful to the story, including using entire identical portions of dialogue from Austen's book. Darcy comments on what he thinks about it, and comments about his slowly growing attraction for Elizabeth here and there. It's true to the style and the pace of P&P, too. I don't know that I'll finish it, though, because I have alot of other books to read. Mr. Darcy's Diary is not a bad book, but it's nothing special either.

  6. Cheryl,

    Is there anything new in the book? Something that perhaps adds to the original? Or is it just a replay of what's already there?

  7. Fred,

    So far, there isn't anything very new. You can see why he reacted in certain ways in P&P, because you now know what he was thinking at the time. However, you could probably deduce that from the original book. You could see if your library has it, so no money is wasted if you don't like it.

  8. Cheryl,

    OK, thanks for the comments. It doesn't sound as if the author is providing new insights into the work.