At time of writing, I own 70 copies of Pride and Prejudice. Literally. There are that many copies sat on my shelf in order of size, all different. Well, all with a different cover, anyway. One day I’ll write a post about them, with pictures. I also own a Pride and Prejudice cushion, brooch, t-shirt, playset and three mugs.
Why? Excellent question.
I read it for the first time in 2006, when I was in Sixth Form and was therefore presumably around 16 (yes, I’m obsessive enough to have kept detailed book statistics even then). My friend and I used to trail round the huge Borders store that used to exist in Leeds city centre and we’d buy those tiny green Penguin paperbacks that only cost £2.
I assume that was because it was all we could afford, but Pride and Prejudice was one of the first books I came home with. I remember feeling like it dragged, if I’m honest. I wasn’t used to reading classics and even when I read ‘normal’ books, I hadn’t really learned to pay attention to the text properly.
Having said that, I remember being sat cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom as close as I could get to the electric heater without actually rubbing myself on it, and getting to the part in Derbyshire, where Elizabeth receives Jane’s letter about Lydia in the presence of Mr Darcy… that’s it, I was hooked. I sat on the floor, slowly burning my nose, until the book was finished and everybody was safely married off.
My God, I was blown away. I had no idea that classics could be that good! I kept buying more and more classics, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, but nothing gave me quite the same tight feeling in my stomach. I’d never had that before. I mean, obviously I’d liked books before, but not to the same I’m-going-to-cry-because-I’ve-finished-it extent.
During another trip to Borders, I bought the Headline edition you can see in the very top left of this post, just so I could have a nice edition. Yes, my friends, that was the turning point although it didn’t become a collection for another few years. I also bought Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park from the same editions, but I was severely less than impressed with both of them.
I gave up on Austen, more or less. Clearly Pride and Prejudice was the only one worth reading. In fact, I read it again in 2008, this time choosing my pretty new edition, that wasn’t printed on Bible paper, like the little green Penguin version.
By this point, I’d read it twice. However, in 2009, I read it again. Penguin had just released the first of their Clothbound editions (which I now collect in their own right) and I couldn’t resist buying a semi-expensive beautiful edition of the book I loved so much. I was going through a bad time – my health issues were starting to peep through and I hadn’t been given a diagnosis yet, plus my housemate and I weren’t doing so well thanks to my at-the-time boyfriend being a massive prick.
Inspired by my recent purchase, I dived back into Pride and Prejudice. By this point, it had become more than just a story to me. I could dive into it and become completely immersed in a life so different to my own. Even the tone of Jane Austen soothes me.
So I now owned three copies of Pride and Prejudice, good for me. Except I started buying a pretty edition whenever I happened to see one on the shelf. I never actually consciously I decided that I may as well own them all, but shortly after the purchase of the Clothbound I had to clear a designated shelf area just to fit them all.
So why am I talking about this now? Well, I haven’t read it since 2009. I’d read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Longbourn and Death Comes to Pemberley, plus Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I wanted to let my memory of the (dubious quality) spin-offs fade before I could sink happily back into the proper book. This Christmas, however, my boyfriend bought me a new edition with a lovely inscription and it made me want to read it all over again.
What I love most about Pride and Prejudice is that it changes every time you read it. The last three times I read it (in 2006, 2008 and 2009) I was in various relationships that felt real at the time but looking back, were clearly going nowhere. I was so dogmatic, so independent and so stubborn that I wasn’t really ready to let anybody else in… as a result, it seemed to me perfectly obvious that Elizabeth Bennett was clearly in the right and Mr Darcy was an obnoxious prat who finally becomes a nice person after Elizabeth tells him off. Prat.
Except not this time. Now I’m in a stable relationship with a man I love more than… well, more than myself. I understand what a relationship actually is now – it’s accepting your own faults as well as your partner’s and sometimes putting their needs before your own. As a result I can see now that it’s at least as much Elizabeth’s fault as it is Darcy’s. She’s naive and prejudiced – the scene where she rejects his proposal made me want to curl up into a ball and die on her behalf.
That said, it just made their relationship all the sweeter when it finally came together. Every time Mr Darcy smiled, I melted a little bit inside because I understood his character better. It just makes sense now – they seem more like real people because I can relate them to my own experiences.
Also, during previous readings it always annoyed me how Lydia never really got her comeuppance, but this time I noticed that she actually does –
They were always moving from place
to place in search of a cheap situation, and always spending more than
they ought. His affection for her soon sunk into indifference; her’s
lasted a little longer; and in spite of her youth and her manners, she
retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her.
So I think I’ve wittered (is that a Yorkshire word?) about Pride and Prejudice for long enough. I just wanted to explain my connection with it and encourage those of you who haven’t read it, to do so. It’s not a perfect book, but then there’s no such thing. It changes with every reading, but is always, always magical.