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At the turn of eighteenth-century England, spirited Elizabeth Bennet copes with the suit of the snobbish Mr. Darcy while ...
At the turn of eighteenth-century England, spirited Elizabeth Bennet copes with the suit of the snobbish Mr. Darcy while trying to sort out the romantic entanglements of two of her sisters, sweet and beautiful Jane and scatterbrained Lydia.
It is now almost exactly two centuries since the first two of Jane Austen's six completed novels - Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice - were published, and for much of that time writers and critics have passionately disagreed about the true caliber of her work. Austen's books received a few respectful reviews and lively attention from the reading public during her lifetime, but it wasn't until nearly thirty years after her death that some critics began to recognize her enduring artistic accomplishment--and others to debate it.
In 1843, the historian Thomas Macaulay called Austen the writer to "have approached nearest to the manner of the great master" Shakespeare; Charlotte Brontë felt, on the contrary, that "the Passions are perfectly unknown to her.... Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless) woman." Anthony Trollope made up his mind as a young man that "Pride and Prejudice was the best novel in the language," while Mark Twain claimed to feel an "animal repugnance" for Austen's writing.
Austen herself would probably not have disagreed with many of her detractors' objections. She acknowledged that her themes and concerns were limited; she described them as "human nature in the midland counties." "Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on," she wrote in a letter to her niece; and in another, now famous letter to her brother Edward, she described her art as "the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as to produce little effect, after much labour."
It is true that great historical events and political concerns appear only obliquely, if at all, in the background of Austen's stories; that she deals with the spiritual condition of the human soul only insofar as it manifests itself in her characters' manners and taste in spouses; that the intellectual issues of her day appear in her novels primarily as a vehicle for revealing character and spoofing fashion. Even Austen's great early champion, the critic G. H. Lewes, had to admit the truth of Charlotte Brontë's objection that Austen's style lacked poetry, and that her "exquisite" work would appeal only to readers who didn't require "strong lights and shadows." But in spite of these limitations, the particular genius and lasting appeal of Austen's writing has only become clearer and more certain as the decades pass and literary fashions come and go.
What is Austen's particular genius? And what might account for the renaissance of popular interest in her work today--one reflected in the recently acclaimed television and feature film productions of Sense and Sensibility (with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Emma Thompson), Pride and Prejudice (an A&E miniseries), the art house hit Persuasion, and the upcoming release of Emma, as well as the Emma-inspired Clueless, now atop video rental charts?
"Of all great writers," Virginia Woolf said, "she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness." But perhaps Austen herself gave us a clue to the standards for greatness she set herself, and a way to judge her achievement, when in Northanger Abbey she has a character say: "'Oh! it is only a novel!' or, in short, only some work in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusion of wit and humour are to be conveyed to the world in the best chosen language."
Austen's delightful wit is certainly one of the great pleasures of her work. As to "the best chosen language," while her writing conveys none of the lyricism of the Romantics (like Brontë) who would succeed her, it is full of intelligence and precisely crafted to convey its often subtle meaning. But Austen's strongest suit is her thorough knowledge and happy delineation of human nature. We can still, despite the vast differences between her society and our own, recognize ourselves in the ways her characters think and behave. We all know people as cleverly manipulative and outwardly affectionate as Lucy Steele or Miss Bingley; as self-involved as Fanny Dashwood or Lady Catherine de Bourgh; and as charming but as lacking in scruples as John Willoughby or Colonel Wickham. We are in turns impulsive and hyper-responsible like Marianne and Elinor Dashwood; conceal ourselves with arrogance like Mr. Darcy; assume we understand more than we do like Elizabeth Bennet; and revel in gossip, like Mrs. Jennings. And while the great events and philosophical movements of history play themselves out around us, it is our own nature and actions, and the nature and actions of the people around us, that most influence our lives.
In her own day, Austen's work signified a break with the Gothic and sentimental novels that had long been fashionable, in which heroines were always virtuous, romance was always sentimentalized, and unlikely but convenient coincidences and acts of God always occurred to bring about the dramatic climax. Instead Austen represented the ordinary world of men and women as it--sometimes mundanely--was, a place where love and romance were constrained by economics and human imperfection; where women had distinct and often sparkling personalities; where characters were never simply good or evil but more complicated amalgams, reflecting both their own moral nature and the virtues and failings of the families and society that shaped them.
In these ways, Austen seems very much in tune with today's sensibilities. We love her strong, unpretentious heroines ("Pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked," Austen said of them), who think for themselves and say what they mean when appropriate and don't take themselves too seriously. They are not, in today's parlance, victims. We are as interested as ever in Austen's favorite subjects of love and marriage, while also identifying with her steadfast refusal to romanticize romance; with her acknowledgment that money, class, and what other people think matter in the real world; that marriage does not result in a happy ending for everyone; and that it is dangerous to let passion blind us to reality. Living amidst the cultural fallout from the self-absorbed, sensibility-prone 1960s, we appreciate Austen's emphasis on reason, moderation, fidelity, and consideration for others.
Austen wrote her books at the dawn of the nineteenth century, when vast social changes were already encroaching on the way of life she so loved and rendered with such exquisite artistry. We read her books today on the cusp of a new century, with an unfathomable world creeping up on us, too--one globally interconnected, technologically complex, economically uncertain. Perhaps we find on Austen's rural estates and in her charming, insular society the same peace and pleasure she found there; and an analogue for the simpler, more circumscribed world of our own childhoods, itself passing quickly away into history.
The time in which Jane Austen wrote her novels was a period of great stability just about to give way to a time of unimagined changes. At that time most of England's population (some thirteen million) were involved in rural and agricultural work: yet within another twenty years, the majority of Englishmen became urban dwellers involved with industry, and the great railway age had begun. Throughout the early years of the century the cities were growing at a great rate; the network of canals was completed, the main roads were being remade. Regency London, in particular, boomed and became, among other things, a great centre of fashion. On the other hand, England in the first decade of the nineteenth century was still predominantly a land of country towns and villages, a land of rural routines which were scarcely touched by the seven campaigns of the Peninsular War against Napoleon.
But if Austen's age was still predominantly one of rural quiet, it was also the age of the French Revolution, the War of American Independence, the start of the Industrial Revolution, and the first generation of the Romantic poets; and Jane Austen was certainly not unaware of what was going on in the world around her. She had two brothers in the Royal Navy and a cousin whose husband was guillotined in the Terror. And although her favourite prose writer was Dr. Samuel Johnson, she clearly knew the works of writers like Goethe, Worsdworth, Scott, Byron, Southey, Godwin and other, very definitely nineteenth-century, authors.
If Jane Austen seems to have lived a life of placid rural seclusion in north Hampshire, she was at the same time very aware of a whole range of new energies and impulses, new ideas and powers, which were changing or about to change England--and indeed the whole western world--with a violence, a suddenness, and a heedlessness, which would soon make Jane Austen's world seem as remote as the Elizabethan Age. It is well to remember that in the early years of the century, when Thomas Arnold saw his first train tearing through the Rugby countryside he said: "Feudality is gone forever." So close was it possible then to feel to the immemorial, static feudal way of life; so quickly was that way of life to vanish as the modern world laboured to be born.
Adapted from the Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Mansfield Park.
ABOUT THE TITLE
Pride and Prejudice has always been, since its publication in 1813, Austen's most popular novel. The story of a sparkling, irrepressible heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, the behavior of whose family leaves much to be desired, and Mr. Darcy, a very rich and seemingly rude young man who initially finds Elizabeth "tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me," is, in the words of the Penguin Classics edition editor Tony Tanner, a novel about how a man changes his manners and a woman changes her mind. Through the ages, its chief delights for readers have been its flawed but charming heroine ("I think [Elizabeth] as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print," Austen herself wrote to her sister, Cassandra); its humorous treatment of a serious subject; brilliant and witty dialogue laced with irony; a cast of humorous minor characters; and Austen's nearly magical development of a complex but believable love relationship between two complex people.
Critics have pointed to many ways in which Pride and Prejudice represents Austen's development and greater mastery of technique and artistry over Sense and Sensibility; perhaps the chief being that the conflict of the story is of the central characters' own making; and that a lively narrator more often appears to present material and to offer comment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jane Austen, seventh of the eight children of Reverend George and Cassandra Leigh Austen, was born on December 16, 1775, in the small village of Steventon in Hampshire, England. Her childhood was happy: her home was full of books and many friends and her parents encouraged both their children's intellectual interests and their passion for producing and performing in amateur theatricals. Austen's closest relationship, one that would endure throughout her life, was with her beloved only sister, Cassandra.
From about the time she was twelve years old, Austen began writing spirited parodies of the popular Gothic and sentimental fiction of the day for the amusement of her family. Chock-full of stock characters, vapid and virtuous heroines, and improbable coincidences, these early works reveal in nascent form many of her literary gifts: particularly her ironic sensibility, wit, and gift for comedy. Attempts at more sustained, serious works began around 1794 with a novel in letters - a popular form at the time - called Lady Susan, and in the years immediately following with two more epistolary novels - one called Elinor and Marianne, the other First Impressions - that would evolve into Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Lady Susan, later revised and entitled Northanger Abbey, also was begun in that period.
From 1799 to 1809, little is known of Austen's life or literary endeavors, other than that upon her father's retirement she moved unhappily from her beloved home in Steventon to Bath; that he died a few years thereafter and she moved to Southampton; and that she began, but did not complete, a novel called The Watsons. A move back to the country in 1808 - to a cottage on one of her brother's properties in Chawton - seems to have revived her interest in writing.
Her revised version of Elinor and Marianne - Sense and Sensibility - was published, like all the work which appeared in print in her lifetime, anonymously, in 1811; and between the time Pride and Prejudice was accepted for publication and the time it actually appeared, she wrote Mansfield Park. Emma appeared in 1816 and was reviewed favorably by the most popular novelist of the day, Sir Walter Scott, who said:
The author's knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader.
Scott also insightfully pointed out Emma's significance in representing the emergence of a new kind of novel, one concerned with the texture of ordinary life.
Though all her novels were concerned with courtship, love, and marriage, Austen never married. There is some evidence that she had several flirtations with eligible men in her early twenties, and speculation that in 1802 she agreed to marry the heir of a Hampshire family but then changed her mind. Austen rigorously guarded her privacy, and after her death, her family censored and destroyed many of her letters. Little is known of her personal experience or her favorite subjects. However, Austen's reputation as a "dowdy bluestocking," as literary critic Ronald Blythe points out, is far from accurate: "she loved balls, cards, wine, music, country walks, conversation, children, and bad as well as excellent novels."
In 1816, as she worked to complete her novel Persuasion, Austen's health began to fail. She continued to work, preparing Northanger Abbey for publication, and began a light-hearted, satirical work called Sanditon which she never finished. She died at the age of forty-two on July 18, 1817, in the arms of her beloved sister, Cassandra, of what historians now believe to have been Addison's disease.
The identity of "A Lady" who wrote the popular novels was known in her lifetime only to her family and a few elite readers, among them the Prince Regent, who invited Austen to visit his library and "permitted" her to dedicate Emma to him (unaware, no doubt, that she loathed him). But Austen deliberately avoided literary circles; in Ronald Blythe's words, "literature, not the literary life, was always her intention." It was not until the December following her death, when Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published, that "a biographical notice of the author" by Austen's brother Henry appeared in the books, revealing to the reading public for the first time the name of Jane Austen.
Edited with an Introduction by Marilyn Butler
This lighthearted romance, generally agreed to be Austen's earliest major novel, though it was not published until after her death, is also a high-spirited burlesque of the sentimental and Gothic novels of her day. When the charmingly imperfect heroine, Catherine Morland, visits Northanger Abbey, she meets all the trappings of Gothic horror, and imagines the worst. Fortunately, she has at hand her own fundamental good sense and irresistible but unsentimental hero, Henry Tilney. Real disaster does eventually strike, but doesn't spoil for too long the happy atmosphere of this delightful novel.
Edited with an Introduction by Tony Tanner
More varied in scene and conceived on a bigger scale than Austen's earlier books, Mansfield Park (1814) can be seen as an image of quiet resistance at the start of what was to be the most convulsive century of change in English history. In telling the story of Fanny Price, the quiet and sensitive daughter of a lower-middle-class Portsmouth family who is brought up in - and after much suffering eventually becomes mistress of - elegant Mansfield Park, Austen draws on her usual cool irony and psychological insight while also portraying a less immediately winning heroine in a more complex light.
Edited with an Introduction by Ronald Blythe
Many writers and critics consider Emma (1816), the last of Austen's novels published in her lifetime, the climax of her genius. Dominating the novel is the character of Emma Woodhouse - vital, interesting, complex, and predisposed to playing power games with other people's emotions. Austen called her a heroine "no one but myself would like," but she endures as one of Austen's immortal creations. Charting how Emma's disastrous foray as a matchmaker precipitates a crisis in the small provincial world of Highbury, and in her own heart, this novel of self-deceit and self-discovery sparkles with intelligence, wit, and irony.
Edited with an Introduction by D.W. Harding
Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth had met and separated years before. Their reunion forces a recognition of the false values that drove them apart. The characters who embody those values are the subjects of some of the most withering satire that Austen ever wrote. Like its predecessors, Persuasion (published after her death in 1818) is a tale of love and marriage, told with Austen's distinctive irony and insight. But the heroine - like the author - is more mature; the tone of the writing more somber.
Also included in this edition is the pioneering biography of Austen written fifty years after her death by her nephew, J. E. Austen-Leigh, which outlines the essential facts of Austen's life while also reflecting the Victorian era's limited comprehension of her achievements.
Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon
Edited with an Introduction by Margaret Drabble
These three works - one novel unpublished in her lifetime and two unfinished fragments - reveal Austen's development as a great artist. Lady Susan is a sparkling melodrama, written in epistolary form, featuring a beautiful, intelligent, and wicked heroine. The Watsons, probably written when Austen resided unhappily in Bath and abandoned after her father's death, is a tantalizing fragment centering on the marital prospects of the Watson sisters in a small provincial town. Sanditon, Austen's last fiction, reflects her growing concern with the new speculative consumer society and foreshadows the great social upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.
Also available from Penguin Classics:
The Juvenilia of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë
Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë
Edited by Frances Beer
This collection provides the opportunity to discover the first examples of Austen's neoclassical elegance and Brontë's mastery of the romantic spirit.
Available on audiocassette from Penguin Audiobooks:
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
Boxed Set: Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice
Penguin Classics wishes to thank and credit the following writers and books for information used in creating this Penguin Classics Guide:
Joseph Duffy, "Criticism 1814-70"; Brian Southam, "Criticism 1870-1940" and "Janeites and Anti-Janeites"; A. Walton Litz, "Criticism 1939-83"; J. David Grey, "Life of Jane Austen"; all in The Jane Austen Companion, J. David Grey, Managing Editor; Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1986.
Lloyd W. Brown, "The Business of Marrying and Mothering," and Norman Page, "The Great Tradition Revisited," in Jane Austen's Achievement, edited by Juliet McMaster, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., Barnes & Noble Import Division, New York, 1976.
W. A. Craik, Jane Austen: The Six Novels, Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York, 1965.
Posted January 9, 2009
I just finished reading this book and was captivated by the way the cahracters and plot was portrayed. I will never forget this book and it is one of my all time favorite books. I have found that even though there were hard times for the Bennets, I want to have something exactly like Elizabeth Bennet and be just like her. She is now my all time favorite fictional character. I highly encourage reading this book.
65 out of 92 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 19, 2009
I Also Recommend:
omg this book is absolutely fantastically amazing!!!!!!
JANE AUSTEN IS THE BEST WRITER IN THE LAST 200 YRS!!!!!
my mom read the book and she said it was really good!!!
i also saw parts of the movie w/ keira knightley in it!
I HAVE 2 WORDS 4 ANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T YET READ THIS:
17 out of 35 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 14, 2008
The plot of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen revolves around, well, pride and prejudice. This novel tells the tale of the convoluted romance of Mister Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth `Lizzy¿ Bennet. Basically, Darcy¿s pride prevents him from showing his true feelings for Elizabeth, and Lizzy¿s prejudice against men keeps her from truly falling in love. Many people have often speculated that Austen¿s inspiration for this story came from one of her own experiences. <BR/> I decided to read Pride and Prejudice after seeing the 2005 version of the movie in eighth grade. I loved the movie, but I loved the book even more. It has become one of my favorites! I would definitely recommend it to my friends. However, men might not be particularly enthralled by it because it is mostly a romance. Also, I don¿t recommend it to people who don¿t like slow or wordy books. I personally don¿t like books that are incredibly fast-paced, and one of the things that appeals to me about Pride and Prejudice is the fact that it moves fairly slowly. Still, this is not a boring book by any means. So much happens in its 61 chapters! <BR/> This story may also appeal to anyone who has ever been in an awkward or uncomfortable situation with someone that they are somewhat attracted to. Readers can practically feel the uncomfortable atmosphere in several of Elizabeth and Darcy¿s early encounters. For example, while at a ball, Lizzy remarks, ¿It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples¿ (Chapter 18). Darcy responds by saying that they can talk about whatever she chooses, but he makes no effort to stimulate the conversation, so they remain silent. <BR/> The protagonists of the story are Charles Bingley, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and the Bennet family. The leaders of the Bennet family are rational Mr. Bennet and foolish Mrs. Bennet, who thinks only of finding wealthy men for her daughters to marry. This is the tale of the courtships of the Bennet girls: beautiful and gentle Jane, clever Lizzy, reclusive Mary, silly Kitty, and headstrong Lydia. The story begins with the incorrigible Mrs. Bennet demanding that her husband introduce the family to wealthy Mr. Bingley, who has just moved to Netherfield Park, in the village of Longbourn, where the Bennet residence can also be found. Mrs. Bennet hopes that Bingley will marry one of her daughters. The Bennet family forms a friendship with Mr. Bingley, his sister Caroline, and their friend, Mr. Darcy. In the mean time, the Bennets also become acquainted with one George Wickham, Darcy¿s estranged childhood friend. The novel is filled with twisting and turning courtships, and deceitful schemes to both separate and unite various couples. <BR/> Personally, Jane Austen¿s Pride and Prejudice, is one of my absolute favorite books. I know that few teenagers share my taste in literature, but I recommend it to everyone. I would rather you at least give it a try and put it down because you hate it than not try it at all. Who knows, you just might like it, and it could become one of your favorite books! <BR/><BR/>Check out this and other reviews by high school students at www.notrequiredreading.com!
8 out of 16 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2013
Posted February 25, 2013
Posted June 19, 2012
One thing this book reminds me of is the inability of the modern author to address romance without sex. No doubt, even in the day of Austen, the characters would have at least been exposed to intrigues of the physical kind but the pitfalls of such are rightly disregarded.
Instead, the book focuses on how we fashion love with a chosen partner. The idea that two people are so alike as to reduce the stress of life or so different as to meet the necessary stress needed to carry on with life is presented. It is not a story of how opposites attract nor is it a story of unbridled passion begging for unwanted pregnancy. It is the story of what people believe they want, how they discover what they actually want, and the humility BOTH sides must face in order to get it. It is not the story of one man chasing down a woman to the peril of allof his worldly possessions, social connections, or his own convictions. It is not the story of a woman who is solely dedicated to her job, consumed by her family, scarred by a broken past, or brainless. Instead, it is a story about a man who learns to understand the balance of his power in the world and the trust he can instill in another human being. It is a story about a woman who sees the world as it is and learns to ask better questions before rushing to judgment. The love they share is not based on the size of his manhood or the pleasing sounds she makes during coitus or the size of anyone's bank account. The attraction to one another is incidental and neither party began with a sinister plot or sought to ruin anyoneelse's life. It's a story of how circumstances tie two people together and what they are willing to do for one another. It's a story about how easy finding love can be when you're paying attention, asking the right questions, and getting over yourself.
This is the only romance novel I have read because it is the closest to the truth of what it means to be romantic.
6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 13, 2011
I adore anything by Jane Austen, but Pride and Prejudice must be my all time favorite. Great plot, loveable characters, drama and action. Very good book.
5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 11, 2011
Posted May 12, 2009
I really enjoyed Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. When the book picked up speed I couldn't wait to finish it. However, the first fourth of the book was pretty slow and I didn't want to read it. All throughout the book I found myself rooting for Elizabeth. I'm not usually this drawn in by books. It proves that Austen created very realistic characters that I couldn't help but root for as if I knew them personally. On the other hand, she did a wonderful job at creating characters that were unpleasant. Miss Bingley in particular I couldn't stand after a few chapters. Again, I usually don't hate characters either so once again Ms. Austen did a great job in creating life like characters. My favorite part of the book was that it ended happily. I'm a person that prefers the characters all ending up happy instead of someone being upset in the end. Jane and Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy getting married made me very happy. For a while I thought Jane and Mr. Bingley weren't going to get married and I became a little nervous. Ms. Austen didn't disappoint me though, and she ended the book on a happy note. Basically, I enjoyed this novel a lot and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading.
5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 12, 2013
Posted October 11, 2012
I dont like this book but they gave it to me for free
Also i dont how to get it out of my library
4 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2011
Posted March 2, 2013
Posted October 16, 2012
Posted September 2, 2012
I have avoided reading "classics" ever since I graduated from high school because we were reading to analyze, not to enjoy. My thought was always, "How doe they know that's what the author meant? Aren't they just saying what THEY mean?".
Once I decided to read this, I was hooked. Very amusing, great characters (some greatly stupid), written so that you can actually understand the language. VERY recommended.
3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 13, 2012
Posted August 5, 2012
Posted May 25, 2012
Posted January 6, 2010
The introduction to this work I found particularly interesting. Shedding light on world events during the life of Jane Austen and particularly the time when this novel was first published was fascinating. The deconstruction of the dynamics of the novel and the brief compare and contrast to Austen life was quite remarkable and almost as pleasant to read as Pride and Prejudice it's self.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2009