Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Publication date: 1813
Genre: Classic fiction

Preliminary note

As with a couple of other books in this challenge, this is not the first time I have read Pride and Prejudice. I have, in fact, become particularly familiar with it over the last couple of years, as I co-wrote a stage adaptation of it for my amateur dramatics group. However, the book remains on my list for 2015: and so I am choosing to view the changes it has inspired in my life in the context of writing the adaptation.

 

What’s it about?Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters must find husbands, or be turned out of their home when their parents die. When rich, handsome Mr Bingley and his friend Mr Darcy appear on the scene, it looks as though the girls’ luck may be about to take a turn for the better.

However, Elizabeth and Mr Darcy do not immediately get along, and it takes many twists and turns of the plot for them to resolve their differences. Her prejudice and witty banter set against his pride and reticence make this a tense yet spirited relationship, with many obstacles to overcome before they can find true love.

Jane Austen’s novel manages to accurately capture human behaviour and societal mores, which are still recognisable to us 200 years later. Her biting satire of the foolish, along with her natural grasp of more subtle human emotions, make this book not only unputdownable but also – perhaps surprisingly – ‘laugh out loud’ on occasions.

Read more information on Goodreads.

Where did I get hold of the book?

I have a secondhand copy of this novel, which I think came from a secondhand bookshop. It’s the same edition as the text I studied at school 30 years ago, and is quite possibly the same age, as it’s beginning to fall apart at the seams. It has been very well thumbed!

What did I learn from it?

In the context of writing the adaptation, I learned that Jane Austen has a tendency to repeat herself: to say the same thing in a variety of ways. (See what I did there…?) Perhaps this is standard practice for a novel, when the author has the space to elaborate on issues and points as much as they please.

However, when trying to condense the dialogue for the stage – with only a couple of hours of performance time available – I found myself having to wield the red pen on numerous occasions. Hack! slash! there goes another sentence! It actually made it relatively easy to edit: just ask whether a phrase adds anything new, and if not, chop it or merge it with another one.

I also learned perhaps the most fascinating thing about adaptations, which is how to determine which elements of the story to convey/emphasise. It would be impossible to cover the full scope of Austen’s storylines in just two hours, so we had to decide whose story we were telling, what the key points were, and then ruthlessly cut anything that didn’t further this story in some way.

I wrote a few blog posts about this experience, which don’t form a visible part of my website any more, but which you can still access here if you are interested in learning more about the process.

How did it make me see the world differently?

The book reminded me of how frustrating it must have been for a woman with a brain and an independent spirit to exist in such a world. To be dependent on hitching one’s fortunes to a man in order to have any standing in society, not to mention a home, seems outlandish to those of us who are fortunate to live independently in the 21st century – and I thank my lucky stars that I do live now and not then.

It also made me realise how some people have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to matters of importance. Mrs Bennet is desperate to get her daughters hitched, and despite her lack of social graces, we can at least sympathise with this predicament. But am I the only one who rolls her eyes heavenwards as Mrs Bennet totally fails to recognise that Mary, the middle daughter, would be the perfect match for Mr Collins?

In an episode of the TV show The Big Bang Theory, the character Sheldon Cooper, having read Pride and Prejudice, declares it to be a flawless masterpiece. When I see this missed opportunity for Mrs Bennet to solve all her problems (presumably because then there would be no story…) I sometimes think Sheldon has got it wrong.

But maybe it can be explained by the point I made above: that Mrs Bennet truly is clueless when it comes to human relationships. Rather than this oversight being an unlikely scenario, designed purely to keep the plot going, perhaps it simply underlines the idiocy of the character even further – thus making it even more likely that Darcy should resist marrying one of her daughters…

What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?

One of the realisations I’ve come to over the course of this year is that I love adaptations of all stripes, and I’ve already made the commitment to focus on writing more of my own in 2016. I have at least three alternative versions of Pride and Prejudice floating around in my brain, and I intend for at least one of them to see the light of day. (Note: does not include zombies…)

Re-reading the novel has also given me a hankering to visit Derbyshire. I believe Chatsworth House stood as the location for Pemberley in the 2005 film version, and I’d love to go back there and to the villages in the surrounding countryside. I went to Derbyshire a lot in my youth, mostly on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, and it would be quite a blast from the past to revisit some of my own locations. Much like Mrs Gardiner in the novel.

We’re saving up for a big holiday next September, but if we get a chance for a weekend away any time soon, I’m going to be suggesting Derbyshire – and Chatsworth – as top of my list.

Over to you…

Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?

If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?

Please share in the comments below!

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

Title: Oliver TwistBook Challenge
Author: Charles Dickens
Publication date: 1837-9 (serialised form); 1838 (book form)
Genre: Classic fiction

What’s it about?Oliver Twist

This is the story of orphan Oliver Twist, who escapes his workhouse beginnings and, after first becoming apprenticed to an undertaker, makes his way to London in the hope of a better life. Along the way he makes friends and gains adversaries, and ultimately discovers not only a permanent home but also his true identity.

The most familiar scenes from this story are those featuring Fagin and his gang of street criminals, including the Artful Dodger. Hardened villain Bill Sikes also appears alongside his Nancy. However, a far more vital role (from Oliver’s point of view, at least) is played by the character of Monks – omitted from the famous musical version.

The extreme poverty of the less fortunate inhabitants of Dickens’ society is described in all its depressing and filthy detail, and yet Dickens manages to keep a lightly satirical tone throughout. There are no tangential musings on the state of the nation here: all asides are connected to the tale in hand, and it zips along at an unputdownable pace.

Read more information on Goodreads.

Where did I get hold of the book?

I’m embarrassed to admit that, yet again, I downloaded this to my Kindle app. See later on in this post for what I intend to do about this sorry state of affairs.

What did I learn from it?

I got my usual fix of historical information, as I was cast back in time to the society of this period. In particular I was reminded, as I had been while reading The Three Musketeers, of the practice of transporting criminals to the colonies: a fate that befalls one of the more renowned characters in this book. It got me wondering about the differences in crimes – or in criminals: what made some fit for transportation and others fit only for the gallows?

I was also reminded of the growth of London over the last couple of centuries. In Dickens’ time, some of the now-outlying suburbs of modern London were mere villages, and it could take an entire day’s travelling, on foot and by waggon, to get from the East End to the western reaches of Chertsey.

Finally, I learned that I still have a terribly childish sense of humour at times, as I discovered the existence of a character called Master Bates…

How did it make me see the world differently?

This book brought it home to me that, although there are significant differences between our world and Dickens’, human nature itself remains constant. Maybe it’s because this is the first story set in Britain that I’ve read for a while (my last three novels have been continental in origin), but I was very aware of the differences in urban infrastructure and social setup that exist between 1830s London and 2010s London.

And yet, attitudes to society as a whole, and individuals in particular, are resoundingly familiar. For example, although it’s tempting to view Bill Sikes’ villainy as exemplary of that period, by the end of the book we see that he is just as widely reviled by his peers for the murder of Nancy as by those of us with more modern sensibilities.

Similarly, Nancy’s explanation of why she remains with Bill, her abuser, despite being offered a safe way out, says as much to me as any thought piece in today’s papers.

It does sound blazingly obvious to say all of this, as one of the reasons these novels remain popular is because they touch on eternal traits of humanity. But if we don’t experience certain things in our own day-to-day lives, we can become complacent about what other people think and feel; and so I am happy to let the classics remind me of what I should not forget – but probably have.

What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?

The two changes I’m going to make following this book are both to do with my own creative enterprises:

  1. As I hinted above, I’ve become annoyed with myself for resorting to the lazy option of downloading books to Kindle when I could be supporting my local library service. So, for my 2016 Book Diaries, I’m going to use the library as the primary source of all my reading material. I’m hoping to get more involved with some other activities at the library, so as long as I am organised, it shouldn’t be difficult to fit in!
  2. When researching the publication details of Oliver Twist I found out that, like many other of Dickens’ novels, it was first published in serial form. This triggered something in my creative brain! I’m already planning a spin-off project related to our radio show Calon Talks Books: a zine, which will include updates from the show plus lots more bookish goodness. It could be the ideal place for some serialised fiction of our own… Watch this space!

Over to you…

Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?

If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?

Please share in the comments below!