Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Austen in August: Her Wit and Wisdom

I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.







I read an abridged version of Pride and Prejudice in school and fell in love with it. Darcy was the handsome, misunderstood hero, Elizabeth, the confident heroine; Jane and Bingley were a gentle romantic couple; Mrs. Bennet was vulgar while Mr. Bennet was a quiet, scholarly man. The book had beautiful illustration and the characters in their regency costumes looked charming.

Skip a few years and to the reading of the unabridged version of the book and my reactions surprised me too. Darcy was a snob, Elizabeth was trying too hard to be the cool, witty, self-assured heroine, Bingley was a wimp, and Mr. Bennet had turned into a shirker of responsibilities. Mrs. Bennet for all her idiotic manners was a woman too common in India: the one who wants good (read financially secure) match for her daughters.

Reading of Persuaion did not help matters. I found it so boring that I have absolutely forgotten its plot-line. Edward Said's article on Mansfield Park that critiqued its sub-text of colonial exploitation  further dented my opinion of Austen. However, my sister presented me with a book: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, and this month finally, I got it off my shelf.

Besides a brief biographical sketch, the book is a compilation of her most sparkling quotes from her books and letters on various issues. Here are some of her witticisms.

I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. [From a letter that she wrote to her sister Cassandra].

It was a very proper wedding. The bride was elegantly dressed - the two bridesmaids were duly inferior - her father gave her away - her mother stood with salts in her hands, expecting to be agitated - her aunt tried to cry - an the service was impressively read... [Mansfield Park].

A lady without a family, was the best preserver of furniture in the world [Persuasion].

She looks remarkably well (legacies are very wholesome diet)... [Letter to her sister Cassandra]

I was pleasantly surprised to read this extract from her mock-heroic novel Jack and Alice:

Miss Dickins was an excellent Governess. She instructed me in the Paths of Virtue; under her tuition I daily became more amiable, and might perhaps by this time have nearly attained perfection, had not my worthy Preceptoress been torn from my arms, e'er I had attained my seventeenth year. I shall never forget her last words. "My dear Kitty," she said, "good night t'ye." I never saw her afterwards,' continued Lady Williams wiping her eyes. 'She eloped with the Butler the same night.'

And to think Austen was all of 12 when she wrote it!! I have half-a-mind to pick up an Austen again.

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First Line: Few great writers can have cut so unglamorous a figure in the world as Jane Austen did.

Title: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen

Editor: Michael Kerrigan

Publication Details: London: Fourth Estate, 1996

First Published: 1996

Pages: 122

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The book might be available in libraries. I was gifted a copy of it by my sister, Nitu di.

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Submitted for the following challenges: British Books, Free Reads, Mount TBR, TBR Pile, and Unread Book.

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Read as part of the Austen in August Event




2 comments:

  1. This is definitely going on my wish list. I always write down favorite quotes/phrases from the books I read, but Jane Austen is so witty and (sometimes) sarcastic, there is sure to be an abundance of good stuff. This sounds like it makes it easy to find a quick something funny when you're in the mood for it.

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  2. I too copy down favourite quotes etc. soem of the quotes, in this book, are really funny, esp where an exasperated Mr. Bennet bursts out after his wife has given an account of who all Bingley danced with.

    Hope you get the book soon.

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