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

Book Reviews

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 #82: One Man Book Club

Book Reviews

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.


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!