Wednesday 1 February 2012

Tea and post time again...

It's sort of sunny and quite mild outside today, almost spring-like on this first day of February, and my cup of tea is a good companion as once again I consider what I've been reading.

My next book club meeting is on Friday, and the selection is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I'm about two-thirds finished, and I have to say, it's not "grabbing" me.  Is it politically incorrect these days to admit that you don't like Jane Austen?  I feel as though I'm offending so many by making that statement, because she continues to be popular and to have a following nearly 200 years after her books were first published.  After all, look at the books related to or inspired by her works:  The Jane Austen Book Club, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, some would even say Bridget Jones' Diary (more on that later), and the teen book I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend, to name just a very few.  This is not even mentioning the many, many film version of her novels that continue to be released on a regular basis, as well as the films about Jane herself, I'm thinking particularly about "Becoming Jane", which was released in 2007.  So Jane Austen is still very much in style even today, and yet this novel is doing nothing for me; in fact, it is a struggle to get through even a few pages.  Having said that, I do remember reading this in university and not really enjoying it, preferring instead Persuasion, which leads me to assume that it is this title in particular, and not Jane Austen's whole body of work, that I find challenging to read.

Why did I choose this novel as a book club selection?  Well, since we meet every four weeks, I can sometimes choose a book for us to read that has some relevance to the time we are discussing it.  For example, in October I try to choose something that either pertains to the autumn or something that is scary or suspenseful (think Hallowe'en).  For the February meeting, I usually select either a romance/love story (Valentine's Day) or something that commemorates Black History Month.  Pride and Prejudice is considered to be a love story, and one of my members really wanted to have Jane Austen on the list for discussion, so this seemed like a good time to schedule this novel.  I suspect that I will appreciate this novel much more after our group discussion.  Even now, after looking at the title of the novel in print here, I realize that it is a novel about "pride" and "prejudice", which I had never really thought about before.  As I finish reading the last third of the novel I will keep this in mind and consider who is proud and in what ways prejudice influences the choices of the characters.  Throughout my reading experience, I was conscious of the fact that the female characters had only one goal in their lives, that of obtaining a husband.  I thought, "If only they had something else to do with their time, they could be so much happier, and freed of this pressure to meet and marry a man of at least a modest income."  Maybe I'm reading this as a 21st century girl who has always been independent and self-sufficient.  I'm also past that stage in life where the most important thing is to meet someone, fall in love and get married, although I'll admit that such a thing has never been that important to me.  I wonder if this novel appeals more to younger women, who are still fresh new participants in the world of dating and relationships.  It certainly reminded this reader of how lucky women are today, to be able to make choices and live independently, free to pursue their own interests without feeling pressured to marry.  I felt this when I read The Bell Jar, too.  I recall specifically a scene in that novel where Esther was considering the fruit on the tree of her life, where she could choose the fruit that represented a career, or the fruit that represented marriage and children, or the fruit that represented her life as a poet, and her frustration because she had to choose just one fruit;  she could not have them all.  I believe that today women can have all of these things, that they do not have to choose which fruit to pick.  We can see, then, the progression of changes for women through literature.  Elizabeth Bennet, in Britain in1813, had no choices other than marriage or spinsterhood.  Esther Greenwood, in America in 1963, had choices, but she could only choose one path.  Today,  I like to believe women can choose many paths simultaneously.  Look at that, I'm appreciating P&P more already!  (it is interesting that both P&P and The Bell Jar were loosely based on the lives and experiences of their authors).

Just briefly, I want to talk about Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding.  Actually, I can talk about the film version, but not the book, since I've never read the book.  I will assume, however, that the main character in the film is a fair representation of the same character in the book.  I have heard this book/film referred to as a modern-day Pride and Prejudice, and I suppose it could be the case since it is about a young British woman who is searching for a husband and has challenges when judging the suitability of various partners.  But Bridget Jones is insecure, clumsy and obsessed with her weight, whereas Elizabeth Bennet, while young and opinionated, possesses self-assurance and self-confidence.  The male characters also do not coincide with the characters in the Austen novel.  I'm certainly no Austen expert, but I think calling Jones a modern-day P&P is making a broad generalization.  While they are both "love stories", I think the occurrence of any real similarities are few.  Perhaps I should read the book first before making any more comments on that.

Oh dear, I feel as though this was a somewhat controversial post.  I will finish reading P&P, and will relate the highlights of the group discussion next time.

Bye for now!

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