Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (Librivox audio)

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

It had been some time since I read Pride and Prejudice (I just found a books-read list from 2007, so apparently four years), and my pleasure in reconnecting with the story via audiobook outweighed a somewhat inadequate reader. I listened to a Librivox recording as hosted by the Craftlit podcast (to which I was referred by Chop Bard), and I actually gave it up after part of the first episode. But I like Heather Ordover quite a lot, and her comments are part of why I went back – along with, simply, Jane. And Lizzie.

I really did try not to complain about the reader. But by the halfway point I couldn't stopper it up any more. Since this is a Librivox recording, which means it was read by a volunteer, I'm not about to call out the reader by name; she's not a professional, and she was doing this as a service, and that's terrific, and I'm not going to have my complaining pop up if she or anyone else searches her name. This is also why I tried very hard to be charitable toward her. And her enjoyment in reading the story came through frequently, which made up for a lot. Unfortunately, the lack of professionalism was glaringly obvious, and the issues seemed to mount up as the book went on. There were odd cadences to her reading – emphasis placed on utterly wrong parts of a sentence, sometimes even to the point that the meaning was skewed. An increasing number of words and names were mispronounced (for example, taciturn and profligacy) or pronounced oddly (such as DeBourgh); she seemed flustered every time she encountered one of Miss Austen's Regency-Era "—Shire" and "Colonel —" and such. (I'm curious about how other readers handle that little conundrum.) (ETA: Karen Savage inserts a graceful pause: "And so Colonel … said to me.") Also, she seemed easily confused when reading a conversation between two characters, which led to confusion in the listening: in a few scenes where two people for whom she used different tones (in a couple of cases a man and a woman) were discussing something, suddenly the two voices switched – she lost track of who was saying what, and the result was a marked lack of sense. And for several chapters she seemed to have bronchitis, to the extent that I wondered why she didn't just hold off recording till she could breathe again.

The book, however, was a delight. Of course. It's Pride and Prejudice. There are very few things in life that live up to the hype. Partly due to the infamous clinging-wet-shirt incident, and partly due to Keira Knightley, P&P is the flagship of Austeniana, the one even non-Janeites will have a flicker of recognition for. I've never heard too many people say they don't like it – apart from Mark Twain - and it's hard not to take against someone who does say so. Even Mark Twain. Because it's Pride and Prejudice. It's that good. It's not my favorite - Persuasion is that – but it's almost as close as makes no difference. Lizzie Bennet of the fine eyes and the sharp wit, and Mr. Darcy of the taciturn nature and concealed deep feelings (and ten thousand a year!); Jane of the sweet and retiring nature and Mr. Bingley of the big heart and small affection for books… And there has never been a more finely drawn picture of a realistically socially inept family. Everyone knows someone like at least one of the Bennet ladies.

We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing – Lizzie

It still always gives me pause when Mr. Bennet is included among the family members who could not do more to humiliate themselves and Lizzie and Jane if they tried. It's the films' fault, I think; he is so obviously so much more sensible than his wife that it's rather easy to overlook his abruptness, his impatience with the social graces which allows him to say whatever he thinks and pleases without regard to how it might be received. He is almost presentable – but not quite.

It also gives me pause to realize that some of Mary's pompous utterings sound an awful lot like me:

To this Mary very gravely replied, "Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate such pleasures! They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me—I should infinitely prefer a book."