Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: Pride & Prejudice- Jane Austen

I don't remember when I became interested in the classics as a kid.  It probably had a lot to do with Charles Schultz.  I remember checking out anthologies of Peanuts out from my library and my library also had a small set of Peanuts posters illustrating the hundreds in the Dewey Decimal System.  In one of the pictures (probably the 800s) showed Snoopy leaning against a large copy of War and Peace.  From the anthologies there were plenty of references to War and Peace, and there was even a long summer series where Snoopy decided he was going to read it by reading only one word a day.  I remember having a vague idea that reading War and Peace was required reading for adults and some kind of right of passage.  Later my dad set me straight by simply informing me that he had never read it, but at some point I tried.  As I became familiar with classic authors and lists of classics [like on the inside cover of Cliff Notes] I set a vague goal of reading the classics.  This was cemented in my mind when I heard John C. Maxwell promoted one of his books as being on Harvard's lifetime reading list [I later found out form John Maxwell and Harvard that the list was an individual business professor's list and not some official University list- but he damage had already been done].  However, this is an era and genre that I am not a fan of- specifically Imperialism, Colonialism, and Victorian era novels especially when combined with romance.  In AP English in high school we had an assignment to read a book of our choosing and write several papers about it and then teach for a whole period about it.  A few of my peers read books from these genres and it further cemented in my mind that even occasional eroticism in them could not entice me to read them.  So at the time I banned Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and a few others.  Unfortunately, I had to read The Awakening for AP English and wasn't able to avoid that one.  My wife, of course, enjoys these novels and has watched almost every TV and movie adaptation of them and Emma and Little Women.  She has encouraged me to give them a chance, but to be honest I was so biased, I usually ignored the movie versions (even the one with the attractive, despite anorexic, Keira Knightley, who I think was born to play those kinds of roles [that is, that time period and culture and clothing style].  Seriously I'm not sure that I've enjoyed her acting in anything but those kinds of roles).
After years of resistance, I finally found a reason to read the books, I figured I would need them to understand the parodies that I wanted to read like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, which were born out of the brief cult phenomena of horror/thriller-classic mash-ups.  Even this wasn't enough to motivate me to actually get around to reading the books.  Then Hank Green changed all of this on my birthday in 2012.  He laid out his situation which was similar, but less stubborn than mine.  In the video linked above he describes his wife's enjoyment of the book and getting him into it by having him watch the movie, then getting him to read the book.  He enjoyed the novel so much that he wanted to encourage others to read it by making it more accessible.  Hence the Lizzie Bennett Diaries was born- a modern adaptation of the novel done as a video blog featuring three of the Bennett sisters [feel free to pause reading here and watch all 8 hours of YouTube vlog videos before returning to finish this article- I'll wait...].
Not only did I get hooked on this, but I managed to get several students hooked on it, which resulted in me having to re-watch the first dozen episodes a few times to get new groups caught up during my lunch.  I tried to get my own wife to enjoy it, but her work schedule was hectic at the time, and she commented to me that she wasn't sure that it would make sense or be beneficial if you hadn't read the book.  I mentioned to her that I thought Hank would accomplish his goal of making me want to read the book because the vlog series was so enjoyable.  As a side note before moving onto the actual book, they did so well [won an Emmy and was voted by a British news agency as the best adaptation of P&P on the 200th anniversary of the publication of the novel] that it led to other adaptations.  I wasn't a fan of Welcome to Sanditon which was based off of an unfinished Jane Austen novel, Emma Approved was good, but the characters were not as likable [although Austen herself said that no one but her could stand the character Emma because she was unlikable], and the currently being created and aired Frankenstein, M.D. which does break away from Jane Austen, but changed Victor to Victoria, I'm only a few episodes in but the jury is out on my opinion of it.  Anyway, watching the vlog did lead to me reading the book.
It took a while after finishing the vlog series before I read the book, but I did really enjoy it.  Quickly I learned that I loved the dad and was really sad that he never appeared for real in the vlog series.  I also found myself picturing the women of the book as the actors who portrayed them in the vlog series.  There was a point about a third of the way through the book where I wondered what was left to cover because it seemed to move fast and I didn't remember some of the details.  From there it moved very slow until the halfway point where it picked up again and was very enjoyable throughout.  I was a little surprised how much of the book there was after the hook-up between Elizabeth and Darcy [spoiler alert, highlight to reveal].  I am grateful to Hank Green, Bernie Sue, Ashley Clements, Laura Spencer, Daniel Gordh, and all of the actors and support crew that made the vlog series a thing because it has opened my mind, and my horizons.  My wife has agreed that I should read more classics in this genre and also agreed to re-watch on her favorite adaptions so that I can actually pay attention to it this time.

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