Sunday, May 17, 2015

Austen Spring

Last year we had a Tolkien summer, and this year it's an Austen spring. We're reading Pride and Prejudice in the evenings as a family. It's the sweet girl's first encounter with Austen, her dad's first encounter with an entire Austen novel (he's seen numerous movie adaptations with me, and I've read him excerpts). It's also my first time to read an Austen novel aloud. So we're all enjoying something new and fresh in the experience!

Having pretty much internalized P&P after multiple re-readings, it's interesting to read it aloud and discover how challenging it actually is to read aloud. Austen's long sentences, which meander a lot in the middle before reaching their main point, are harder on the tongue than I expected. They flow more easily when I read silently, but I'm enjoying the challenge...and remembering how Alison Steadman, the actress who played Mrs. Bennett in the 1995 A&E version, said she thought Austen's lines were harder to deliver than Shakespeare's.

And speaking of Steadman, hers is the acting voice that influences me most when I read. It's almost impossible for me not to read Mrs. Bennett's without her cadence, which isn't a bad thing perhaps!

The sweet girl has found it interesting, but has been surprised at the sheer number of words she needs help in defining. I confess I had almost forgotten, due to long familiarity, just how gorgeously dense Austen's vocabulary is. And sometimes I am stymied when faced with defining a word (especially a few of the more archaic ones) because I realize I have spent years understanding it from context but not really knowing its precise meaning. With some of the denser passages, she has also required a little help of that "could you explain what just happened there please" variety, but we don't mind stopping and providing a little extra help. I feel like a tour guide! And that's fun too.

There's also the delight of realizing anew how many words Austen loves with such relish that uses them frequently. ""Felicity" and "amiable" (or "amiability") being two of her very favorites, though S. keeps noticing how often prejudice and pride crop up too.

I've not tried much in the way of voices -- too busy just trying to read it in a lively and engaging way to promote clarity -- but it strikes me how much fun it would be to play Lady Catherine in a stage version. Such commandeering condescension! Lizzie is also a wonderful role -- a tad bit snarkier than you realize when you read her quietly on the page. Some of her lines just drip caustic wit. Despite the fact that Austen gave Lizzie's sister Jane her own name, you can't help but feel that she must have seen something of herself in her main heroine. Though the older I get, the more I think I empathize with Jane Bennett and her attempts to see the best in others. I think I am somewhere between Jane's naivete and Lizzie's cynicism. And I think part of Austen's underlying message is that both can get you into trouble. Lizzie thinks of herself as a realist, but there are bits of underlying bitterness in her dealings with the world and the unfairness of her own situation that color some of her prejudices and help make the plot go.

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