My holiday is at an end - I'll be on my way to work well before sunrise tomorrow - and I'm sure it'll come as no surprise to say that I don't really fancy it very much. Hopefully there will be consolations to going back, I generally read more when I'm not on holiday or in a holiday mood and there's no shortage of books to get through...
Meanwhile I've been very slowly reading my way through 'Pride and Prejudice' after catching part of it on T.V. early in the week. It's the 200th anniversary of publication this year so it felt like an appropriate book to start 2013 with. I must have read this book 3 or 4 times before and watched even more versions of it - which was the prompt for this re-read - I wanted to be reminded of what Austen actually wrote, and wanted my interpretation rather than somebody else's.
There's something curious about reading a book which exists in so many versions - even just within my own memory. Inevitably I find myself more interested in the minor characters with each reading. In this case Charlotte and Lydia. This time round Lydia's elopement struck me as far more shocking than in previous readings; she's so young, just sixteen, Wickham must be almost thirty, coupled with his attempt to run off with Miss Darcy when she was only fifteen and judged by today's standards he's unsettlingly interested in young girls. I'm sure this isn't where Austen meant to take her characters (Lydia and Georgiana would have been well over the age of consent for their time) but it certainly gave me a distaste for Wickham that Austen most surely did intend.
I also find I have more sympathy for Charlotte every time I read about her, I remember her having a slightly bigger role to play than she actually gets so screen writers must generally share my feelings. I respect her motives for going after Mr Collins and though Austen hints that she will end up regretting her bargain I'd rather believe that she continues to find satisfaction in her social position, housekeeping, and children. Marriage is a job for Charlotte and jobs aren't always enjoyable, but they keep a roof over your head - security is worth something after all.
The biggest surprise for me though was in how Lizzie and Mr Darcy develop. As memory served he changed rather more and she rather less than I now think is the case. As I read it this time all the growth is on Elizabeth's side as is the lions share of both pride and prejudice. Her reading of Darcy's character is entirely off (though to be fair who would think kindly of a man who snubbed them in a ball room, and his first proposal is a bit rubbish as well). Even in Derbyshire when she's started to appreciate his worth it's surprising how little faith she has in the man. Darcy by comparison changes very little, Lizzie's initial rejection is enough to shock him out of his complacency but does it do more than that?
The genius of Austen though is that this book is still so fresh after 200 years and so many readings, I put this down to the truth universally acknowledged that our families will always embarrass us, especially when we are young, and that we all like a second chance.