When I was still following a reading challenge list, the prompt that led to The Annotated Pride and Prejudice was, “A book made into a movie you’ve already seen.” I have to admit that I have seen many, many version of Pride and Prejudice. Movies, as well as a couple of incredibly entertaining mini-series. I have never attempted to read the novel. Why? Well, I’m lazy and also, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC mini-series is pretty much the best romantic hero ever. I never felt the need to improve on my acquaintance with Jane Austen’s most famous male character. But the second I read that prompt I knew the time had come to be an adult and read the source material for a story I had watched many, many, many versions of.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip through Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it half as much without the explanatory notes provided by David M. Shapard in his excellent book, The Annotated Pride and Prejudice.
Understanding the nuances of a novel written in the early part of the nineteenth century, set in and about a society I knew very little about, would have been difficult for me without help. Much of the charm and wit of Austen’s novel grows out of her insistence on recreating the society she herself knew so well. Getting a true sense of what is happening in the novel would have been nearly impossible if I had attempted to read it without assistance.
And what assistance it was. Shapard explains and gives visual examples of the types of carriages people are riding around in and why how many horses were hitched up to it tells the reader something meaningful about the people in it. The fact “morning” in Austen’s time lasted from when the sun rose until about 4pm enhanced my understanding of why it was so funny that Mr. Collins walked around in his yard the whole “morning” waiting to pay tribute to Mr. Darcy when he drove by. Did that silly man really spend the entire day standing in the bushes just to see a carriage drive by? He did, and I would have only thought he’d been out there until about 11am if Shapard hadn’t pointed out that morning used to describe a much longer period of time. With Austen, the little details matter.