While dear Monty has held our attention for many weeks, an important milestone went slightly overlooked in the Ballroom. (Well, it had to be. We couldn’t leave Monty in the middle of that Argentinian dance floor, after all.) This past Monday, Jan. 28th 2013 was the 200th anniversary of the first publishing of the book that launched a thousand ‘ships, Pride and Prejudice.
I can imagine dear Aunt Jane, in a cottage in Chawton, clutching a newly bound copy of the 3 volumes of her second novel and squeeing. Or, whatever the 1813 version of squeeing was. Did she think the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy would capture the imagination for over two centuries? Did she know that she put indelible characters to the page, and would enrapture millions (and spur a costume-theater industry that gave birth to the Great Wet Shirt Scene of 1995?)
We all know it. We’ve all read it. We’ve all watched it. (Some of us even work on adaptations of it.) But for each of us, the story is personal. I asked my fellow authoresses what Pride and Prejudice means to them.
Pride and Prejudice was the third adult romance I ever read, after M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and I adored Lizzy. Her intelligence, wit and rejection of society’s most noxious values helped forge my ideal of a great heroine. And Jane Austen’s writing is, of course, delicious. Whenever I am especially starved for wonderful, clever prose, I reread P&P and am nourished again.
Delicious prose certainly helps inspire us authors (and Katharine knows from delicious prose). Meanwhile, both Sarah and Sabrina seem to be obsessed with a certain scene (that isn’t actually in the book. At least, not so explicitly dishabilled).
Aside from allowing me my first taste of wet Colin Firth, Pride & Prejudice is one of the books that made me believe that romance was something worth celebrating. The first proposal remains one of the greatest moments in romance for sheer heroic stupidity, and the second for glorious, wonderful, reconciliation and finally finally getting happily ever after. I would be lying if I said I didn’t pay homage to both those scenes in my books (with stupid heroes and happily ever afters). Thank you, Aunt Jane, for the powerful lesson in love–and how to write it.
From Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson trading barbs over archery, to Colin Firth emerging wet from a pond, to a improv show in the middle of Hollywood, to the worst play adaptation I’ve ever seen, Pride & Prejudice‘s ability to entertain no matter how adulterated is a testament to Jane Austen’s storytelling abilities.
Somehow I missed the play adaptation! Even if it’s horrible, I think I need to see it. For reference. However, Miranda Neville and Lauren Willig started early in her Austen-obsession.
I came to P&P sideways. I can’t remember how old I was – maybe 12? – when I found a ratty paperback of a dramatization in my grandmother’s attic. There were only three sisters (like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries!) but the story was all there. I was instantly hooked so Granny gave me the book. Surprise! Five sisters. After glomming the other five books I wept at the paucity of her output. I wrote an essay for university entrance on why I’d rather discover a new Jane Austen novel than her diary (arguing the opposite way for Shakespeare).
I don’t know how many times I’ve read P&P since then. (I may approach the 200 claimed by Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.) I always seem to find something new. And boy, could Jane Austen write dialogue! She’s an inspiration to me in so many ways, but above all in the way she makes conversation carry the story. Time for a re-read
It’s hard to remember a time when Jane Austen hasn’t been with me. But I do have a very vivid recollection, somewhere around fifth grade, of reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. My father, seeing me with the book, asked me what I thought the setting was. “England,” I said. I was eleven. The “duh!” was implied. He started talking about class and hierarchy and the low gentry versus the high gentry and blah, blah, blah. I went back to Elizabeth and Darcy. Silly parents, couldn’t they see that it was a love story? In my righteous adolescent scorn, it took me a few years to realize that my father had been right, too: that there was brilliant social criticism woven into the fabric of Lizzy and Darcy’s love story. The story works on so many different levels, all of them seamlessly stitched together. Let’s raise a glass to Jane Austen, who showed us all just what romance literature can be.
While we find this story very close to our hearts, the hands down winner for Austen-phile is Tessa Dare. Here’s why:
The hows and whys are a long and complicated story, and I won’t bore you with all the details, but the conclusion is simple: P&P is the entire reason I am a historical romance author today. What do I not owe that book?
In my high-school yearbook, I listed “Elizabeth Bennet” as the person I admired most. Yes, I was that *that* girl. It took Colin Firth to make me a true Darcy fan. But boy, did he ever. My son’s middle name is Austen. I have the Jane Austen action figure in my bathroom! (Do I win yet? Haha.)
Yes, Tessa. You win. As for me, I wasn’t quite as early to the Austen pond. I was 15 when I first read the book – it was assigned for English. Even though it’s language was heavy and seemingly ancient, I couldn’t stop reading. There was something about her voice. Then, when I was 16, I saw the 1995 Colin Firth version. I stayed up all night, watching all 6 hours. Then, I kept watching it, over and over and over (I had the box set) and over. It’s the story that made me dream of my own Mr. Darcy – and let me tell you, when I passed one-and-twenty and he hadn’t shown up yet, I was displeased. But most of all, it is a story that makes me aspire. Aspire to be a better writer, a more astute observer of life, and more willing to see my own flaws.
So we all raise a glass to you, Aunt Jane, and say congratulations –and happy 200th!
Like I said, we all know the story – so what does Pride and Prejudice mean to you?