Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen
I have been getting in the habit of listening to audiobook versions of Jane Austen novels, as I like to reread them every year . Recently I have enjoyed the film critiques of an online student of film editing, and in one of his best critiques, he comments on how frustrating it is to watch the movie Suicide Squad because it sets up a lot of threads that do not pay off. In listening to this audiobook, is is striking to see that one of the pleasures of rereading Pride and Prejudice or having it read, and that is the way that so many subtle details pay off so well. The payoff occurs not only on the larger plot level, but even the choice of words that demonstrate Austen’s ironic sense of wit. The deeper and closer one looks at the language and structure at the novel, the more one sees the evidence of design and skill in the novel’s creation. And at least for me, it is that attention to detail and structure that helps make this novel worth going back to over and over again, in the hope that by making oneself familiar with great literature that I can become a better writer myself.
This particular audiobook takes about 11 hours over 9 discs to cover the chapters of Pride & Prejudice, which are viewed as one novel rather than a triple-decker Regency novel with three parts. The tracks are divided into periods about a minute long or so, which is a good way of showing how the novel itself is paced. Those who are familiar with Pride & Prejudice will know that it is a set piece novel based on a series of events that are triggered by the initiating event of a stranger in town in the form of Charles Bingley. Austen then adds still more strangers, mixes things up by having the heroine of the novel be a stranger in town twice herself, and even has a scene where all of Elizabeth Bennet’s would-be beaus are present at the same time for maximum awkwardness. Indeed, it is Austen’s commitment to making her characters as uncomfortable as possible that makes this such a delightful novel. We know everything will end up alright, but at the same time we know that things look wrong, that there are misunderstandings and deception and bad first impressions and an inability to explain what one is feeling or what one is up to.
And ultimately, the skill of Jane Austen, and it is a rare skill, is combining the sharp and cynical mind of a witty person in a corrupt age with a strong sense of optimism about one’s characters. This novel is a great example of what that means, as we see initial meetings and misapprehensions leading some people to choose cynical success in marrying for a good establishment, we see others rush off into marriage too quickly, and when a relationship works we see it being the result of hard work, a lot of communication, and months of painful struggle against one’s own despair and the results of one’s blunders and the blunders of those around us. The blunders of the characters are a large part of what makes this novel such a treat, given that some of us (myself definitely included) are people who blunder in our personal lives to such an extent that we despair of ever finding happiness for ourselves. And if characters can genuinely feel that way in a well-written romance novel, then perhaps in seeing how decent but blundering people can find happiness is an encouragement for those of us who are all too blundering and decent in our own eyes at least in reality–even if it did not happen for Jane Austen quite like that.
 See, for example: