—Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet
There's great sense involved in the re-reading of a well-loved book. Turning over worn pages and reading the words held within is a great deal like reuniting with a friend not seen for many months. Every word, every turn of phrase is so wonderfully familiar, and with each passing page the reader wonders why they were ever parted. I often wonder why I pass my time re-reading when there are so many titles I have not yet read and long to read (oh, for more hours in a day!), but there are riches held between the two covers of a book, and such gems can only be properly mined after the perusal of several readings. If I were to rush through every book only for the sake of saying I'd read it (a horrid prospect, I might add), I would be missing the whole purpose of reading at all.
This month in particular has been one of nostalgia as I've been spending my free time with Jane Austen's classic comedy of manners, Pride and Prejudice. It's been so many years since I've last read this book that the story had dulled in my mind and blended unconsciously with the BBC adaption of the same name, until the two were one and the same. Much as I love the 1995 edition, I cannot allow it to replace the masterpiece from which it was adapted. Reading Pride and Prejudice again for my literature class has reminded me once more of everything that I love about this book. The story no longer seems dull, but brilliant and sparkling as if I were coming to it for the first time. (And Mr. Darcy actually smiles in the book — wonder of wonders!)
Dialogue is undeniably Miss Austen's forte, and the conversations she pens between characters are so rich with both humor and irony that it takes a minute to unravel exactly what she means. Darcy and Elizabeth's conversations are perhaps the most renowned, but they are not the only characters with tongues in their heads, and nearly ever page has a piece of gold in the form of a witty comeback, ironic statement, veiled insult, or irrational absurdity (most of the fourth category stemming from Mrs. Bennet herself). I thought I'd share a few of my favorites below, both for pure enjoyment and as a means of setting up an example of dialogue, particularly banter, done well.
'I can readily belive,' answered [Mr. Darcy] gravely, 'that reports may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.'
'But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity.'
'Do you talk by a rule then, when you are dancing?'
'Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half and hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.'
'Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?'
'Both,' replied Elizabeth, archly; 'for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. — We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.'
'By all means,' cried Bingley; 'let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparitive height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you, that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparision with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening when he has nothing to do.'
'Oh! my dear,' cried his wife, 'I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.'
Jane and Elizabeth attempted to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason; and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.
'You shall hear then — but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. . . . He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.'
'I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.'
'True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ballroom.'
'No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess! — I never heard of such a thing. Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education.'
Elizabeth could hardly help smiling as she assured [Lady Catherine] that had not been the case.
'This fine account of [Darcy]', whispered her aunt, as they walked, 'is not quite consistent with his behaviour to our poor friend.'
'Perhaps we might be deceived.'
'That is not very likely; our authority was too good.'
'This is a parade', cried [Mr. Bennet], 'which does one good; it gives such an elegance to misfortune! Snother day I will do the same; I will sit in my library, in my nightcap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can, — or, perhaps, I may defer it, till Kitty runs away.'