Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, once wrote, “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” The her in that sentence is, of course, author Jane Austen.
This wasn't the only time Twain complained about Miss Austen. Here is another gem: “It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”
Now, I don’t normally disagree with Mr. Clemens, but here, I have to take an exception.
This year Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice celebrates its 200th anniversary and it’s almost strange to think of it being that old since it is a book that has never left us. Her characters, the witty Liz Bennet, the hard Mr. Darcy, have never even been given a chance to collect dust. We won’t let them rest. Some of us are not even satisfied with just the tale given to us as author after author tries to re-imagine the story; maybe create a sequel, have her heroes solve a murder mystery, or even battle zombies.
The less said about the zombies the better.
Jane Austen’s masterpiece has conquered stage, screen, and television. But in the world of literature, Pride and Prejudice is our Mona Lisa, our statue of David, so when I’m faced with another reinvention of the classic or continuation, it honestly always feels a little like drawing Mickey Mouse ears on a Picasso.
I understand the desire to want to keep the characters alive, the story fresh and continuing. Ending a great book like this can be as difficult as saying goodbye to an ailing friend. But all good things have an ending and Jane never saw fit to continue the adventure, what right do we have? Other than our selfish desire to keep them close?
I discovered Jane Austen’s writing while at Aquinas College thanks to an English class masterfully run by Doctor Brent Chesley. He is passionate about Pride and Prejudice and he wanted every English student to understand without a doubt why he considered it the greatest novel written in English. That class inspired me not only to read her other books and research her life, but also to write a novel. My book, titled, A Jane Austen Daydream, was my attempt to re-create her life as a work of fiction, something more like her books, giving her maybe the adventure she wished for as compared to just rehashing the sad reality that she died young without her own Mr. Darcy.
Pride and Prejudice in my opinion is one of the few perfect works in literature. From its flawless character development and descriptions, witty and playful dialogue and wonderfully-paced plot, it is a book to be treasured and analyzed carefully by readers and writers.
For those new to this classic, the Bennet family is in a sticky situation. Mr. Bennet has only had daughters and based on the laws of that time if he were to die his estate would go to a male cousin, not to his wife and children. So for the sake of his daughters and their future, husbands have to be found and his wife will do anything to make that happen. With the arrival of a wealthy bachelor in the region, Mr. Bingley, it is there that the story begins. Yes, even after all of these years and adaptations I still hesitate to spoil the rest of story here.
So on this anniversary, I have one suggestion for readers. Turn off the TV, put down the Bridget Jones books and regency novels, maybe even put down my A Jane Austen Daydream for a few hours, and pick up the original, the one Jane gifted us with 200 years ago.
Oh, and one last thing. I am a little suspicious of Mark Twain’s disgust for this classic. Most of these gleefully evil quotes were in letters to writers, which makes me wonder if this was part of a routine he used when in a room with fellow authors to stir a deliciously scandalous debate. It sounds like something Sam Clemens would derive great pleasure from. Yet, when I look at that first quote above, two words stick out. “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice...”
Exactly how many times have you read Pride and Prejudice, Sam?
Current State contributor Scott Southard is author of the novels “A Jane Austen Daydream" and “Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare." More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.