Jane Austen – Revisiting the Past

Going into a bookshop is always a delight. I love looking at the rows and rows of books and imagining that there are innumerable books and classics I haven’t read yet. Maybe there’s another author I can love as much as I love Jane Austen or L. M. Montgomery; or another book as great as Wuthering Heights and Gone With the Wind. It would be the greatest thing if I could discover a new book which moves me as much as To Kill a Mocking Bird.

But until I find such a book or author, I have to read – and what better than the old classics? I can re-read Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte a million times and never get tired of them. These days I am busy in re-reading Pride and Prejudice, my favorite Jane Austen novel. Jane Austen in a letter to her sister wrote,

‘I must confess I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.’

But obviously she did not have to worry, for Elizabeth is one of the most loved heroines of all time.  Her wit and vivacity make her charming, but her vanity and prejudice make her human and more relatable to the reader. It is because of her flaws that we love her, not because of her virtues. Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood are superior creatures much more morally correct but not more lovable than Elizabeth Bennet, Emma or Catherine Morland. The characters who go through some self-revealing process are the ones that we love the most.

Jane Austen’s style was unique. She was born in the Age of the Romantics but was nothing like them in her style. She actually parodied the gothic and sentimentalist styles of her time in her novel’s Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility. It is easy to see that she had a sense of humor for the absurd. Her novels abound in comical irony. Take Pride and Prejudice as an example. In the novel we have numerous comical characters: Mr Collins, Mrs. Bennet, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Austen aims a lot of the ironic humor at them; sometimes through narration and sometimes through other characters.  Mr Collins seems absurd the moment he is introduced through his letter. Phrases such as ‘bounty and beneficence’ and ‘earnest endeavor’ show us beforehand that he is a pompous fool. And Mr. Bennet later solidifies our opinion,

‘There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well.’

The humor intensifies when he makes his visit and declares his intention of marrying one of the sisters. His proposal is especially comical. His reasons for marrying, his belief that a woman refuses an offer of marriage she really wants to accept, and then his suddenly proposing to Charlotte – all amusing.

Mrs. Bennet is another absurd character. We see her from the first page of the novel. Here Austen uses dialogue to reveal her characters. By the end of the chapter we see Mrs. Bennet for what she is and hardly need the narration at the end,

‘The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.’

My favorite scene in the novel is Darcy’s proposal. It is so well written and the dialogue is perfect. The way she uses dialogue and then switches to free-indirect speech, you barely notice the absence of dialogue. Elizabeth’s answer is perfectly worded,

‘You are mistaken, Mr Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’

I can actually imagine Darcy’s expression at the moment. He rightly calls it a ‘reproof, so well applied….’

So, whereas my mission is always to find a new novel, I can always fall back on the classics and enjoy them like I did the first time around.:)