Mar 13, 2003

Here’s Laura’s e-mail regarding last night’s reading group:

What a lively discussion we had about tonight’s book (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)! (Okay, I’ll admit that almost all of our discussions are pretty lively, but this one showed little sign of flagging as we neared 9:00 and I finally guided us into wrapping up.) Part of what contributed to the length and energy of the discussion was that about half the people liked the book and the other half didn’t, so the half that liked it felt compelled to try to convince the other half that they really did, or at least should have, liked it. The biggest complaint of those who didn’t like it was that it was dull. The biggest strength of the book for most of those who liked it was its humor. (In the course of this debate, one member suggested that it most closely resembled “Seinfeld” – possibly humorous but basically about nothing with somewhat two-dimensional characters.)

Of course we touched on the theme of “pride and prejudice,” but spent even more time inspecting the marriage theme and debating whether these folks really could be living in a time of war and not ever talk about it! We also discussed whether Elizabeth really had the opportunity to actually fall in love with Darcy (as opposed to just coming to appreciate him more and see him in a truer light) and made the inevitable comparisons between the book and various filmed versions of the book. One thing I think we all agreed on was that the folks in this book led really dull lives!

If I may add my two cents, I’ve always found Jane Austen to be extremely dull, but Pride and Prejudice is actually the least awful novel of hers I’ve read as it does have some pretensions of a plot and isn’t written so circumspectly that you can’t keep track of what’s going on. There’s something to be said about the general level of discussion last night in that when we read Persuasion a few years ago it was only Roger and I who didn’t like the book, while last night probably half the group didn’t like it, and it was ostensibly the better book! Although the discussion may have gone on till almost nine, I for one was done talking about it by 8:30. But I was surprised that so many people were so unforgiving about historical context in terms of plot, theme, etc. I think the surface familiarity of this novel tends to make you forget it was written 200 years ago, and as a result it comes up short as you impose greater literary requirements upon it than were probably achievable at that time. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think much of it, but it was an unusual instance of the group in general taking the critical low road last night.

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