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Why Should I Read This? Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

May 24, 2014

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Even though I’ve owned a copy of Pride and Prejudice for over twenty years, I’ve never had any intention of reading it. It’s a woman’s book. There’s a reason I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice (a college girlfriend gave it to me), but that story isn’t for today. Pride and Prejudice is one of those novels that I feel I should read, but whenever I try, I feel like it’s a novel I shouldn’t read.

Maybe I shouldn’t prejudge books as women’s books, especially a book with the word “prejudice” in the title. Now I really feel guilty. I pride myself on being open-minded, and now I have just admitted to prejudging a book as a woman’s book simply because it was a written by a woman about a bunch of women. I know a lot of women who have read Pride and Prejudice, but I don’t know any men who have read it.  Now that I think about it, I probably know some men who have read Pride and Prejudice, but I just don’t know who they are.

Out of all the Jane Austen books, Pride and Prejudice is said to be the best one. It’s not universal, and if somebody wants to argue with me, that’s fine. I don’t have an opinion. I’m just basing this on what I’ve read.

First of all, Pride and Prejudice has one of the most famous opening sentences ever!

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

I’m not so sure of this. I don’t know many men in possession of a good fortune, but the ones I read about in real life often don’t want wives. At least, they act in public like they don’t want wives. Some of them carouse and have (sometimes numerous) kids without marrying the (sometimes numerous) women they have caroused with. Obviously, this behavior does not apply to all men in possession of a good fortune, but it applies to enough men to contradict Jane Austen’s universally acknowledged truth.

I don’t want to disagree with the first sentence in Pride and Prejudice. I want to agree with it because it’s a classic first sentence, one of the most quoted. Since I’m an agreeable person, I’m the type to agree with a first sentence if it’s possible to do so. But Jane Austen claims that her assertion is “a truth universally acknowledged,” and even though her assertion might apply to some men “in possession of a good fortune,” it does not apply to all, and therefore cannot be considered a “truth universally acknowledged.” I don’t acknowledge her assertion as truth. Maybe I’m just one person, but one person is all it takes to change a “truth universally acknowledged” into “a widely acknowledged truth.”

I have no problem reading a book when I disagree with its opening sentence. After all, I’m an open-minded guy (even if I prejudged Pride and Prejudice). I disagree with a lot of books that I read.

I’ve tried to read Pride and Prejudice, but some critics might accuse me of not making a serious attempt. I only made it (barely) through the first chapter, and in my copy that’s a little over two pages. I made it further through Atlas Shrugs than Pride and Prejudice. I made it past page 50 of Atlas Shrugs. If Jane Austen fans find that insulting, keep in mind that I still read a bigger percentage of Pride and Prejudice than I did of Atlas Shrugged. At least, I think I did. I didn’t really do the math.

I don’t know if anybody can convince me to read Pride and Prejudice. It wasn’t written for me. It was written (maybe for women) in the early 19th century. Football wasn’t even invented back then. I’d have a tough time relating to any of the characters, even the male ones.

Even though I have no intention of reading Pride and Prejudice, I’ll keep it around the house. It makes me look smarter, and maybe my wife will want to read it one day. She’s a woman, and sometimes she reads women’s books. If my wife hasn’t read Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility, or Emma (all of which I have around the house), then I don’t feel like I need to read them either.

*****

What books do you have that you’re certain you won’t read? Would I be a better person if I read Pride and Prejudice? Or would I be better off with books that I’m interested in? Are Jane Austen novels really women’s books, or have I prejudged them incorrectly?

41 Comments
  1. I don’t believe in reading a book because it is a classic. It just doesn’t interest you, and you can’t help that. You just aren’t the market. Technically, no one is now, because it was written for people of another era; however, the characters are realistic and their conflicts relatable, which is why it has continued to be read. I personally love “Pride and Prejudice,” not because I’m a woman. lol After all, I don’t believe in “women” or “men” books, just good books. Don’t feel pressured to read it. I feel like everyone has read “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games.” I have no interest in either series. We all like what we like. There is not enough time and life to read all the books you want, so don’t waste your time reading something you don’t.

  2. Forget about Pride and Prejudice. Read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies instead. It has all the literary value of Jayne Eyre’s original book, plus there’s zombies. You can’t go wrong!

    On that note, I too have some several thousand books, and although I intend to read every single one of them someday, odds are I won’t. I’m a book hoarder. I’ve accepted that.

    • I’ve seen the book you’re talking about, but I assumed it was a bad idea. It sounds like a bad idea. But I’ve had my own bad ideas too, and I ended up liking some of them.

  3. Personally, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book and Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. The book isn’t for everyone though and I know several people who tried to read it but couldn’t. Mostly because of the older language though. It’s a romance so I wouldn’t get too beat up about not reading it. Just read something you like. And who knows, maybe in twenty years you’ll be interested in trying again and actually stay interested long enough to read the whole thing. And with the first sentence thing, it was true then but I think it was mostly conjecture. Land (and the wealth, servants, house, furnishings, etc) could only be entailed to next male heir, so getting married and having sons was extremely important to keep wealth in the family name. As far as conjecture, mothers felt that all men of wealth wanted a husband and that that man would want their daughters as the wife. Marrying off a daughter meant that you no longer had to pay for her housing and whatnot. Women were born a burden and only became not so when they married and had children.

  4. It was considered true from a woman’s perspective in 17th century; personally I believe that its sarcasm at its best….. 17th century style…….

  5. Pride and Prejudice was written for women, I have all the Jane Austen novels and love them, they are not my favourites but I wouldn’t want to part with them, however my husband has never made an attempt to read them. I will probably never read Jose Saramago or Milan Kundera whose books are sitting pretty on the book shelf .

  6. Anupama permalink

    It was a truth universally acknowledged in the 17th century, as the person who commented before me pointed out. I just felt like it had to be emphasized.

  7. While Austen does not wield weapons as well as Bond or Rambo…or have protagonists as weirdly wonderful as Agent Franks or Harry Dresden…her people use language and manners for their warfare. Love me some Austen…with or without zombies.

  8. One aspect of my Comparative Literature courses I enjoyed was reading canonized literature, of varying cultures, with an emphasis on historical context. Some of the works were still a struggle to get through but knowing the position of time and place from where the work sprung made things more interesting. That being said I have never read Pride and Prejudice and probably never will. Nothing against the book itself but I feel I’ve eaten enough of my vegtables, grown big and strong, and now I’m enjoying desert. Lots and lots of desert.

    • The idea of Dysfunctional Literacy was about enjoying dessert and avoiding vegetables, but I still wonder if I should be eating more healthily sometimes. I am literally eating more healthily now (because I have to as I get older), but I am metaphorically being unhealthy. I hope that makes sense.

  9. “In want of a wife” just means they don’t have one. It doesn’t necessarily mean they specifically want a wife. Old language doesn’t mean quite the same as the context modern language gives it. That is what I take the first line to mean. Men with money don’t have a wife to spend it for them 😉

    • You and somebody else later in the comments said basically the same thing (in different ways), and that makes logical sense to me. That would be a more difficult sentence to disagree with.

  10. Pride and Prejudice was probably my favorite “chick lit” book. It is a good story and pretty funny in parts, even if it revolves around people getting married. I think the first line only applies to that time period and is meant tongue-in-cheek anyway. It’s definitely not true now. I wonder if she wrote it now would it start: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of an endless string of super-hot girlfriends.”

  11. This has been my experience with this book, too, though I made through the first four or so chapters. It’s on my Kindle. Optimistically I’ll pick it up again someday, though it was certainly difficult to sustain interest.

    • I just found a second copy of Pride and Prejudice in the house (a copy I didn’t know we had). Maybe I’ll try reading it again, but this time I’ll turn on my sarcasm detector.

  12. Read it! It is brilliant. I’ll confess to having both Atlas Shrugged and Confederacy of Dunces in my read pile for years. I failed at both.

  13. Jane A. Is very sarcastic BTW.

  14. I never wanted a wife either, but now I have one, and she is incredible. But I didn’t want one even when I was in want of one. Those are different wants, I want everyone to know.

  15. Kyu-min Lee permalink

    Reblogged this on kaeinkorea.

  16. Don’t know where to begin refuting all the inflammatory stuff you say in your post. I’m thinking maybe you are being sarcastic and willfully perverse re/ your feelings about Austen? And that woeful misreading of the famous first sentence . . . which Austen, of course, wrote totally tongue-in-cheek? You didn’t get that? Really?

    Anyway, I usually like your posts, so I’m giving you a pass on this one. But don’t do it again.

  17. You do know that the first sentence is sarcastic, right? For me, Austen’s satire is one of the best things about her. If she were alive today, she’d be called “snarky.” Her insight into human behavior–especially of the idiotic and self-deluded kind is hilarious! Granted, I am a “chick,” so I’m more of the target audience than you are. Her commentary on the economic horrors underlying “polite” society is also amazing. She has also created some of the most enduring literary characters of all time–some of them her heroines (such as Elizabeth Bennett), but some of them are more comical, such as her incredibly annoying (hysterical) mother and Mr. Colllins–the guy who makes every woman’s skin crawl, but whom Jane should have married for the money. I could go on, but I won’t….perhaps a blog post of my own is in order.

  18. Veronica permalink

    I read Jane Eyre and thought I could get through all the classics. I’m about halfway through Pride and Prejudice and think I’m going to give up on my journey through classic literature… when I’m done, of course! (I hate leaving books unfinished).

    Life is short, read what you enjoy!

  19. bookreviewdaily permalink

    I read it when I was really little. I think this has inspired me to re-read it and I had a similar impression with Wuthering Heights and I ended up liking it. Very nice entry I hope to see more posts soon.

  20. Grace permalink

    I pre-judged Pride and Prejudice as well, and the only reason I read it was b/c it was on the reading list for the British Lit course I took a few years ago. I thought it would be “backwards” and anti-feminist, but it ended up surprising me. Austen was ahead of her time, up to a certain point. You have to read it in context and take note of the relative lack of choices afforded many women. I just couldn’t believe how young Austen was when she wrote it. Her characterizations, which she accomplished largely through dialogue, blew me away.

  21. RedderRick permalink

    1. The first sentence is incredibly sarcastic. The book is full of dry humour and sarcasm.
    2. I know several men who have read it and liked it. However, all the men were academics and understood the importance of the book’s historical context
    3. I think you may want to work on this “women’s book” – “men’s book” dichotomy you have in your head.

  22. Reading for some is based on preference. Some persons have read Pride and Prejudice ONLY because it is considered a classic. if you do not feel the zest to read it then you should not especially since you have a preconceive notion about the book. On the other hand, you should give it a chance and let the content speaks for itself…that said, i believe it is a great book with realistic events, thought provoking questions and statements; things that are quite relatable. The sarcasm in the first sentence is quite poignant and potent, hence the reason it is so highly quoted. By the way, i dont think books are categorize as “women’s book” or “men’s book”

  23. I just read most of the comments, and I’m wondering if you were expecting P&P to be such a hot button issue? 🙂 I suppose this would be a testament to Austen’s legacy.

    • I have to admit, I was a little surprised. When I write about classic literature, I usually don’t get too many responses. I guess I’ve learned not to mess with Jane Austen.

  24. Well, actually, I think she’d love to know that her work is so “controversial”. I’d love your take on Sense & Sensibility. I’ll add my two cents if you dare to take her on again. 🙂

  25. mymillenniallifeblogger permalink

    I read Pride and Prejudice after reading Gone With The Wind….so I cant be a fair judge. In the aspect of love stories, the two cant compare. But I did find it to be a great novel and I do suggest reading it. The second half of the book is by far more eventful.

  26. I thought of Pride and Prejudice as a woman’s book and would not have normally read it. In the 50’s I was more into James Hadley Chase. But I did Austen for my degree course and found a treasure. My English teacher was a drooling fanatic about Eng. Lit. He introduced me to the ironies and subtleties of Jane Austen. She was a maid at a time when marriage was the big lottery and she turned her waspish eye on the world of matchmaking mothers. The men, even Darcy turn out to be slight caricatures of themselves. The film version just glorified and romanticised the whole thing. Although a good book like good music should be timeless, we have to make allowance for the times and conditions in which it was written and of course the language of the time. Besides, although old fashioned I like the pure style of Austen, every sentence thought out well.

    But then there is no accounting for taste War and Peace is supposed to be one of the best books ever written. I gave up after three attempts. 100 pages is what I ever got up to on that one.

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