My intern, Zane Kai, has been anxious to talk to me some more about Pride and Prejudice, which, as you know, I’m reading as an endeavor I’m describing as a One Man Book Club. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m reading P&P because it just celebrated the 200th anniversary of its publication. And because I never have.
Zane Kai: Benjamin! Wow! It looks like you’ve really made some progress. When we spoke the first time, you’d read only 70 pages or so, but it looks like you’re well over two thirds the way through.
Benjamin: I am. Just broke two hundred. Slow but steady wins the race with this one.
Zane Kai: So bring me up to speed, what’s been happening?
Benjamin: But…you know the story.
Zane Kai: I know! But I want to hear it from you.
Benjamin: Well, let me see. There’s been a lot of drama for Elizabeth. First she was sure Darcy was a total prick because she thought he was proud and conceited, and then she got duped by this hot shot asshole good looking dude Wickham who sold her a bill of goods about Darcy and what kind of man he was. All the while, Darcy is in love with Elizabeth. He has been the whole book. He confesses to her, but she’s full of false information about him, both the Wickham stuff, but also stuff about this guy Bingley, Darcy’s best friend (they seem like they might be gay) who had the hots for Elizabeth’s sister Jane.
Zane Kai: What happened there?
Benjamin: Why do you keep asking me questions like you don’t know the novel. It’s driving me crazy.
Zane Kai: Because it’s an interview.
Benjamin: Anyway, Bingley and Jane had this amazing connection, or so it seemed, but then Bingley vanished away to the country or something, leaving Jane hanging and wondering and feeling pretty lousy about things. Jane and Elizabeth’s family doesn’t have a lot of cash, and so she thought it was about that. Come to find out that it was Darcy who persuaded Bingley to get away from Jane.
Zane Kai: That’s right!
Benjamin: So, when Darcy tells Elizabeth he loves her and asks for her hand, she pretty much kicks him in the balls and eats his lunch for him.
Zane Kai: Oh man.
Benjamin: She really rips him a new one. Wait, let me find the…okay, “I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” And this was in a time period when, it seems, women who didn’t come from big money did NOT turn down marriage proposals. And this is E’s second refusal in a hundred pages. First this other guy, Collins, I think, asked her to marry him an she was like, hell no. Eventually, though, Darcy writes her this long letter that clears the air and explains that he got Bingley away from Jane because he doubted Jane’s feelings for his friend and he was just looking out for him. And it also turns out that Wickham is the bad guy, not Darcy and there was some shady dealings with Darcy’s father and his will. So now Elizabeth is feeling really stupid and judgmental and girlish and all that, preyed upon by the very emotions that she is so often disdaining in other people. Pride and pre-judgment, mainly. Hence the title. It’s pretty clever actually, the way she’s always deceiving herself and walking into walls and learning.
Zane Kai: Where are things now?
Benjamin: Kind of in a holding pattern. Darcy seems changed to Elizabeth, less prideful and full of himself. Clearly he loves her and wants to marry her, and she seems to be coming around to liking him. But there’s all this jealousy and catty bullshit with some of the other female characters. These women are seriously shallow. There’s this one section where Bingley’s sister, who doesn’t like Elizabeth, starts talking shit about her looks, saying she hasn’t earned her reputation as a beauty. She even criticizes Elizabeth’s teeth! She says, “her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way.” What the hell does that even mean, the common way? And who rags on someone else’s teeth?
Zane Kai: Are you enjoying the book? It sounds like you are. You’ve been very animated talking about it.
Benjamin: Have I?
Zane Kai: You have.
Benjamin: I am. For sure, I am. It’s terrific. I often put books down that I’m not enjoying and I’m anxious to finish P & P. The characters are genuinely compelling. Mostly. There’s some things that get on my nerves. In some ways, I wish I was reading this book with other people. I think I’d be enjoying it a little more.
Zane Kai: What do you mean?
Benjamin: Well…then they could tell me to stop being annoyed by things that are totally unreasonable to be annoyed by when reading a book about another time period where part of the point is that society is different. Thus, people are. I mentioned before how I don’t have a big romantic place in my heart for the Victorian age.
Zane Kai: Be more specific.
Benjamin: Well, it’s a love story, right?
Zane Kai: Well…yes…of course.
Benjamin: But they’re never together! Doesn’t that bother you?
Zane Kai: They’re together. What do you mean?
Benjamin: Not really. Not like people who are getting together usually are. Or are now. They never get to, you know, hang out, or go on dates, or even get to know each other. The courtship ritual is so alien to me. So much is left to chance. Most of what Elizabeth knows and feels about Darcy is based on conjecture, rumor, reflection, and day dreaming. She has all these beliefs about him, then they change, but they might just as easy go right back to where they were. She has no real access to him. They certainly can’t have sex or be intimate until married so she has no idea if they’re compatible physically.
Zane Kai: But it wasn’t appropriate then.
Benjamin: I know! That’s what I mean. Other people could tell me to stop caring about this stuff. And…
Zane Kai: What?
Benjamin: I just, I feel bad for these women. I can’t help it! Their lives are so shallow. All their happiness and energy is bound up in the pursuit of men and they have so little control over it in the end. There’s so much petty gossip. They hardly seem to have other endeavors or passions.
Zane Kai: That’s not their fault!
Benjamin: I know, I know.
Zane Kai: How do you think it all turns out?
Benjamin: I honestly don’t know. She keeps it pretty lively, Jane Austen. A lot of twists and turns. Lots of misdirection. Though hardly anything really happens, the book is surprisingly suspenseful. I’d be pretty shocked if she and Darcy don’t end up together.
Zane Kai: It’s amazing you’ve managed to be alive so long and not know how Pride and Prejudice ends.
Benjamin: Thanks, Kai.