Pride and Prejudice: That Book Everyone Else Loves

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There's something special about Pride and Prejudice. For reasons I can't quite fathom, people love this book. They adore it. They re-read it every year. They quote it. They have it on t-shirts and tote bags and cocktail napkins. They've seen every movie adaptation ever made. They can't imagine anyone but Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (though to be fair, neither can I at this point). 

Pride and Prejudice is a book that people adore--loudly, from the rooftops, singing its praises--but it's a book I just don't like. While I can appreciate it as an important work of literature, appreciate Austen's wit and power with words, it fell flat for me as a story, failed to give me characters in which I felt invested, and ultimately proved to be a disappointment.

Not for lack of trying, mind you. I read it as an assigned title in high school (didn't like it). Because I try not to form permanent opinions of books I've only read as assigned reading, I re-read it just after college (didn't like it). I picked it up a third time and read the first thirty pages or so (didn't like it).

Maybe, I thought, Pride and Prejudice is just not the right Austen novel for me. I'll try Emma!
Bad idea. Where I mildly disliked Pride and Prejudice, I really, truly did not like Emma. I suppose I liked it in theory, with Austen driving home the point that the mundane details of everyday life are actually what make life interesting, but liking something in theory and actually liking it are two different things. I like kale in theory. I like vitamins in theory. I like going to the gym in theory. I like jumping in the ocean in the wintertime in theory.

I tend to shy away from voicing my Austen opinions. Every time I mention to someone that I don't like Pride and Prejudice, I'm urged to read it again. Or, even worse, I'm given the cliche statement that just because something is cliche now doesn't mean it was cliche when it was first done:
"It's not overdone when it's never been done before when it was first done that time before it was ever done before anyone else had done it."
Yes, thank you, I get that.

But I don't get Austen. I didn't like Pride and Prejudice any of the three times I read it, but I read Middlemarch earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it--and there are some definite thematic similarities between Middlemarch and what I know of Austen's works. So if it's not the subject matter or time period that's throwing me, it must be something else. Maybe it's the hype. Maybe I'm missing something. Or maybe it's my own pride and prejudice (I made a pun).

This is where I need the hive-mind help. Should I re-read Pride and Prejudice (perhaps as part of a readalong, supported by the wisdom and love of others as I read)? Should I try yet a different Austen novel (I've been told Mansfield Park is decidedly different from her other works)? Or should I just give up the ghost, declare myself a non-Austen fan, and move on to other authors?

People of the bookish internet, please help.

30 comments

  1. Oh, heavens, I'd have given up the ghost by now! I have one more recommendation if you are truly hell-bent on making yourself life Jane Austen: Have you ever enjoyed an Austen adaptation (for TV/movies) at all? I'm asking because I was never able to get anywhere with Lord of the Rings -- I tried at least four times as a kid -- until the movies came out, at which point I watched Fellowship of the Ring, enjoyed it, and read The Two Towers and The Return of the King thereafter without ever reading Fellowship of the Ring. It worked really well! I now love all three of those books. Just a thought.

    But if that doesn't work for you, I think it is perfectly fair to say that Jane Austen just isn't for you. Four tries with her sounds like plenty.

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    1. I haven't tried that approach, but I rather like it! Sometimes (not always, but sometimes) a movie adaptation makes me see things I missed in the text... sort of like the director/screenplay writer saw things differently, which offers a new perspective. Maybe a movie version of Austen would do the same.

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  2. No author is for everyone and you shouldn't feel like you have to read something because everyone else loves it. I've only read the first three of Austen's novels and personally I only though P&P was just ok-- I liked Sense and Sensibility loads more. Mansfield Park is very much different from the other two of hers that I've read; for me it's close to P&P but I didn't enjoy it quite as much. I'm very sorry to hear that you did not like Emma as I was planning on starting it today!

    If you don't enjoy Austen don't force yourself to read it. Maybe reading a biography of her life instead would be more beneficial if you haven't read one already? Early last year I read The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne which I loooooved. Maybe reading about Austen herself would help you appreciate her work more? Just a thought. At this point though if you feel you've read enough of her and really aren't interested then I would suggest you stop. Life is too short to read books that you're not interested in and don't enjoy.!

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    1. I did read a chapter of A Jane Austen Education before reading Emma, and I think I got more out of the novel having read the essay on it. But not enough to actually *enjoy* Emma :-)

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  3. I like Austen, but I don't love her as a lot of people seem to, and P&P is not my favorite of her novels. I really enjoyed Northanger Abbey - Austen pokes so much fun at the gothic novel craze of the day - and I also liked Persuasion, though it's been several years since I read it.

    I'd say give her other novels a shot if you like, but don't torture yourself!

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    1. Interesting that you say P&P is not your favorite of hers... I don't think I hear that opinion often! Someone on Twitter also mentioned Northanger Abbey, which I might try.

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  4. (I tried to leave a comment before and it looks like it didn't go through, so apologies if you're getting this twice.)

    I think you've given P&P a good shot so at this point I'd just say it's not for you. I've read Emma and Sense & Sensibility, neither of which were my thing (although I read S&S for school 1000 years ago so I should prob give it another try) so I don't know if I could recommend some other Austen you might like better. Jenny's suggestion about checking out an adaptation is a good one. Even if you watch it one and still don't like the book, you may find a movie you like. I luuurv the LotR movies but still am not a fan of the books.

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    1. (No worries, I didn't get a dup--and it would have been ok if I had!)

      I've heard a few people say that about the LoTR movies, so not sure why I didn't think of it for Austen, too (especially given the sheer NUMBER of adaptations). I'm also intrigued by Longbourne, which is kind of what sparked my third attempted re-read of P&P, to no avail.

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  5. I probably would've given up by now so I really admire your perseverance. P&P might not be for you. I've tried to like Catcher in the Rye multiple times over the years and I just can't get myself to like the book. I hated Emma but I do like Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park, so trying out a new Austen novel might be the trick.

    I agree with Jenny's idea of watching an adaption. I find Hank Green's The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube a hoot. It's a modernization of P&P while staying true to the novel. Each short is only 3-5 minutes long so it's not a terrible time-commitment either.

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    1. I've heard others say that about Catcher in the Rye--I read it in 8th grade English class and loved it, but then, I refuse to re-read it because I don't want to change my opinion of it now that I'm an "adult." Make of that what you will.

      I like the idea of the 3-5 minute episodes... not too much of a time commitment!

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  6. Don't sweat it! Austen is definitely not for everyone. It's interesting what you said about loving Middlemarch. I'm a huge Austen fangirl, but didn't like MIddlemarch all that much. So maybe there's something in Eliot that I don't get that you do! That keeps things interesting.

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  7. Try the online adaption of it: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries or a movie adaption. It might get you into the spirit or whatever. I tried it once in HS but gave up. I might give it a shot because I know what's happening based on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. But, this book isn't for everyone and might not even be for me so don't worry about it.

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    1. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries keeps popping up as a suggestion so I may have to try that.

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  8. If you don't like Austen, you don't like Austen. Whatevs. I wouldn't try it again, if you've already read it twice and attempted a third time.

    If you DO try another Austen novel, I suggest Northanger Abbey (really fun) or Persuasion (romantic, good social commentary). Mansfield Park is the last Austen novel I haven't read, because I've started it twice and can't seem to get past 100 pages. It just won't suck me in.

    But really, no pressure to keep trying her. If I was you, and this was a modern-day, not-classic author, there's no way I'd be trying another book by him/her.

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    1. Good point about it being a modern author. But I just wonder, since so many people (whose opinions I tend to trust, no less!) have this whole Austen THING, if I'm missing something. Is Northanger Abbey the gothic-y one? Maybe that'll be a better fit.

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  9. Did you read Northanger Abbey? I liked that one but not P&P although I also will try it again.

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    1. I have not! Just Emma and my three attempts at P&P. Mayhaps that will be different enough to be worth a shot... or maybe I'll just move onto a new classics author to try.

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  10. You've given JA a fair shake. Now just enjoy watching movies made from her books, because they're generally well done and forget about reading her other stuff. (I do happen to LURV her books, though, AND I own that purple t-shirt that you picture)

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    1. It's refreshing to hear this, especially coming from an Austen fan herself!

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  11. I say move on. Life is too short, and there are too many books to read, to waste time on books that just don't work for you.

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    1. Waaaaaaayyyyy too many books to read.

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  12. Thank you for this. I am in the same boat as you. I think i've read P&P once and wasn't blown away by it. I'll watch the movies and tv adaptations if I'm forced to, but I usually have something better to do. I want to like Austen, i really do. But it just doesn't work for me. Or you. And I'm glad.

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  13. I feel the same way you do about all the Austen-love flying around, although I've stopped trying to catch it. I've resigned myself, rather contentedly, to the fact that in a cage match between polite society of Austen and the brooding moors of the Brontës, I'm definitely Team Brooding Moors.

    Although I have been intrigued by Mansfield Park ever since I watched an adaptation of it years and years ago. Dammit.

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    1. I've only read Jane Eyre, and while it certainly wasn't my favorite book of all time, I enjoyed it 100x more than the two Austens I've read. So there's that!

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  14. I've never been completely swept up in the Jane Austen love either, but I appreciate her as an author and I do somewhat enjoy her novels (except Emma which I tried to read twice as a teenager and couldn't get into it; I actually just decided yesterday that I'm going to try again sometime soon). Pride and Prejudice generally speaking isn't bad (I rather enjoyed it), but the truth is that it's overrated, especially when many of the people who forgive its flaws point to the century the book was written in, forgetting hands-down better books that came around the same period. Middlemarch is an obviously superior book on all fronts (and I challenge anyone to even try to claim otherwise), I find Jane Eyre to be much more engaging and meaningful, Evelina is much wittier and funnier than Austen by a huge margin... so are many other books written by many other women who were excellent writers. Jane Austen has become a phenomenon by now. It doesn't mean anything if you don't like her books...

    And don't read Mansfield Park. It's... bad. Stick with George Eliot, she's the best.

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    1. I appreciate the candid advice on Mansfield Park. I read (and enjoyed) both Middlemarch and Jane Eyre, but haven't even heard of Evelina... maybe I'll pick that up instead of giving Austen another shake.

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  15. I didn't like Jane Austen until I read Pride and Prejudice this past summer. I just felt there wasn't anything in there for me. It was too bland. Not sexy enough. By this summer, I'd heard a million times about what Jane was doing in the novel. That helped me finish the book, truly enjoy it, and become a convert. But I was still leery about reading anything else by her.

    Then I started reading A Jane Austen Education, which details a male's journey through the six major novels of Austen. He focuses on each in turn and talks about what he learned from each one, why, how, and how it was important for his life. That book made me want to read the rest of Austen's novels. Starting with Emma, which I think will be the most challenging because of the lesson about the everyday.

    I would never pressure you to give Austen another try. The classics are the classics, but there's nothing wrong with you (in the general sense) for not liking a particular classic or author. Don't sweat it. Maybe try reading a book about Austen's work to see if that inspires you--like the one I mentioned. Or just let it go--you don't have to like her.

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    1. I read the essay in A Jane Austen Education about Emma before reading Emma, and while I definitely felt like I got more out of the book having read that section, I *still* didn't really enjoy Emma. But I didn't try the same tactic with P&P, so maybe I should go back to that approach. Or, like you said, just embrace the fact that Austen is NOT for me.

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