Technically, I still haven't. But I did yesterday finish listening to Lindsay Duncan's wonderful reading of Pride and Prejudice on CD. (I won't claim to be an expert, but if you're looking for a good audio version of P&P, hers is excellent. My husband got it for me on Amazon and did lots of research on which version was favored.) And while I have no doubt that everything that can be said about Pride and Prejudice has already been said (or written), and thus I have nothing new to offer, I was sufficiently struck by just one or two things. (Okay, five.)
- How almost earworm-like the syntax and cadences of Austen's language can be. This is perhaps a result of hearing it rather than reading it, but by the time I was done, it felt as thought contractions and familiarity were just so rude and ill-bred. Coincidentally, I was also reading (on paper) Mary Balogh's Slightly Scandalous, and I fancied I could see similarities in the language of Balogh's modern-day interpretation of a romance set at roughly the same time as P&P. That's a compliment to Balogh, of course. But also a note to self: if I should ever decide to write a historical romance (and no one thinks to shoot me in self-defense), I should listen to Austen on tape before I began to write.
- How formal the forms of address really were. I knew that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet called each other precisely that: Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet, but I hadn't appreciated that we (the readers) never even learn their first names. Nor Bingley's, either of the Gardiners' (although we know her first initial is M.), and so forth. In fact, we might never have learned Mr. Darcy's first name but for his signing his letter. By contrast, we know all the unmarried ladies' first names, even Caroline Bingley's. Once married, though, their first names are extraneous (unless part of an honorific due to noble birth, as with Lady Catherine de Bourgh). And what really stopped me cold was the way that correspondence between Jane and Elizabeth includes the form "my mother," "my aunt," etc. as though they don't both have the same relationship to that woman. That has to be some peculiarity of the times; there's no other reason for it. Sounds all wrong now; in fact, it smacks of sibling rivalry: "she's my mother!" = "Mom loves me best."
- Geography. (For a fun discussion of which place names are real and which are not, go here and don't be shy about clicking on the map of England.) The term "neighborhood," as used to describe the relatively small geographical area, say, around Meryton, I understood. And "shire," meaning the whole of Hertfordshire or Derbyshire, was also perfectly clear. But it took me a while to understand that "country," as in "he quit the country," was about leaving an area larger than the neighborhood but smaller than the shire. (Because of more than one incredulous -- on my part -- conversation with my first husband, I already knew that one is always going "up to town" when traveling to London regardless of which direction London is in and thus going down to anywhere other than London* even someplace considerably north of the capital. *The one exception, I understand, is university: one goes up to university, and if expelled, one is sent down from university.)
- Sex versus money; sex versus love. I certainly wasn't expecting any sex in P&P, but I was surprised at how superficial the valuations of people were nonetheless. No one notices anyone's sexual appeal (let alone specific erogenous zones, e.g., breasts) but we sure do know a lot (if not everything) about how much money everyone has (or hasn't), gets, expects, spent on furniture, and so forth. So, rather than value anyone for their sexual prowess, experience, inexperience or anything else sexual, there's loads of frank conversation about how much money a man has (meaning, presumably, income from an estate), a woman is likely to have settled on her on the occasion of her marriage, a widow will have to live on, etc. I speculate that as this money isn't "earned" (as we think of "earning a living," for example) it's okay to talk about, in perhaps the same way that it's okay to talk about how hawt someone is, just not in their hearing.
And in a related point, while there's no physical touching (even the illustration above rather reads into that scene the idea that Jane and Bingley were actually holding hands), there's lots and lots of love. People are deemed in love if they're just interested in another. Even "violently in love" and in one notable example, someone is described as a "lover" where we'd only think him to be an admirer. Either "love" wasn't much valued back then, or it's roughly synonymous with having one's interest engaged. It reminds me of my mother's childhood in the 1930s, where it was quite unremarkable for an adolescent schoolgirl to have a "pash" (short for passion) on a teacher, even a teacher of the same sex. We wouldn't equate "passion" with "crush" today; language changes. And some time in the past 200 years, love because lurve!
- Elizabeth's impression of her father changes subtly over the course of the book even as her impression of Darcy changes more dramatically. Mr. Bennet seems "all that is amiable" in the beginning of the book, but by the end, Lizzie has figured out that his "indolence" is a factor in some of their family's difficulties. (Her mother is not similarly rehabilitated by the same point in Volume 3, but Lizzie does seem more sanguine about Mrs. Bennet's ill-advised opinions and prejudices.) I found myself more struck by Lizzie's budding awareness of her father's faults than her awareness of Darcy's virtues; that seemed real evidence of her maturity. (At the same time, I really enjoyed Lizzie's answering her own question about why Darcy fell in love with her, speculating that it was because she was, in effect, the anti-Miss Bingley and thus all the more attractive for not sucking up to him.)
There you have it. It was wonderful, and very hard to leave Pemberly. My only disappointment is having to wait until next Christmas for another Austen book on CD. (Hint hint, honey...)