1813 Pride and Prejudice

1 December 2010

We just finished reading Pride and Prejudice in literature.  We used the Penguin reader level 5, which is a little more advanced for my children, but we took it slowly and I explained the parts that were difficult to understand.  I wanted to push the language on this one a bit since they have already seen the movies (even if they were coming and going) and they were at least somewhat familiar with the characters.  We had several discussions during the course of the novel, and I was reminded yet again why this is a classic.

We discussed the customs of the time, the entailing of estates, the proper way to be introduced to people, the proper way to greet people, the custom of dances being paired in twos, and many other examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

We also discussed more weighty topics.  We talked about Mr. Darcy's motives in separating Jane and Bingley, and whether or not he was being a true friend.  We talked about his history with Wickham, and how he handled the the despicable treatment he received from that fellow.

Two conversations in particular stand out in my mind.  When Mr. Darcy writes the letter to Elizabeth, explaining his justification in separating Jane and Bingley as well as his history with Wickham, he says that justice demands that he make this information known to her.  This of course caught our attention as one of the core virtues.  I asked Jordan and Lydia why justice would demand that Elizabeth become acquainted with the truth, but not the entire town of Meryton, where Wickham also spread his lies with vengeance.  We discussed it for a while, and eventually decided that justice would not be served so much as revenge in setting the entire town straight.  Besides, the town found out through Wickham's behavior anyway, as he left behind a trail of debts and debauchery.  But as much as we try to be fair and just to others (one of Mr. Darcy's strongest personality traits, in my opinion), there will be times when we are treated unfairly.  How should we handle that?  When should we 'let it go', and when should we fight it?  And how should we fight it?  If in fighting injustice, we cross the line in other virtues, would we not be moving into the same category as the person who did us harm?  Would we have Mr. Darcy become a Mr. Wickham?

The other conversation we had was concerning Mr. Collins' letter to Mr. Bennet after Lydia Bennet had run away.  He advises Mr. Bennet to throw off his fallen daughter forever.  Forgive her, of course, as is the decent Christian thing to do, but never allow her in his house or allow her name to be spoken in his presence.  Is this true forgiveness?  Where is the line between forgiving and accepting bad behavior?  What is our duty to a family member who has dug themselves into a hole?  Mr. Bennet is greatly distressed by his daughter's behavior, but he does allow her and her husband back to his home, and in Mr. Darcy's words, "hopes rather than believes" that they will be happy.

I love how the classics help us to think through different courses of action and their consequences.  No matter the time period written about, there are basic situations in which we all find ourselves from time to time, and there are courses of action that, although sometimes difficult, ultimately bring happiness, as well as other well-disguised courses that bring nothing but misery.  And it's interesting to note now often these situations are ones in which strong emotions are involved, sometimes blinding our ability to see clearly.  Without ever having thought about it before, it can be hard for a person to make a choice that leads to happiness.  

The kids really enjoyed this story.  I was surprised by how much their attention held through the book, given that their attention usually only lasts through half of the movie.  Jordan and Lydia are a lot of fun to read with.  Jordan has so many opinions on just about everything!  He loved Mr. Bingley and Jane from the start for how kind and generous they are.  He was so upset with Mr. Darcy's rudeness at the beginning, but when Elizabeth tears him apart in the first proposal, Jordan's response was a quiet and heart-felt, "Poor guy!"  One comment of Jordan's that was particularly amusing to me was his comparison of Mr. Bingley to Buddy the Elf.  Lydia is much more easy-going.  When I asked her who her favorite character was, she listed almost all of the principle characters, as well as a few of the others.  However, she has now named her stuffed unicorn Elizabeth, her beanie baby monkey Mr. Darcy, and her beanie baby cow Charlotte Lucas.  (Each of these stuffed animals are special favorites of Lydia's.)

Today we moved on to Oliver Twist.  The adaptation we are reading this time is a bit easier on the language, and Sarah and Amber listened in as well.  We read several chapters before I finally had to stop, which announcement was accompanied by much groaning that was music to my ears.