Death Comes to Pemberley… and I Resurrect Pride and Prejudice

Just five days ago, I gave up on re-reading Pride and Prejudice. And I was totally okay with that. And if this was your project, and you did that, I would not judge you at all.

But I can’t quit.

Maybe I just needed an Austen break. Maybe reading Death Comes to Pemberley reignited my drive. Whatever it was, I realized this morning that I just could not compromise on my original plan for this project.

So, I’m back on board with Pride and Prejudice. With a little over a month left, I have quite a bit of reading to do. Luckily, my little introverted heart needs a break from all the socializing and coast-hopping and is screaming for me to just have a couple nights in to relax.

But let’s go back and talk about Death Comes to Pemberley. This novel picks up the story of Elizabeth and Darcy, six years later, happily settled at Pemberley with two beautiful children and a happy life punctuated with, of course, family drama here and there. Though she is not particularly welcomed to Pemberley, Lydia shows up in the middle of the night before an annual ball, and plunges our favorite characters into a murder mystery.

I was happily impressed with the continuity of story. It felt seamless, often referencing small plot points from Pride and Prejudice. At times, though, I felt that James challenged how I understood these characters. Elizabeth became less romantic and mused on how financial considerations impacted her past decisions. Charlotte is suddenly less sympathetic and a bit devious. And Darcy is now quite thoughtful and romantic! I don’t know that these characterizations are wrong, and I might also be far too influenced by the BBC adaptation, but it just felt “off” at times to me.

I also have very little interest in reading contemporary mystery novels. While this retained the language and writing style of Jane Austen, there were too many features of modern storytelling that frustrated me. For example, the same details, around the events of the murder in question, were repeated numerous times. Occasionally, this was done to illustrate how one person’s recollection varies from another, or to introduce a small piece of information not previously known. More often, though, I felt like I was suffering through another three-page retelling of “what happened that night” without any payoff.

Yet, this was a quick read and it was fun. The requisite twists were surprising, though not shocking. I didn’t feel any compulsion to keep reading as I do in my best experiences but I did not have to force myself to get through the story. I certainly do not feel any worse off having read it, if that’s a recommendation at all.

Verdict: if you love pride and prejudice, it’s a cute read; good for beach days or rainy weekends

Quitting Pride and Prejudice

I have quit my rereading of Pride and Prejudice.

I just can’t do it. I read this book about a year ago. I’ve seen the BBC and Keira Knightley-led adaptations countless times. I just cannot read this book again, not right now. It’s a good book; I love it. But it doesn’t feel fresh to me at all right now and I found myself dreading reading in general because of the obligation. And that’s not the point of this, at all.

I tackled two
Pride and Prejudice-related tasks last night though: reading P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, which has started off wonderfully, and watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. This book is really quite delightful. James retains much of Austen’s language and cadence, which really makes it seem like a proper sequel. The plot is quick enough (in sometimes stark contrast to Austen’s, um, patience with her plot development); I expect to be through it before the end of Friday. It’s very obviously something done by someone who loves Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, which in itself is rather endearing. The web series next mentioned is a sort of modern twist on Pride and Prejudice. I’m pacing at about two videos a day; they’re short and pretty cute. 

I may not reread
Emma either.

Disappointments abound, but as long as I get through all the new-to-me Austen works, I’ll be satisfied with my endeavor.

Watching Sense and Sensibility

Friday night, AVH tolerated my intermittent commentary and watched the Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility with me. Overall, I absolutely enjoyed it. The adaptation of this very long and tedious novel was extraordinarily done, keeping all the major plot points and adding just enough extras to make up for some of the things Austen left out of the novel (ahem, a certain engagement scene).

I have a few thoughts though:

  • Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars did nothing to convince me that he and Elinor were a great match. Maybe I’m too much like Marianne but I wanted to see a certain indescribable spark of chemistry on screen. Just a touch of romance underneath the surface.
  • I felt even more, after watching the film, that Marianne wilted at the end of the story. It didn’t come across to me as growing up, but resigning herself to a tolerable life. And while this was probably very much the case in many real scenarios, I just felt sad for her at the end.
  • The secondary characters (particularly Margaret, Mrs. Jennings, and Mr. Palmer) were delightful!
  • Emma Thompson is flawless and was indeed a perfect Elinor, just as I expected.
I know many people love Sense and Sensibility and I don’t wish to take that away from anyone. I think I’ve been spoiled by my immersion in two other Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I intend to write much more about my love of Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse as I launch into those titles. I’ll just say that my literary preferences were formed in my youth and that is likely why I did not connect with Sense and Sensibility in the same way.
For most of the summer, I’ve felt like I have so much time to get through Austen, but it turns out that my three months will expire on September 8th – and that is only 47 days from now! I started Pride and Prejudice again last night and intend to finish that this week and then read Death Comes to Pemberley while traveling this weekend. There is much reading yet to be done and I haven’t even started my historical research or touched any criticisms! August will necessarily be an Austen-heavy month (and this means I should probably stop buying other books).

Sense and Sensibility… and Disappointment

I finished Sense and Sensibility – I fought through to the end while on vacation in Maine late last week. And I was never so glad to finish one book and start another as I was once I moved from this to The Art of Fielding (for another book club meeting I didn’t actually make it to – shocker).

If you have not read
Sense and Sensibility, and do not desire to read blatant spoilers, please do not read further. I will summarize with this: I do not recommend reading it unless you also have a desire to read all of Austen’s novels for yourself. It’s slow and you will not be entertained. In fact, you may feel quite dissatisfied at the end. I certainly do.

Okay, it was fine. At this point, I’m comparing my experience to what I know of Jane Austen: a first read of
Northanger Abbey, a few reads of Pride and Prejudice and countless journies through Emma. Sense and Sensibility. Going up against these reads I have loved, this just did not capture my attention nearly enough. I felt like I knew exactly what was going to happen – I did not have any moments of surprise, save near the end when Austen demonstrates that indeed Colonel Brandon pines for the obnoxious Marianne. And when Edward finally proposes to Elinor, Jane Austen keeps all the details a secret from us! We read through all these pages of insufferable detail in which I was frankly unconvinced that Edward was worth Elinor’s attentions to get to this (emphasis added):

How soon he had walked himself into the proper resolution, however, how soon an opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what manner he expressed himself, and how he was received, need not be particularly told. This only need to be said;- that when they all sat down to the table at four o’clock, about three hours after his arrival, he had secured his lady, engaged her mother’s consent, and was not only in the rapturous profession of the lover, but, in the reality of reason and truth, one of the happiest of men.

NEED NOT BE PARTICULARLY TOLD?! Are you kidding me?! Why does Jane Austen hate me? 

I trust that the film adaptation will be much better and that Kate Winslet will inspire me to love Marianne and Emma Thompson will prove to be a perfect Elinor. But if I don’t get a proposal scene, I’m done. 

Well, done until I move onto
Pride and Prejudice, a title with so much adapted material, I shall be happily inundated with Austen for the rest of July.

it wasn’t for me, i don’t recommend it, but do what you want

Starting Sense and Sensibility

Both Summer of Austen and Project Ukulele took a back seat to another exciting adventure as I traveled to Boston last week to attend and celebrate my friend’s successful defense of his dissertation. Congratulations, Dr. Dan!

Necessary champagne celebration! 
(Photo by Kristen P. via Facebook, as I managed to leave Boston without any pictures… again.)

While a flight is surely a perfect time for reading Austen, I needed to finish Lisa Randall’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door, in the hopes of establishing some sort of very basic understanding of physics. And it worked! On a very superficial level, I understood what Dan’s research is about and was able to more fully appreciate his contribution to science. (So very proud of my friend.)

I found a little time for reading in Boston, while I was forcing myself to stay awake until dawn in sheer terror of a bird-size insect that had made its way into the house. That kind of free time demanded lighter reading and I dived into yet another Sookie Stackhouse novel (a series which I’m not even a little embarrassed to say I love).

And when my next chunk of free time popped up – five hours in Boston’s Logan International Airport, it seemed much more pressing to re-watch some season six episodes of
Doctor Who (“The Curse of the Black Spot,” “The Impossible Astronaut,” and “A Good Man Goes to War”), and then the first two episodes from season one of Bored to Death. (Note: that show makes me want to live in New York City, but not Manhattan – Brooklyn is so pretty.)

Okay – I boarded the flight (thank you, pre-boarding because of the boot) and finally resigned myself to starting
Sense and Sensibility. Why was I fighting it? Maybe I knew how slow it was going to start. I’m only 15% or so in (oh Kindle, already shaping how I talk about books) and I’m so annoyed. Too many Dashwoods to keep track of. 

However, interspersed in this (I’m sure very important) novel set-up text are some moments of the Jane Austen I met in
Northanger Abbey.

On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course every body differed, and every body was astonished at the opinion of others. (Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility)

Oh, Jane Austen – speaking universal and persistent truths. How little social interactions have changed!

I’m pushing to finish this by Friday night so Anna and I can watch the Emma Thompson adaptation before it leaves Netflix Instant.