An English paper I wrote last year.
A classic novel is often defined as having a real, life-relating, moral, life lessons, and in-depth characters and plots that you can relate to that make the story stand out in your mind. Every classic novel one can come across has at least one of these attributes, often times many more. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen is definitely a classic; it is a story that one can easily relate to because it is fairly down to earth and doesn’t center around the romance of the story. It brings in many subplots and problems that can have nothing to do with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s interaction. It is those things that give the reader, not a centered romance story, but a general life story, give or take a few dramatic experiences. There are, however, a few things that make this book a little hard to follow and understand, as there usually is with most classics. I find that Jane Austen seems to drag on about things that are unimportant, she’s written too many details to follow, and there are too many characters.
One would think that when an author goes into detail about a certain subject that it would be a good thing, correct? It gives the reader many more details and a clearer picture of what the author is talking about, it also helps to burn the image into your mind of whatever scene the author is talking about. No, that is good in moderation, because in moderation it does all of that, it makes a better story, creates a clearer image, helps remember the plot. However, In ‘Pride and Prejudice’ that is not how it went. Jane Austen tends to drag out Elizabeth’s thought processes to the point of just being ridiculously long and repetitive. An example of this is found in chapter fourteen, second volume, page two-hundred and nine, while Elizabeth is, yet again, reflecting on the letter from Mr. Darcy explaining his and Mr. Wickham’s situation. “Mr. Darcy’s letter she was in fair way of soon knowing by heart. She studied every sentence; and her feelings towards its writer were at times widely different. When she remembered the style of his address, she was still full of indignation: but when she considered how unjustly she had condemned and upbraided him, her anger was turned towards herself; and his disappointed feelings became the object of compassion. His attachment excited gratitude, his general character respect: but she could not approve him; nor could she for a moment repent her refusal, or feel the slightest inclination ever to see him again. In her own past behaviour, there was a constant source of vexation and regret; and in the unhappy defects of her family, a subject of yet heavier chagrin. The were hopeless of remedy. Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters; and her mother, with manners so far from right herself, was entirely insensible of the evil. Elizabeth had frequently united with Jane in endeavor to check the imprudence of Catherine an Lydia; but while they were supported by their mother’s indulgence, what chance could there be of improvement?” Then she continues to talk about Catherine’s weak-spiritedness, irritability, and the fact that she is an unquestioning follower of Lydia’s influence; and Lydia’s self-willed character, carelessness, and ignorantness. After that paragraph ends Austen finally back tracks back into Mr. Darcy’s letter, though now the reader is on another mind track and has to go back and remember what they were reading before the long tangent about Elizabeth’s awkward family situation. To stay on topic for longer than two or three paragraphs would be nice, even better to not talk about Mr. Bingley for two paragraphs, go on a tangent about Mr. Darcy for one because he was mentioned in passing, then switch back to Bingley for another two. It draws the readers mind in too many places at once and they end up forgetting what they were reading in the first place, and are so frustrated at the whimsical mind set and format that they no longer care.
Details is another thing that I think Jane Austen should have limited. In the first chapter of the third volume (page 239), when Elizabeth visits Pemberley Woods with her aunt and uncle, the description of the lands themselves, though very detailed and thought through, is too long, the reader starts to loose their place and instead of seeing the image of the beautiful grounds, is lost in the many details that they have to try to remember and then piece together to put the picture in one’s mind. Once the reader can accomplish that, it makes a marvelous picture and sticks with them forever, it is just the process that takes the time. During the paragraph that Jane Austen describes Pemberley Woods she goes over the length, which, using the edges of the woods, draws one’s eye to the house. Then she talks about the road to the house, then she goes into the house being large, handsome, a stone building, good structure, and the background of woody hills. I love the way she describes the stream running through the property: “….and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned.” It creates a wonderful image for the reader to enjoy, if they can comprehend that without having to read it out loud.
After describing a bit more of the grounds, Austen takes the reader inside the Pemberley house, which, oddly, at the time she doesn’t give much of a description of. Once inside, Elizabeth looks out the window and once again starts to describe the grounds. After three or four sentences that make the reader try to remember what Austen said earlier about the grounds, she then takes you through the house rather abruptly and switches back to the landscape two sentences into describing the house, and then back to the house (page 240). If Austen would leave out some of her details the book would be much easier to follow without the reader’s mind wandering from the current event in the book to try and picture a plot of land, or a house, or furniture that was described earlier. It happens so often in the book that when Austen starts describing something, the reader tries to picture it but can’t because there is too many details, and then they loose the connection with the book that they had before, having to start over because the flow of the words was lost when they became a bunch of adjectives.
Characters is another thing Jane Austen should have exercised restraint on. Austen is constantly adding new characters to the plot, and often times the reader only hears about them once or twice and then they’re gone. Now the reader has yet another name to add to the list of names that they think they have to remember but don’t because that was just Jane Austen having fun with names. It becomes very confusing during the ordeal with Lydia and Wickham, when there’s names flying all over the page. Letters, memories, thoughts, regrets, family, friends, and neighbors all converge at once on the reader’s mind and names are tossed everywhere through out the entire catastrophe. One can’t remember if it was Mr. Gardiner (Elizabeth’s uncle) or Colonel Forster who finds Lydia, which one paid the fine, and who Mrs. Hill is and what is she doing there (she is the Bennet’s housekeeper, as it was mentioned twice)? Another thing I find slightly irritating is that Austen switches from calling Kitty, Catherine. It should have been mentioned in the beginning of the book that Kitty’s name was Catherine but that she goes by Kitty. Now the reader has to figure out who Catherine is, where did she come from, and what she is doing there. The characters are too broad for the story; Elizabeth doesn’t actually travel far often. So there can’t be too many people she associates with, yet there’s all these names floating around, along with the subplots that come hand-in-hand with them. For instance, the romance between Bingley and Jane is a very big deal and is largely reflected on during the entire book, but it’s understandable because Jane and Elizabeth have a very close relationship. However, when the ordeal with Wickham and Lydia is added in, and Mr. Collins and Charlotte, and Mr. Darcy and Wickham, and all the little relationships between Elizabeth and all her family members, well, it gets a little too broad for the story to focus on Elizabeth and her life. The reader may wander which sister it is focusing on, or whether or not this book is about Darcy and Wickham, told through a passer-by’s point of view. It becomes too much to be wrapped into, and the plots become one great big one labeled “love or hate relationships”.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ is definitely a good book, one that people can constantly learn new things from and attain a new point of view from every time they read it. The context of it, though, the characters, details, and long tangents, tend to draw one’s eye away from the actual story and into the descriptions of different things and away from the focal point of the story. It appears to be a very elaborate story but was put together poorly, in a disarray. So if the reader can keep up with Jane Austen’s thought process, then they’re good to go. As for those people that want a more stable plot, characters, descriptions, and details, they’ll have to hunt elsewhere.