P&PI’ve never been one for “studying” literature.  Dissecting plot lines, themes and social context doesn’t really inspire me.  That is the main reason why I never pursued a degree in English Literature, despite my passion for reading it. I didn’t want to make it work.

My senior year in high school AP English is a perfect illustration.  We studied a lot of works that year (1984, Canterbury Tales, and Macbeth to name a few).  The total number of pages I read can be calculated easily – zero.  How did I pass?  My class was filled with the smartest of the smart kids that year (one major exception being my friend Christine who, I suspect for communist reasons, opted out of AP for regular English class *gasp*) and all I had to do was let them start the discussion and take their talking points a bit further down the road. 

I’ve never been haunted by the ghosts of AP English past, and I’ve never taken the time to read the books I should have read ten years ago.  In fact, I always felt as if I had already read Pride and Prejudice.  It’s such a famous book that it’s wormed its way, Jungian style, into the literary and popular culture (see it referenced in the movie You’ve Got Mail).  Between the BBC version, the new Keira Knightly movie and the pervasive Bridget Jones I’m sure everyone feels it would be a bother to actually open the pages.  We already know the story. 

This year I received P&P for a birthday present.  It completed my Jane Austen collection, but as I examined this gilt- paged gift (the perfect format for a classic if you ask me), I couldn’t believe my own audacity. Despite reading all her other works, I had never read thisbook – Austen’s most famous, most beloved work.  The very foundation of every modern romantic comedy.  The ur-story which spawned every sordid romance novel ever written. What was wrong with me?

Indeed.

I spend the better part of a west coast flight absorbed in that tiny little hardcover. I found myself laughing at all the funny parts I knew were coming.  And they were funnier for it.  I got to see Mr. Bennett in all his glory, for he is the most under-respected character in all those film versions; unfortunately he is so easily eclipsed by his wife’s ridiculousness.  

Elizabeth Bennet is a girl I could hang out with.  Although she’s infinitely nicer than I am, she’s not as accomodating as she is represented in her shadowy pop culture versions.  She is full of calm assuredness and, later, circumspect doubt.  As perceptive as she is, she is often blind to the intentions of others, particularly Darcy.  She’s right so much of the time, she has no reason to think she could be wrong.

But all this you know. 

The surprise is less that I really enjoyed the book (I love everything Jane writes) but that I never realized what I was missing.  I’m glad of one thing though – that I got to read this book as it is, an irreverent, satirical and hilariously funny story about the character of people, and not as a class project involving the social mores of 19th century men and women.

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