Pride and Prejudice: An Acquired Taste

Now that I’ve listed 25 books I’ve read more than three times, I figure that gives me 25 blog posts right there. I’ll talk about each of the books. Just to keep you guessing, I won’t go in any particular order.

I’m going to start by talking about Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. (Obvious from the title possibly, but just to make sure we are all on the same page.) Let me be clear that I’m talking about the book here. Once, when I mentioned P&P aloud, someone said “Oh, I love Pride and Prejudice!” I asked, “When did you read the book?” “Oh, I haven’t read the book. But the movie is so great!” I mean the book. I read the book before I saw any of the movie versions. I say this not to be a book snob or anything, but because the movies changed how I saw the book, and in fact helped me read the book better.

The first time I read Pride and Prejudice it was tough sledding. I quit, I just couldn’t do it. Then I decided to try again. I can’t remember why, but I remember being quite determined, even in the middle of what seemed the Most Boring Book In The Universe, to get through it this time. Once I was on a streetcar with a colleague from work and he saw what I was reading. “I never finished that,” he said. “I just couldn’t see the point.” I was in one of my I-will-get-through-this-if-it-kills-me moods, or he might have put me off Austen forever. I finally finished P&P for the first time Nov 11, 1994. In my notes on that reading I said that it was “a bit dry at times.” I didn’t mean dry wit. I meant slow. My notes also indicate that I was pleased that I mostly followed the story this time as I’d totally lost the thread in the previous attempt.

After I saw the BBC series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle several times (I taped it from the television on this old-fashioned technology called a VCR), I read the book again. I noticed more things this time because the movie helped me to see the writing differently. I was also reading differently because I was re-reading. I’ve now read P&P six times. I’ve watched the BBC adaptation more than 6 times, and I’ve seen the feature film with Keira Knightly as well. The adaptations are different, but both faithful to the book in interesting ways. Both highlighted things I’d overlooked in previous readings of the book.

In one of my more recent readings of P&P I noted that the book “gets better every time.” I think that this phenomena might be what C.S. Lewis was on about in his Experiment in Criticism. Books that not only hold up under a second reading, but are more enjoyed the more often read, are great literature.

Don’t be discouraged if you find some works that people tell you are Great Literature difficult at first. I have to remind myself of this as I look at the pile of books I want to read but found difficult and so stopped. Difficult at first might mean better second time around. Then even better every time after that.


Filed under fiction

3 responses to “Pride and Prejudice: An Acquired Taste

  1. Alice

    The first time I read Jane Eyre, I was quite young (12), and I thought it was the stupidest book I’d ever read. A couple of years later, however, I got a hankering to re-read it and discovered that I loved it.

    Don’t know how many times I’ve read P & P — or the rest of Austen’s oeuvre — but I know it’s a lot!

  2. Christine

    It was much the same for me with Wuthering Heights. The first time I read it (highschool) I thought it was absoulute garbage. I quit about sixty pages in, I think.

    Fast-forward to third year uni where I had to read it for class. Because I was reading for school I was looking harder for interesting things in it, and discovered that there are quite a lot, actually. That year I ended up reading it four times as well as writing two papers on it. It’ll never be a favourite, but I have a much, much deeper appreciation for Wuthering Heights than I ever thought I would.

  3. jon

    Like you, I didn’t like P and Prej when I first tried reading it. The dialogue sounded hoity-toity. Some years later I picked it up again, and ended up loving it – and I went on to read most (all?) of J. Austen’s other novels. You’re giving me the enthusiasm to give Pr and Prej another read.

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