I read an abridged version of Pride and Prejudice in school and fell in love with it. Darcy was the handsome, misunderstood hero, Elizabeth, the confident heroine; Jane and Bingley were a gentle romantic couple; Mrs. Bennet was vulgar while Mr. Bennet was a quiet, scholarly man. The book had beautiful illustration and the characters in their regency costumes looked charming.
Skip a few years and to the reading of the unabridged version of the book and my reactions surprised me too. Darcy was a snob, Elizabeth was trying too hard to be the cool, witty, self-assured heroine, Bingley was a wimp, and Mr. Bennet had turned into a shirker of responsibilities. Mrs. Bennet for all her idiotic manners was a woman too common in India: the one who wants good (read financially secure) match for her daughters.
Reading of Persuaion did not help matters. I found it so boring that I have absolutely forgotten its plot-line. Edward Said’s article on Mansfield Park that critiqued its sub-text of colonial exploitation further dented my opinion of Austen. However, my sister presented me with a book: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, and this month finally, I got it off my shelf.
Besides a brief biographical sketch, the book is a compilation of her most sparkling quotes from her books and letters on various issues. Here are some of her witticisms.
I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. [From a letter that she wrote to her sister Cassandra].
It was a very proper wedding. The bride was elegantly dressed – the two bridesmaids were duly inferior – her father gave her away – her mother stood with salts in her hands, expecting to be agitated – her aunt tried to cry – an the service was impressively read… [Mansfield Park].
A lady without a family, was the best preserver of furniture in the world [Persuasion].
She looks remarkably well (legacies are very wholesome diet)… [Letter to her sister Cassandra]
I was pleasantly surprised to read this extract from her mock-heroic novel Jack and Alice:
Miss Dickins was an excellent Governess. She instructed me in the Paths of Virtue; under her tuition I daily became more amiable, and might perhaps by this time have nearly attained perfection, had not my worthy Preceptoress been torn from my arms, e’er I had attained my seventeenth year. I shall never forget her last words. “My dear Kitty,” she said, “good night t’ye.” I never saw her afterwards,’ continued Lady Williams wiping her eyes. ‘She eloped with the Butler the same night.’
And to think Austen was all of 12 when she wrote it!! I have half-a-mind to pick up an Austen again.
First Line: Few great writers can have cut so unglamorous a figure in the world as Jane Austen did.
Title: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen
Editor: Michael Kerrigan
Publication Details: London: Fourth Estate, 1996
First Published: 1996
The book might be available in libraries. I was gifted a copy of it by my sister, Nitu di.
Submitted for the following challenges: British Books, Free Reads, Mount TBR, TBR Pile, and Unread Book.
Read as part of the Austen in August Event