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The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (thoughts)

September 24, 2009

annotatedppBefore I get into what will inevitably be a long review, I thought I’d mention why book bloggers rock! In addition to reading wonderful books and convincing others to read them too, we’re always starting projects for things we love. :D This week, Rebecca has gotten the Classics Circuit up and running; it promises to do ‘author tours’ for the classics. The pilot tour will be in November, and there’s a poll open until Sunday for people to choose which Victorian author they want to see: George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, or Anthony Trollope. You can vote whether or not you plan to participate in the tour itself! Then there’s this cool new literary magazine called Belletrista that “seeks both to encourage cross-cultural understanding through international literature written by women and to increase the visibility of that literature.” What a marvelous resource!

And now on to Pride and Prejudice, which I read this time in the new Annotated Version with annotations by David Shapard.

mypp More than any other book, my life is tangled up with Pride and Prejudice. I read it for the first time when I was 11. It was just before 7th grade started, and my family had moved to England for the second time. We were exploring our new little town and wandered into a bookstore, where I saw Pride and Prejudicefor only a quid (that’s the cover in this paragraph)! Of course I bought it, and that night curled up on our ‘Flintstone furniture’ (the no-frills, ugly stuff the military furnishes houses with until your real furniture arrives) and devoured it. I knew nothing about the story before reading, so it was all wonderfully new to me. As soon as I finished, I simply started again, because I couldn’t bear to part with Austen’s world, her way of seeing people that was witty without being cynical, her characters that suddenly felt like close friends. Austen immediately became my favourite author (a title she’s held ever since, though now she shares the mantel a bit), and by the age of 13, I’d read all of her novels.

inkppWhile Pride and Prejudice is not precisely my favourite Austen (that’s actually a four-way tie between this, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Emma), it’s the one I’ve read the most. My best friend in England was also a huge fan of the book (and a big reader in general), and during our last sleep over before both moving, we spent the night reading the book aloud to each other in alternating chapters. P & Phas been with me camping throughout Germany. It’s been on a cruise down the Nile. It was with me when as a senior in high school I visited the college I would later call home for four years, and it soothed me nerves the night before meeting so many fellow ‘prospies.’ (That was also where it had an unfortunate encounter with a hotel hot tub-I’m happy to say it ended up drying out.) When I went to Russia, P & P was in my carry-on. I have four copies of the book: my old British version (whose pages are close to falling out) a mini B&N edition my mom put in my stocking at Christmas one year, an old version my sister saw in a used bookstore and thought of me, and now the annotated edition, which I got from my sister last year.

As I was rereading the story this time, it occurred to me that I actually have the novel almost memorised. When I read now, I know exactly what’s coming in the next sentence, paragraph, page. I find this to be slightly disturbing, as if there’s an echo in my reading (which isn’t helped by multiple re-watchings of the BBC edition, which is quite faithful to the words of the novel, so sometimes I hear Austen’s phrases in the voices of those actors). But mainly, I’ve realised that I simply can’t review Pride and Prejudice the way I could a normal book. It’s too much a part of me, and just like while I might imagine a prettier nose I’d never get a nose job, I can’t bring myself to suggest any changes.

That being said, I can tell you what I thought about the annotations!

chicklitppThe book was set up with Austen’s text on the left page, and any annotations on the right, so it was always easy to read them (often, the annotations page would be full, or if there was space left over there might be a line drawing). There were really three types of annotations, which each appeared at about the same frequency: definitions of words, notes on the text itself, and notes on background social information.

The latter I loved. They enriched my understanding of the text, by giving me access to the same information Austen’s contemporary readers would have had. They alone make this version worthwhile. Unfortunately, they were only a third of the notes. The definitions I found quite silly-the choice of which words to define seemed quite arbitrary, with most of the words ones that I already knew while occasionally one that I was curious about went unglossed. That being said, I’ve read the book (and Austen’s other works) so often, that I’m quite intimate with her diction. These might be more helpful to others. The notes on the text itself I hated. They often ‘explained’ to the reader what Austen’s witty prose had just suggested, as if the reader couldn’t figure it out unless it was in black-and-white. Or they discussed characters, or plot points, or something else that contained at lest minor spoilers for a first-time reader. They even discussed the plots of other Austen books! Or they speculated on why Austen might have done whatever she’d just done. They seemed to try to dull Austen’s sparkling language. But then, I’ve never liked literary theory, or anything approaching it-I refused to take a lit class in college. The more general problem with the annotations is deciding when to read them-since there are often 10-15 a page, if you simply read them as soon as you reached one, you’d be forever interrupting the plot.

doverppBy about half through the book, I’d developed a rhythm. First I’d read the entire actual page of P&P. Then I’d look at the annotations, skipping over any definitions or literary-theory-ish ones (since the latter inevitably made me boiling mad), and the delighted when I saw one of the social background ones, which I’d read closely.

Is this version worth reading? For me, the knowledge I gained was worth the annoyance of sorting through the various notes. And I loved the layout, since I never had to flip to the back (I hate endnotes). But I wouldn’t suggest this version for someone who hasn’t read Pride and Prejudice before! Get to know Austen on her own terms, without anyone else interfering. Then, if you find you love her as much as me, give this one a go.

Just to help you in your decision, I’ve randomly selected an example for each of the three types of annotations. I’ve provided the context for the annotation, but if you don’t know the story, just skip to the boxed part.

Social Background:
Attached to a sentence in Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth: “Mr. Wickham’s chief object was unquestionably my sister’s fortune, which is thirty thousand pounds; …”:

thirty thousand pounds: a very large fortune for a woman at the time. Amidst the many unmarried women whose fortunes are mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels, almost none possess a fortune as large as this. Such a sum would have come out of the capital of the family estate, or from family investments meant to supplement and support the estate. To make up for this loss-and it could be a serious drain if there were numerous children-it was generally expected that the heir to the estate would mary a woman would bring a large fortune of her own to the family. Hence Darcy, if he married someone like Elizabeth whose own fortune was far less than Miss Darcy’s thirty thousand, would be diminishing the capital, and thus harming somewhat the overall financial positions, of his estate.
The function of women’s fortunes as an addition to the capital of an estate is why their wealth is generally described by Jane Austen as a lump sum. In contrast, men’s wealth was generally described in terms of an annual income, for this is what men would receive either from the estates they owned or the professional position they occupied.

That’s actually longer than most of the annotations, but I was going for random selection!

From a conversation between Elizabeth and Wickham about Mr. Darcy and the sentence “His disposition must be dreadful.”

disposition: character (especially moral character)

Literary Analysis/Explication:
From a conversation between Elizabeth and Darcy in Kent and the sentences “How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November, Mr. Darcy! It must have been a most agreeable surprise to Mr. Bingley to see you all after him so soon; for, if I recollect right, he went but the day before.”

Meaning that Mr. Bingley must have been surprised and pleased when, only a day after he had gone to London on business, the rest of his party left Netherfield to join him in London. Elizabeth is bring sarcastic here, for when Mr. Bingley had left Netherfield it had been with the idea of the others staying, and his returning there. She suspects, and we in fact learn later, that his sisters and Darcy hastened to London in order to interrupt Bingley’s plan and prevent his return.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2009 5:54 am

    I am impressed by how many times you have read your Jane Austen books. I have to own up to being English and never having read a Jane Austen. I have tried to remedy this by purchasing the Complete Works of Jane Austen, however I have yet to open the book.

  2. September 24, 2009 6:17 am

    One of the best classes I ever had as an ungrad. was my Jane Austen class. Thanks for the wonderful review!

  3. September 24, 2009 6:18 am

    I’ve read P&P several times so maybe I wouldn’t mind all the notes.

  4. September 24, 2009 6:18 am

    Whenever you talk about Austen, I get the dreaded feeling that you’ll be disowning me. You know, for being such a heathen and avoiding her like the plague. But I adored this post, Eva! It was positively delightful hearing the story of your love for her! You know, Annie seems so like you in so many ways…perhaps I should suggest she try. Which do you think would make the best introduction? Should I suggest P&P to her?

    I can see why you enjoyed the social background sections…they sound fascinating! But just with that one example I can see what you mean about the definitions…even Gray knows what disposition means.

    And thanks for the link to Belletrista. I hopped over there, and it looks awesome! You should be writing for them! :D

  5. September 24, 2009 6:30 am

    Great notes! I’m a die-hard fan as well. I always start one of her novels on December 16 (her birthday). It’s become a lovely part of my holidays!

  6. September 24, 2009 6:32 am

    Ahh, there is little like having a long love affair with a particular book! I have read P&P many a time, but Persuasion is still my favourite, though I have yet to read Emma or Sense and Sensibility. I think annotations can be useful and interesting when delving deeper into a book that one had already read and knew well, but I wouldnt want to follow them when reading it for the first time. Great post, thanks for sharing!

  7. September 24, 2009 6:40 am

    GREAT review of the book – and I agree whole heartedly.

    I read this book for the first time about two years ago. As I teach the book each year in my Brit Lit class, I was very anxious to read all the societal footnotes that would enrich my reading and understanding of the Regency Era.

    I read the book in a different fashion….since I knew the story fairly well (having read it at least once a year over the past 4 years), I skimmed the left hand side of the page, but thoroughly read all his notes. I agree that the definitions were rather unnecessary, as the contextual clues are certainly adequate.

    I am VERY excited to check out the link to the Classics Circuit!

  8. September 24, 2009 6:47 am

    That’s why I am leery of annotated books. It’s so cool when the notes tell you something interesting about the society at the time, but they very often don’t. I have an annotated Mother Goose that I absolutely love, and an annotated Alice in Wonderland – but an annotated anything-posher-than-that tends to have the problems you encountered. :)

  9. September 24, 2009 6:52 am

    I haven’t read any Jane Austen (as I mentioned earlier on Twitter). I am going to make it a point to read one of her novels before the year is over.

    • September 24, 2009 6:52 am

      I also meant to mention that I joined/applied for the Classics Circuit.

  10. September 24, 2009 6:55 am

    I find annotated versions of books very distracting. I avoid reading any of the notes. I imagine with a book I loved that much, it would be even worse.

    It’s really cool that you’ve had that book so long.

  11. tuulenhaiven permalink
    September 24, 2009 7:28 am

    Are those all editions of P&P that you own? :) I love the silhouette cover. I’ve read the book several times, so I think it would be fun to check out an annotated version. I’ve never really read an annotated book before, so I appreciate your review, as it gives me a good idea of what it would be like. Thanks!

  12. September 24, 2009 8:27 am

    Great post, thanks. I love Austen, but I really hate annotations and footnotes. I agree with you that this information sounds interesting, but that reading the annotations really distracts from the rhythm of reading.

  13. September 24, 2009 8:38 am

    Two suggestions – first: go join your local chapter of The Jane Austen Society. I’ve been to an auction that featured a few early editions of JA’s books and privately arranged museum tours to look at artwork or fashion of the era, and a dance class on regency line dances JA and her characters would have done. It’s pretty inexpensive to be a member (some additional $$ for various outings) and you also get the annual publication which features all sorts of essays about JA and what life was like back then.

    second: I haven’t read ithem yet, but if the cultural and period type notations were more your style, check out “The Jane Austen Handbook”(Margaret C. Sullivan) or “Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels” (Deirdre Le Faye)

    And just curious – has Northanger Abbey inspired you to check out Ann Radcliffe?

  14. September 24, 2009 8:40 am

    Thanks for the thorough review on this edition, Eva. I remember when this was released there was a lot of buzz about the book, but after reading your review, I’m glad I didn’t buy myself a copy (or have someone else do it!). I don’t think I would get much out of the majority of the notes. I don’t know that I would even agree with what the author said in that last example you gave – I wouldn’t call Lizzie sarcastic there so much as passive aggressive!

    I think for people who have read and loved Jane’s novels, many of these notes are superfluous (also, I find it hard to believe that no one knows what “disposition” means… really?!?!). Perhaps someone who is not all that strong of a reader would benefit from it? But I agree it seems like a dumbing down of Jane, and that is a shame indeed!

  15. September 24, 2009 9:38 am

    I always say I don’t need to have kids because my brother had enough for both of us.

    Now I can say the same thing about reading P&P…you’ve read it enough for both of us! :-D

    I’ve never had a desire to re-read books like this…but I find it most impressive, since you have such a deep understanding of the book.

  16. September 24, 2009 11:49 am

    Persuasion is my favorite Austen, too! (Well, I guess you have a four-way tie and it tops my list pretty completely, but still.) However, like you, even though Persuasion is my favorite, I have some sort of affinity for P&P that I cannot explain. An annotated version sounds fabulous, except I don’t know if it would add much to my enjoyment of the story since most of my non-fiction reading centers around the time period, anyway. Hmmm. Will have to see.

    On another note, I have a retelling of Lady Susan to read and review, waiting for me!

  17. September 24, 2009 11:49 am

    I now understand your love/hate with annotations. I’m 43 pages in on Lolita and am wondering if I should read it straight through first and THEN delve into the notes.

  18. bookshopkeeper permalink
    September 24, 2009 2:27 pm

    What fun to have shared a book like you did with your friend in Germany. I’ve only read one annotated book and that was Alice in Wonderland. It was a good way to go for me, at least with that book.

  19. September 24, 2009 3:25 pm

    Yay, another fan of Northanger Abbey!
    The annotations sound a bit like the ones in the Shakespeare Made Easy or Shakespeare Made Simple series. Sometimes they explain the jokes, which is wearying. But sometimes they help students with context they can’t get any other way.
    I think I’d like to find a library copy of this just to see if there’s any context I’m missing in P&P, but, like you, I’ve read it so much I’m pretty sure I’m getting most of it already.

  20. September 24, 2009 4:11 pm

    I love P&P. It’s one I always come back to when feeling blue. I haven’t read many annotated books… I had an annotated Alice In Wonderland for my trip back from Finland. That was actually pretty interesting. I think I’m going to vote in favor of annotations. :)

  21. September 24, 2009 4:32 pm

    Something in me really doesn’t like the idea of having Austen’s humor explained to me. What’s the point if the reader doesn’t get it? I guess it would be useful to students who don’t get her humor, but anyone reading her books for pleasure who doesn’t see the humor should probably find something else to read.

  22. September 24, 2009 8:42 pm

    I’ll probably pass on this. I’ve read P&P several times, too (but not as much as you!). I’ve only read 4 of her novels and S&S is my favourite (for sentimental reasons). However, P&P was my first Austen (I was 14 then, too!) and it’s the one I’ve reread the most. I’ve yet to read Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park but I’ve purchased them last week! Yay!

    Anyway, it’s funny. THe way you feel about P&P is exactly the way I feel about Wuthering Heights.

  23. September 24, 2009 8:44 pm

    Great post, Eva! I love P&P and I wish I’ve the time for re-reads! ;)

  24. September 24, 2009 9:07 pm

    Yeah, based on the examples here I’d likely agree with you that the annotations could get annoying at times. As much as I like lit crit personally, it would probably drive me nuts in this instance. I’ve only read P&P once, but I loved it! I’ve been itching for a re-read for ages now.

  25. Bea permalink
    September 24, 2009 9:31 pm

    Loved your review. I just finished reading The Watsons (the Oxford’s University Press edition) with footnotes and found it really helpful. It also made me feel the text was longer (which I can appreciate, since it’s SO SHORT. It HURTS).

    Also, I wanted to say I hate the Dover Thrift edition of P&P. The cover is beautiful, but at least in my paperback edition the paper was terrible and the margins were practically nonexistent D:

  26. September 24, 2009 9:47 pm

    I have both a “regular” P and P book and the annotated edition you discuss here. I haven’t yet cracked open the annotated edition, but that will be the one I’ll read the next time I’m in the mood for P and P. My first exposure to P and P was when I was young, as you were, but a condensed classics version (hmm…a future blog post for me, maybe :-) ). I’d probably end up reading the annotated edition the same way as you did.

    I’d have to say of the Jane Austen I’ve read (still have not read Northanger Abbey or Persuasion…even though I have them!!), “Emma” is my favorite. I really should re-read it to figure out why.

    I did watch last year’s PBS series of all the adaptions of her books…did you?

  27. September 24, 2009 10:57 pm

    Vivienne, before I began book blogging, I reread all the time! :) I can’t imagine a huge omnibus is the comfiest way to read Austen!

    Amanda, I can see how that woul dbe marvelous with the right professor!

    Chris, you can always skim the silly ones, like I did!

    Debi, lol-I’ve already e-mailed you, but I’d like to state publicly that I’d never dislike someone for not being an Austen fan! :) Isn’t Belletrsita awesome?!

    Amy, that’s a wonderful tradition!

    Mariel, I can’t imagine reading anything annotated for the first time!

    Molly, thanks so much. :) I know the story by heart, but I’d never want to skim Austen! lol

    Jenny, I have an annotated Brothers Grimm that I’m really enjoying!

    Kylee, wonderful!

    Amanda, thanks! I wish I could magically make it less fragile now, since I worry about reading it.

    TuulenHaiven, nope-just the first two covers. I think it’s interesting what a variety there is though, and I love the silhouette cover as well!

    The Book Club Guide, thanks! It was definitely odd alternating between fiction and nonfiction every couple of minutes!

    ChristiniaO, that sounds like fun-thanks for the suggestion and the book recs! I have The Mysteries of Udolpho on my TBR shelf, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. :)

    Steph, yep-for me, the society notes were worth skimming the rest, but I think this is more of a library read than a bookshelf one. :)

    Softdrink, lol! I used to reread all of the time, and I really miss it.

    Aarti, Persuasion is so marvelous!

    Care, it would probably be easier to read it straight through first!

    BookShopKeeper, my little sister thought we were crazy, because we could hang out together while each reading our own books and feel perfectly content. :)

    Jeanne, yay for Northanger! :)

    Daphne, this was my first one, but I have an annotated Grimms too that my mom got me a couple months ago!

    Teresa, it made me boiling mad, personally.

    Claire, that’s neat that you feel the same way about Wuthering Heights! Northanger and Mansfield are so different; it’ll be interesting to see your thoughts on them. :)

    Melody, thanks!

    Andi, go re-read it! Now! lol

    Bea, I have a couple Dover Thrifts of other titles, and their quality is pretty atrocious. I don’t want to read Austen’s juvenalia or ‘bits’ of fiction…I think it’d just depress me.

    Valerie, Emma had to grow on me. When I first read it, I wasn’t a huge fan, but I’ve reread it in both 2007 and then especially in 2008 I turned to it during a difficult period and found it very comforting and hopeful. I saw some of the PBS adaptations, but the Persuasion one was SO AWFUL (I did a post about how much it sucked! lol) that it soured me. I really wish I could go back in time and never watch a film adaptation-I don’t like having the movie in my head when I’m reading.

  28. justabookreader permalink
    September 25, 2009 5:35 am

    Great post! P&P is one favorite that I always go back to. I’ll have to check out the annotated version.

  29. September 25, 2009 6:07 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your ‘history’ with P&P. My daughter just read the annotated version this summer, and felt pretty much as you did. I plan on reading it sometime this fall.
    Can’t wait to see what Classics Circuit is all about!!

  30. September 25, 2009 12:58 pm

    P&P is one of those perfect things in an inperfect world. I love annotated books. This one looks like fun.

  31. September 25, 2009 2:15 pm

    Oh how fun! I’m with you on liking the first type of note the best (really, “disposition”?). I never know how much money anything is; that’s one thing I always wonder about in the books I’m reading.

    I too am impressed with how many times you’ve read this book. I guess that’s what favorites are for!! I love rereading!

  32. September 25, 2009 5:32 pm

    I meant to comment here last night and my son got sick, so I’m back today – because I LOVE this post, and I SO WANT the annotated version of P&P! I also think you and I could be very good book friends if we ever got to meet, raiding each other’s libraries….four copies of P&P, I love it!

    And you know I love Jane Austen, I’ve read P&P three times now, maybe 4. my favourite Austen book is Persuasion, though P&P is a close – very close second. Elizabeth is my favourite book heroine, i think, of any book I’ve read!!! I love Austen’s wit and her style of writing. Maybe I’ll go do a post on her! Thanks!!

  33. September 26, 2009 1:04 pm

    How fun that you’ve posted so many book covers of the various editions!

    I’ve read Austen, but I haven’t devoured Austen. I feel like I’m missing out on something with the big Everything Austen challenge going on, and the many, many books “based on” Austen’s books.

    Maybe it’s time for me to revisit … I’m sure an annotated edition would do me good!

  34. September 28, 2009 7:21 am

    JoAnn, the Classics Circuit site is up and running! :)

    Bybee, you said it perfectly!

    Rebecca, I know-disposition! lol I’m reread this one too many times to count-that’s true of a lot of books I first fell in love with when I was younger.

    Susan, I think we’d be very good book friends too! (and I hope your son’s better)

    Dawn, isn’t it interesting how many different ways they present the classics?! I’m avoiding the Everything Austen challenge because so many are reading books with Austen’s characters not written by Austen and this upsets me. ;)


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