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Post #91: One Man Book Club (Pride and Prejudice), Concluded

Sincere apologies for taking so long to conclude this inaugural edition of One Man Book Club, Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve been waiting and grown tired of waiting, blame me, not my intern Zane Kai. Zane has been all over me like bubbles on beer to talk about the last third of the book, the details of which are beginning to elude me, but which I attempted to recall with as much thoughtfulness and detail as would please the ever picky Zane Kai when we chatted in the office the other day over lunch.

Zane Kai (Clicking on his tape recorder, licking mustard from his index finger): Benjamin! Glad we could finally sit down to talk about the last third of Pride and Prejudice. It feels like a million trillion years since we’ve talked about it.

Benjamin: I’ve been really busy Zane. You know that. You work here.

Zane Kai: Of course! But you know me and Jane Austen. Can’t get enough. I’ve been dying to know what you thought of how it all turned out. So…

Benjamin: Honestly, Zane. I feel kind of bad saying it, but…I skimmed the last eighty pages.

Zane Kai: What!

Benjamin: I’m just being honest! I don’t want to lie.

Zane Kai: Well…

Benjamin: Wait, wait. Not because I didn’t like it.

Zane Kai: Then, why…

Benjamin: I don’t know. It just. I mean. I did like it. I sincerely did. I’m glad I read it and, for the most part, I can see why so many people love the book. And why it’s a classic. It’s so well written. And full of great characters and, it’s totally hilarious. That’s actually probably my favorite thing about it, how funny it was. But…it all started to seem a little obvious, don’t you think? It kind of wore me down.

Zane Kai: What started to seem obvious?

Benjamin: The ending, Zane! The ending. Why else would I skim?

Zane Kai: Okay. Gosh. Sorry. You don’t have to yell.

Benjamin: I didn’t yell. You’re so sensitive. This is how I always talk. You should know by now that I’m not mad at you or anything.

Zane Kai: Okay. Sorry. So…the ending.

Benjamin: Right, the ending. Well, I mean, there’s no doubt that they’re all going to get together, the two couples. But Lydia and Wickham. I didn’t see that shit coming. I don’t really get Wickham. He’s a jerk, right? A liar and a thief. But then he’s, sort of, cured by his authentic love for Lydia? I didn’t really follow the arc of his character. It feels like we’re meant to judge him against Darcy the whole time, or to wonder about their relative virtue, except not really because Darcy is so much the better man all along that it feels unfair, even as Wickham is the honorable soldier and Darcy just the moneyed lord. And then when Lydia ends up with Wickham, it feels as if Austen is commenting on Elizabeth in comparison to Lydia. But maybe I’m reading too much into it. I think Austen kind of worshipped Elizabeth if that’s fair to say.

I will say this. By the time it all came down to the inevitable marriages and clarification of being self-involved gossiping blithering idiots, I was more moved by Jane and Bingley getting together than I was by Elizabeth and Darcy.

Zane Kai: Why?

Benjamin: Honestly? I got kind of tired of waiting for Darcy and Elizabeth. This novel kind of gave me blue balls in that this love, which you know is there, and you know damn well is going to eventually come to fruition and in the company of massive forgiving and admitting-I-was-an-idiot kind of talk, takes soooo long to get to that point. I mean, sooo long. At least with Bingham and Jane the drama felt a bit more authentic. Not just in Elizabeth’s head. Still subjected to the same gossip machine and rumor mill that dominated these people’s lives, though. Amazing to think that people would ignore a heart full of love based on conjecture and innuendo. The Victorians would have gone fucking hog wild with Facebook and Twitter.

Zane Kai: What, in the end, do you think the novel is about? Or what is it trying to say?

Benjamin: I don’t know. Self-discovery?

Zane Kai: Not love?

Benjamin: Not as much as discovery. I mean it’s Elizabeth’s novel, right?

Zane Kai: Do you find that satisfying? As the basis for the novel, I mean?

Benjamin: I’m going to answer that question more tangentially by saying it’s unfair for me to judge harshly the terms on which a person does or doesn’t find herself and that self-discovery is a totally legitimate topic for a novel, whether it’s set on Mars or in my local post office. I mean, it’s not Elizabeth’s fault that her life is small and boring. At least boring in my eyes. She might have been searching for herself on the open sea. Or in a war. It doesn’t make the search for self any less authentic that it’s a search that happens mostly in living rooms and bedrooms and over meals and fancy dances. And here’s where Austen really achieved something, I guess. In projecting that urgency on the drawing room. Elizabeth is still out there, doing it, trying to make sense of life, trying to figure out what life is and how she fits into it. Dealing with her crazy family, her own prejudices and limitations. Trying to decide what kind of person she is and wants to be. What kind of man could make her happy. What she needs to overcome to improve as a person. All those things are legitimate characteristics of any search for self. So I guess it’s about that. And love, sure. Fine. And realizing that what’s best for you might be staring you dead in the face, even if you can’t see it.

Zane Kai: Care to give it a rating? Out of five stars.

Benjamin: No. I’m not going to rate it. Who am I to rate it? People have been reading this book for two hundred years. Devouring this book for two hundred years. Adapting and worshipping it. Just call me one more and we’ll leave it at that.

Post #85: One Man Book Club, Continued

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.

 

 

 

Post #82: One Man Book Club

So, as you know, I’m reading Pride and Prejudice as a sort of one-man-book-club, and as a way to respond to the first 70 pages, which is all I’ve had time to get through so far, I thought it best to have my intern, Mr. Zane Kai, interview me about my experience. He’s a big Jane Austen fan, though, I’m sorry to say, not that great an interviewer. But he’s free. The interview, albeit a bit short, is in its entirety below.

Zane Kai: Good morning, Benjamin

Benjamin: Hi, Zane. Hi. Sorry for being late.

Zane Kai: That’s okay! I work for you, remember!

Benjamin: Right.

Zane Kai: I see you’ve got your copy of the book with you.

Benjamin: Want to be able to find passages and all that.

Zane Kai: So, where should we start?

Benjamin: I don’t know.

Zane Kai: I could ask you what you think of the novel so far.

Benjamin: You could ask me what I think of the novel so far.

Zane Kai: (awkward laughter) So…what do you think of Pride and Prejudice so far?

Benjamin: It’s good.

Zane Kai: Care to elaborate?

Benjamin: (12 second pause) It’s funnier than I expected.

Zane Kai: Is that a good thing?

Benjamin: Definitely. No, definitely a good thing.  I didn’t mean that as, like, when you say someone has a great personality because you don’t want to name the fact that they’re ugly. I just mean it’s one of the things about the book that stands out.

Zane Kai: In what way does humor affect the book?

Benjamin: Mostly, Jane Austen seems to employ humor to tell us things about the characters. Like when, early in the novel (flipping pages)…in discussion with her daughter on the subject of a certain Mrs. Long

Zane Kai: Uh huh

Benjamin: Mrs. Bennet comments, saying, hold on, let me find it, saying…”she is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her.” I mean, that’s funny. I laughed and underlined it. And we learn something about Mrs. Bennet while we’re laughing.

Zane Kai: I love that line too! Cool, what else? How else does she use humor?

Benjamin: Well, I don’t know, um…the humor also creates tension. There’s constant verbal bantering that goes on between the characters that almost reminds me of the kinds of battles of wits Shakespeare’s characters often engage in.

Zane Kai: Such as?

Benjamin: Like when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy–can I just ask, does he have a first name?

Zane Kai: Um…I don’t know. I don’t think so…just Mr. Darcy!

Benjamin: Anyway, when they’re coyly flirting/feeling each other out at a ball early in the book. Hold on, let me see if… (More flipping pages)…yeah, here. Before they are in proximity of one another, this guy Sir William, this idiot at the party, says to Darcy, “what a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy. There is nothing like dancing after all,” to which Darcy dryly replies, and you can just feel this guy’s icy glare, “…it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.” Moments later, Elizabeth Bennet comes up and Sir William tries to get her to dance with Darcy, and Elizabeth says, and we can start to feel how smart and sassy she is, “I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner.” Damn! Darcy then asks her to dance but she rebuffs him, playing very very hard to get. So, you know, there’s a lot of that kind of tension driven humor. Austen’s pretty crafty the way she shows us stuff and ratchets up the stakes through these kinds of interactions.

Zane Kai: So…I can’t help noticing, and I’m sorry to say this, and don’t take it the wrong way, but it looks as if you haven’t read that much. You told me you’d hoped to be half way through the book by now and I can see your bookmark isn’t a third the way in.

Benjamin: Yeah. Well, I’ve been pretty swamped at work this week.

Zane Kai: Are you planning to keep reading?

Benjamin: Definitely! I mean, I’m enjoying it a lot. I don’t know that I find it a page turner necessarily.

Zane Kai: Because of the writing?

Benjamin: It’s less that. I think it’s more the situation and the conflicts. I’ve just never been that into British society the way a lot of people are. There’s a bottomless well of romance in 19th Century British life for some people…although, I’ve watched a couple episodes of Downton Abbey and it’s pretty rocking. And Ang Lee’s film of Sense and Sensibility is unreal.

Zane Kai: And there’s always, you know, Shakespeare.

Benjamin: Smart ass.

Zane Kai: Sorry.

Benjamin: And Shakespeare’s work was often set outside of England.

Zane Kai: Good point.

Benjamin: Thank you.

Zane Kai: What else?

Benjamin: Well, now I know where the idea for pretty much every romantic comedy ever comes from.

Zane Kai: What do you mean?

Benjamin: The set up of the novel feels like When Harry Met Sally or something. They don’t like each other at first, but there’s clearly sexual tension beneath the surface and you sense they’ll probably end up together, but everything will conspire against them.

(Pause.)

Benjamin: So…are we done for now?

Zane Kai: We can be. Remember, I work for you!

Benjamin: Let’s check in after another 70 pages.

Zane Kai: Deal!

Post #81: Pride and…?

prideandprejudice2This week marks the bi-centennial (that’s 200 years to you and me, Russ) of the publication of Jane Austen’s celebrated masterwork Pride and Prejudice. P & P is an acknowledged classic, beloved by generation after generation of readers enraptured by Austen’s memorable portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s complicated but ultimately triumphant romance.

I guess.

I’ve never read it. It’s up there with a host of other classics I’ve somehow managed to avoid. It’s a long and distinguished list, I assure you.

But in P & P‘s case, I aim to amend my omission. After all, two hundred years is an awfully long time for a book to be kicking around the culture and it must still be popular for damn good reasons. Like most people, I’m often up half the night wondering…what’s so great about P & P? What makes it worthy of all the attention and acclaim? Is it the love story? The satirical portrayal of Victorian gender roles and social schema? The audacious beauty of Austen’s prose? The sexy girls on the cover? So, on behalf of everyone who’s ever meant to read the novel but hasn’t found or taken the time, I’m going to read it and write about my experience.

Stay tuned.

(Care to join me?)