Reading that Shapes the Writer: Pride & Prejudice

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is my favorite classic and probably my favorite novel that is not in the speculative fiction genre. I can trace my love of entertaining dialogue, social interaction and skillful mockery of human foibles to Austen, before I ever found my way to Pratchett or Adams.

This book is often thought of as a romance, chick-lit – something niche for women to enjoy. That attitude comes through in cinematic adaptions, too, making the story softer than it should be and diminishing the appeal for me, personally.

I do think the love story in Pride & Prejudice is a pretty good one, actually. Darcy and Elizabeth are one of my favorite literary couples – and they exhibit something rare for a lot of literary and cinematic couples in romantic plotlines – character growth. A willingness to self-evaluate and change based on what they find when they examine their attitudes and actions.

That’s not what makes this book so damned appealing, though. It’s the sharp, scathing social commentary, delivered with heaps of snarky witticism, that makes this book a favorite of mine and has allowed me to enjoy repeat readings through the years. I think the next people to adapt Pride & Prejudice might consider looking to movies like Gosford Park, Clue, Get Out, and Clueless* for inspiration instead of trying to make it seem like a romantic period piece.

Yes, I’m aware that’s quite an odd collection of movies ranging from horror to very silly comedy, but Pride & Prejudice is not a soft story. It has edge to it. It mocks the society Austen grew up within. It ruthlessly drags the egos of everyone involved over jagged rocks and through thorny shrubbery – even the egos of the protagonists. It takes a scalpel and reveals hypocrisy and stupidity and cupidity, and then says to the reader ‘isn’t this hilarious? Oh what fools these mortals be!’

*For those unaware, Clueless is actually an adaption of Austen’s novel Emma.

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