The Austen Project: Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility
|January 21, 2013||Posted by Jess under Books, Ladytexts, The Austen Project|
Earlier this month I happened to find myself in possession of a free copy of The Annotated Pride and Prejudice: A Revised and Expanded Edition, edited by David M. Shapard. Inspired in part by reading it and in part by Karen Healey’s project last year to read all the Brontes, I resolved to read all the Austen this year! Well, finished, published novels. So, uh, six relatively short books, three of which I’ve already read. Yes sir, I sure know how to challenge myself when it comes to resolutions!
Whatever. Maybe I’ll watch all the movies too. It could get crazy up in here!
So. Let’s start with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
Pride and Prejudice is one of those things that I really can’t give anything close to an objective review of because I love it too much.1 I’ve read it about five or six times, and watched my way through all six hours of the BBC miniseries repeatedly. Every time I read it I find something new to enjoy about it – a joke I didn’t get before, a particular quirk of character. I love Lizzie, I love Darcy, I love the hugely satisfying way everything resolves. A+, Ms. Austen, would fangirl again.
This time through, as I mentioned, I read a version with annotations from David M. Shapard. I would say about 60% of those annotations were interesting and informative. The rest were really unnecessary, and seemed to spring from assuming the reader was either unfamiliar with the book (unlikely – who reads the annotated version first?) or unfamiliar with stories in general. There was a lot of defining words that had already been defined, and a lot of explaining character motivation, i.e. “Darcy is staring at Elizabeth because he is in love with her, but she doesn’t realize this.” Like, yes, thank you, Mr. Shapard, that is the entire purpose of the book, let’s all move on. Seriously.
That said, I did find – as mentioned – about 60% of the annotations to be interesting, enough so that I’m kind of tempted to pick up his version of…
…Sense and Sensibility. I’m afraid S&S is inevitably going to suffer from comparisons to P&P, because it’s essentially P&P with worse consequences and less likable characters.2 Elinor and Edward were fine – adorable, even! The scene where she finds out he’s not married and bursts into tears? So freaking cute.
But Marianne and Colonel Brandon, ugggggh. (Um, spoilers to follow, and in this whole series of posts. Come on, guys, the statute of limitations has definitely run out on these books.) How was it super sketchy? Let me count the ways:
- All the staring. Darcy stares at Elizabeth a lot too, and lusts in his heart and all that, but his reticence to actually make a move is because he’s trying to convince himself he doesn’t love her. Yes, Brandon knows Marianne doesn’t love him back, but that being the case, leave her alone. Captain Awkward hilariously describes silently trying to make someone love you from afar as “firthing,” in honor of Colin Firth being so damn good at it in the BBC P&P, but Brandon makes Darcy’s Firthing look tame. Ugh, and then his, like, lurking around their house in London to pop in with helpful stories about how Willoughby is evil? SO CREEPY.
- Did I mention that he only loves Marianne because she reminds him of his dead cousinsister Eliza, who died tragically of a broken heart/heavily veiled prostitution maybe? Because there’s nothing healthier than loving someone as a way of fixing past romantic regrets. Someone much younger, so that you can control them the way you couldn’t control the earlier situation. Ahem, ahem.
- Like, okay. I get that it was a different time and Brandon couldn’t really take Eliza Jr. into his home and for-real raise her like a daughter. I get it. But it’s one of those things that doesn’t age super-well for a modern audience. Not to keep comparing Brandon to Darcy, but one of the first indications that Darcy isn’t a super jerk through and through is his affection for his sister. Brandon’s physical and emotional detachment from Eliza Jr., who fills a similar role in the story, prevents him from reaping the same characterization benefits. More troubling, though, is the fact that Eliza Jr. never actually appears in the book and disappears entirely from everyone’s minds after Elinor gets a chance to yell at Willoughby about her. Is she just, like, chilling somewhere with her little Willoughbaby? Does Marianne know about her? Does she care? Her life is pretty much ruined forever, and it’s just a thrown-away plot device. It’s bad plotting, it bums me out, and it doesn’t make Brandon look great, either.
- Marianne’s eventual decision to give in to Brandon’s firthing is summed up in, like, a paragraph on the last page of the book. “Everyone really wanted Marianne to marry Brandon, so she did. I guess she loved him back or whatever.” Not the most convincing romance of our times, I’m afraid. Her complete post-fever personality change was also pretty glossed over. I wanted to punch Marianne for most of the book, but I still feel bad for her by the end. Teenagers are melodramatic! They don’t need to be punished for it by nearly dying and then marrying some middle-aged creeper out of a sense of obligation!
So…yeah. I had some problems with that plotline. And I know there are many people who would violently disagree with me, seeing as how S&S is, you know, a classic and all. So talk to me! Make an argument in favor! (Note: you cannot use the movie, which makes Brandon and Marianne much cuter.) Tell me your Jane Austen thoughts!
In conclusion, as I crack open Mansfield Park, I will share with you a related conversation I had with my mother:
Mom: What are you up to?
Jess: Not much. I just finished reading Sense and Sensibility.
Mom: I don’t think I’ve ever read that.
Jess: We saw the movie years ago.
Mom: We did? Who’s in it?
Jess: Emma Thompson, a very young Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman…
Mom: Alan Rickman. Is he that funny bald American with the big nose?
Jess: Uh, no. I mean, he kind of has a big nose but he’s not bald, and he’s as English as humanly possible.
Mom: Who am I thinking of?
Jess: I…don’t know?
Mom: Wait, let me look it up. *Googles something, maybe “who am I thinking of who isn’t Alan Rickman,” I don’t even know* Oh, no, I’m thinking of Stanley Tucci.
Jess: Ahaha! No. Definitely not. Look up Alan Rickman.
Mom: *Googles* Oh, okay. He’s pretty handsome. I would go out with him.
Jess: I will be sure to let him know the next time I see him.
My mom: sometimes even funnier than Mrs. Bennet.
- See also: the Sherlock Holmes canon, Newsies, and anything involving Darkwing Duck. ↩
- Nice but reserved oldest sister is in love with nice pushover but his family doesn’t approve; lively middle sister is the object of a rich man’s affection, but while he creepily stares at her she falls for a dashing young man whose last name begins with Wi.; Wi. turns out to be a cad who has compromised a young woman under the guardianship of Rich Man; Wi. has a shotgun marriage and Middle Sister ends up with Rich Man. Obviously the details vary, but come on! ↩