Tag: Pride and Prejudice

200th Birthday Pride and Prejudice

(part of this posted yesterday without my realizing it.  Sorry)

We decided to do something different this month for book club.  Instead of all reading the same book we decided to each read a Jane Austen and then we would meet and discuss them.  I’m looking forward to it.  So, I had to decide which Jane Austen to tackle.  I have read all of them, of course, so it would be rereading for sure but which one? I realized I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice for years, maybe since college, and it seemed ripe for another perusal.

So this week I started to read it again, both via traditional and audiobook, and I wondered at first if I would be as dazzled as I was at 17.  That year I was going to community college, living in California with no friends and I had a month long winter break to fill up.  In desperation I decided to read Sense and Sensibility.

Its funny because its probably Jane Austen’s most challenging book (its pretty slow moving) but being a big fan of the movie I loved it.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I immediately read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion within the course of my break.   Its hard to say what I responded to so quickly in Jane Austen’s prose.  They have such austere characters within the confines of a culture so distant from my own; yet, I was completely engaged.

(so I didn’t realize this blog was published yesterday. Sorry guys.  Here’s the rest of it)

In the end, the long lasting effect of Pride and Prejudice and other Austen novels persists  because her characters are fully-rounded, strong-willed women.  This translates to any era and gives all women something to hope for.  The fact is marriage and romance will always be the grand desire of the human heart because we all seek to be understood by at least one person with that one person being forever loyal to us.  All of Jane Austen’s  characters spur social customs and refuse to settle for anything other than complete understanding in the marriage relationship

Pride and Prejudice is her masterpiece.  It creates characters who do not even know their own hearts until they meet.  It is a story that teaches the reader about human frailty.  If left only to our own devices (as Darcy remarks about his childhood) we will develop certain flaws that will cause us to see the world incorrectly.  It is only when someone points out those flaws that our world is opened and we can truly love.

Both Darcy and Lizzie fail to see anything but their own perspective or point of view.  That is such a hard lesson to learn and how great to have characters in a novel help educate us!

Pride and Prejudice also shows that the human brain knows intrinsically what will make us happy.  It is only when we listen to the world’s definition of happiness that we are left cold.  Lizzie knew that a marriage of convenience, despite its worldly benefits could never make her happy, and what is life if it is not happy?  Darcy must have also known that Lizzie was the person who could make him happy despite her refusals.  Both characters learn that when your soul is telling you to go a direction, even if socially divergent, go, run if you have to.

One of the most flawed characters in Pride and Prejudice is Mr Bennett.  He makes no choices in his life and is content to let it pass him by.  A lazy parent at best, Mr Bennett doesn’t intervene with Lydia or the girls until disaster strikes and even then he admits he will get over the shame more quickly than he should.  Lydia is an idiot, but she is young and at least she has made choices and has passion.  I can respect that much more than idly sitting by and doing nothing.

Wickham is of course the true scoundrel of the story.  Having all the appearance of good nature but none of the moral fortitude he oils his way into every situation, getting what he wants at great cost to others.  However, he does provide an important boost to the plot.  By being true evil, he lessens and then removes any remaining angst the reader feels about Darcy’s pride and conceit.  Perhaps pride is not so bad when it helps avoid wreckless abandon, theft, lust and depravity of Wickham? He also gives Darcy a dramatic way to show his love for Lizzy that leaves her (and the reader) overwhelmed.   There is no doubt Darcy LOVES Lizzy after what he has done.

I happen to believe that all modern romantic comedies can be traced back to Pride and Prejudice and Taming of the Shrew. In both stories you have strong willed souls who are right for each other but just can’t see it.  This tension makes the reader route for them along the way.  Both are written with a wit and satire that makes the journey fun (something most rom coms have lost today).

With both, you feel immediately that the characters are good, if flawed people and you want to see them happy.  That is what most rom coms today miss when they borrow the old formulas.  Yes, the characters don’t like each other at the beginning, but they are both quickly presented as good people who you want to be happy.  The reader is rooting for some resolution all the way and when it seems to be the most impossible the book is at its finest.

I think this is why Pride and Prejudice bears so well to all kinds of treatments whether it be Bollywood, the 5 hour BBC, or the 2005 Kiera Knightly version.  Its hard to make me not like these characters and get drawn into the story.

Yes, we know how it will turn out but its the delightful journey of ‘how’ that makes Pride and Prejudice so great.

It is truly a masterpiece and I enjoyed reading it again.  You should read it again too!

Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 and is 200 years old this year.  Happy Birthday!

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Writing and Reading for Children and Teens

This is a quick post- (Believe me I will do my 3rd interview I just want to make sure it is well thought out and that my political opinions are explained adequately).

On Saturday I went to an awesome literary symposium put on by the Provo Library.  This was with my friend Emily Whitman who has been my BFF for 11 years.  With 2 kids and my busy work-life it is harder to get together than I would like, especially a full afternoon so Saturday was such a treat.

We got to meet Haven Kimmel who wrote the wonderful memoir A Girl Named Zippy- a book which holds a special place in my heart because it is about growing up in Indiana.  I have never met an author that I admire and it was so interesting to hear her perspective.  She seemed a little melancholy over the recent changes in the publishing industry and said:

“I’m not sure how to continue in an art form that has changed so much that I no longer know how to perform it.”

But she was also very funny and there was a spirited debate over the advent of ebooks.  In her mind they lessened the archival nature of a library, created a technological ‘upgrade’ need and excluded the poor/disadvantaged from the freedom provided by free books.  It was interesting to me because I purchased a kindle in August expecting to love it but I haven’t.  I rarely use it and prefer a real book that I can write notes in and arrows (I know you can do that in a kindle but I find it very tedious).

In fact, if anyone wants to buy a traditional 3G kindle I will give you a good deal (of course, they came out with the fire literally 2 weeks after my purchase!).

Anyway, the second session of the conference was on teen literature.  While it was interesting I disagreed with the attitude of the presenter.  She was a teacher in the public school system and to me she had a very defeatist attitude (she was a perky lady but still defeatist).

One of the first things she said was ‘It would be nice for my students to be reading more challenging books but at least they are reading’.  Then as she continued one of her main qualifications for a book being a good recommendation was that it was ‘really fast’.  I felt like she said that phrase 30 times in the hour. (Tell that to all the kids pouring through Harry Potter at 0ver 700 pages).

Her attitude annoyed me because I feel it is emblematic of a culture of compliance that we have in nurturing children and teenagers.  We could encourage them to do better, be more, but instead we are happy with the least modicum of effort.

I’m not saying every child has to read Foucault and Thoreau but let’s not assume they can’t.  Let’s see the greatest potential in all the people around us whether it is reading, dieting, learning, whatever. The greatest people in my life always saw my potential, the biggest disappointments failed to help nurture me (I still feel some resentment towards my high school choir teacher who stomped on my talent so hard I didn’t sing for 7 years in public after).

Once a child/teen is presented with reading options and they chose Diary of a Wimpy Kid, no problem.  At least they are reading something over nothing. (I have never read Wimpy kid but that was just the example the speaker used about what her high school senior kids are reading). I just want the options to be presented and to not assume they will immediately go for something less challenging.  I hated that assumption growing up.

It turns out there is quite a lively debate on this topic on the web spawned by an article in the New York Daily News by Alexander Nazaryan.

http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/2012/01/against-walter-dean-myers-and-the-dumbing-down-of-literature-those-kids-can-read-h

http://oinks.squeetus.com/2012/01/in-which-i-gamely-stick-out-my-tongue.html

I’m actually inclined to agree more with Nazaryan.  As mentioned above, this feeling comes from the way I felt as a child.  I hated being pandered too and treated like I was stupid because I was young.  I wanted nothing more than to be shown the respect I felt I deserved.  I wanted to be heard and taken seriously from a very young age.

One of my greatest goals if I am ever a parent is to let my children win an argument.  This might sound funny but I want them to know that they have the ability to think things through on their own and that Mother is not always right.  (Not every argument, but I want my kids to feel a freedom of expression and to learn to back up their thoughts as well as they can).

Basically my feeling on writing for children and teenagers is summed up best by Dr.  Seuss (a man who is about as creative as it gets, so proof my approach does not limit magic or youthfulness in kids):

I don’t write for children. I write for people.” Or, as he once told an interviewer, “I think I can communicate with kids because I don’t try to communicate with kids. Ninety percent of the children’s books patronize the child and say there’s a difference between you and me, so you listen to this story. I, for some reason or another, don’t do that. I treat the child as an equal.”

Finally, I think most teens are turned off of reading not because of difficult, boring books but because of the way those books are dissected in the classroom.    If kids were allowed to present their own point of view instead of over-analyzing character motivations and styles I think they wouldn’t be as turned off.  I think it is more a matter of approach than the material itself.

For Christmas I was debating about getting my 12 year old sister Pride and Prejudice, but I did and she was excited.  I could have gotten her Prom and Prejudice (as suggested by the speaker) but I had confidence to give her the real thing.  I think with a little digging we can see the literary potential of all of the people around us, especially the youth, and their life will be better for the faith we show in them.

It is also important to remember that you aren’t going to win with every suggestion.  They might even hate what you put out there for them to read but I think that is good.  Development of a critical eye and a well reasoned mind is part of the learning process.  I read Scarlet Letter as a teen and hated it, still do, but you can bet I can explain why I dislike it so much! I could then, I can now!

So, that’s my opinion on that.  What do you think?  How do you think we should approach reading for teens and children?  Are the classics still relevant and important to introduce or is just getting them reading enough?

(Nice what I think of as a quick post… 🙂 )