Last year I discovered an annotated version of Jane Austen's last novel, Persuasion, and found it to be one of the best commentaries on the story that I had ever read. Besides giving the original text, the commentator, David Shapard, also gave notes that included details on the daily life and history of when the novel was originally written. There were notes if the context of a word had changed in spelling or meaning, and I was very surprised at how much the English language had changed over time. Besides all that, there were drawings, maps, and an extensive bibliography to encourage further discovery of Regency England, the period of time from about 1810-1820, when Jane Austen's novels were first published.
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Out of all of Miss Austen's works, Pride and Prejudice seems to be the one that is best known -- and most copied and sequelized. The two main characters, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett, may be members of England's gentry class, but they come from far different ends of the spectrum. Mr. Darcy is the owner of Pemberley, one of the most beautiful and grand of England's great estates, he is arrogant, and altogether too much aware of his own status, with plenty of looking down at the lesser mortals around him. In contrast, Elizabeth's family, the Bennets, are just a touch chaotic. Her father immures himself in his library, choosing to ignore the fact that he has a very silly wife, and five daughters that need to be provided for -- far easier to stay among his books and papers! Elizabeth, to her credit, is very quick-witted and all too aware of her family's shortcomings -- that sharp look of hers and even quicker tongue is her defense against an all too uncertain world.
When the pair encounter each other at a ball in a small country town, Mr. Darcy makes some rather unfortunate comments about Miss Elizabeth, which in turn gets Lizzy into a real state. Not good enough for Mr. Darcy is she? Besides, it seems that Mr. Bingley has set his eye on Lizzy's older sister, Jane, the beauty of the family and as sweet as cream, but it's hardly going to be an easy time of it, considering the Bennets' financial straits.
Then there is the heedless, feckless Lydia, the youngest of the Bennet girls and her mother's particular pet. If there was a heroine more set on self-destruction, it is Lydia, who can think of nothing else but handsome officers in the local regiment, and making the grandest splash of all. The novel truly becomes complicated when a clergyman decides that one of the Bennet girls would make a perfect wife, someone is plotting to break up Jane and Mr. Bingley's romance, and Lizzy learns that sometimes not everything is as it appears on the surface.
Of course, all is settled by the end of the novel, and even two hundred years after it was written, Pride and Prejudice is one of the best examples of early nineteenth century literature out there. The dialogue sparkles, the story is sensible and the emotions and people feel right. And despite the time that separate the modern reader from the setting of the story, it still resonates today, for people really have not changed that much over time.
Reading an annotated edition of a novel is rather different than the original. In this one, the original text is on the left handed pages, while the footnotes and illustrations are on the right. This makes it very easy to pause and take in a note or drawing that explains some of the more obscure passages in the text. However, it is also a distraction, and it is not an edition that I would recommend to anyone reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. As I had read the novel several times before, I did not have a problem, and while it was slow going at times, it wasn't enough to make me give up the book in annoyance. Along with the footnotes, illustrations of dress and various activities, Mr. Shapard has included a timeline for the overall story, and an extensive bibliography that has a host of suggestions for further reading. I do recommend the bibliography as it provides many titles not just on the story, but also on the background and the social customs, and styles of Regency England.
This is a great book for the Jane Austen fan, and one that I can cheerfully recommend. The story itself is still intact, and full of the mature subtleties of the original, and the additional information helps to give a much more rounded story for those who want to understand the nuances.
In addition to this version of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Shapard has also annotated Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and there will be an annotated version of Emma due out in Spring 2012. All are books that I intend to be reading soon.
Five stars overall.
Pride and Prejudice -- the original
Books that are sequels or variations on the original Pride and Prejudice:
Mr. Darcy's Daughters
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton
The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Patillo
Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe
Dancing with Mr. Darcy by Susan Waters, editor
Film versions and variations on Pride and Prejudice:
Pride & Prejudice 2005 film with Kiera Knightly and Matthew McFayden
Bride and Prejudice -- Jane Austen goes Bollywood
Bridget Jones' Diary
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Lost in Austen
The Annotated Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen and David M. Shapard, commentator and editor
2004; Anchor Books
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