Having picked up Pride and Prejudice to look up Bingley’s comments on accomplishments the other day, I decided to re-read the whole book.
Along with Kipling’s Kim, it’s one of my ‘comfort books’; this time, however, I wasn’t reading it while ill in bed, so perhaps I was more critical. Certainly it struck me that it would be hard to cite Austen as a role model for good writing.
If I learned my punctuation from her, it’s no wonder I am so slapdash with commas and pauses:
If he had been wavering before, as to what he should do, which had often seemed likely, the advice and intreaty of so near a relation might settle every doubt, and determine him at once to be as happy, as dignity unblemished could make him. (Vol. III; ch. XV)
Spelling, too, has its dodgy moments. When Elizabeth dances with Mr Collins at the Netherfield ball, we are told:
The two first dances […] gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstacy. (Vol. I; ch. XVIII)
But when Lydia hears she has been invited to Brighton, we read:
Wholly inattentive to her sister’s feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstacy[.] (Vol. II; ch. XVIII)
Incidentally, “ecstasy” is one of those words I always have to check in the dictionary.
Grammar was hardly taught when I was at school and I’m not the only one of my generation to have problems with possessive pronouns and apostrophes. Again, I’m tempted to put some of the blame on the popularity of Austen for set books:
His affection for her soon sunk into indifference: her’s lasted a little longer[.] (Vol. III; ch. XIX)
There are stylistic quibbles, too, of course. Right at the beginning of the novel, after a delightful exchange that shows the characters of Mr and Mrs Bennet quite clearly, Austen still feels it necessary to add a paragraph of explanation in case the reader has missed her intention:
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develope. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. (Vol. I; ch. I)
Of course style conventions, usage and spellings change – which is one reason I’ve avoided mentioning ‘sunk’ and ‘develope’ from the quoted sections – and cheap editions can’t be relied on to be 100% accurate.
My comments here aren’t intended to detract from the fact that after 40 years the book still remains one of my favourites; I’m only surprised that I wasn’t more critical of it when I first read it.