Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read a fiction book. It’s not that I don’t read; I spend the majority of my evenings poring over non-fiction of some kind or another (business, history and engineering being my favourite subjects). I just never really saw the point of fiction.

That was, until I read Why Every Man Should Read Jane Austen, by one of my favourite bloggers, Brett McKay of The Art of Manliness. The Art of Manliness is one of my favourite blogs on the Internet (and you should definitely subscribe if you enjoy long-form blogging about philosophy and practical skills, regardless of gender). As such, I was intrigued.

Particularly fascinating to me was the discussion of ‘theory of mind’, the ability for us to understand each other and attribute emotions to other people. Honestly, it’s something I’ve never been particularly good at. Other people’s emotions are guesswork to most people most of the time, and to me (and combined with a healthy dose of impostor syndrome in my work) it is mostly cause for panic.

Initially I read the article and then almost dismissed it; I put it at the bottom of a very long to-do list (which will never be complete, my grandchildren will be splitting it up between them when I die). But it kept coming back to me, gnawing at me almost. I don’t read much fiction. I could be better at understanding others. My writing skills have deteriorated.

A week ago I couldn’t bear it any more and downloaded the book on Google Play (substitute Kindle, Project Gutenberg or a physical book store as you like). I thought it might be nice to read a couple of chapters each night to wind down before sleep. Oh how wrong I was. I was hooked.

Three days later, I’d read the entire book (including staying up to 3am two nights in a row), as well as watched the entire BBC mini-series of 6 hours (which I did in one sitting).

This book is incredible.

There’s intrigue, there’s romance, there’s comedy, there’s so much metaphorical bitch-slapping you wouldn’t believe.

Due to the age of the book (it’s written and set in Regency England) the language can be hard to read at times, especially the dialogue. People spoke to each other much differently then, and it took reading passages three or four times before I could sometimes understand them. There were also some passages I didn’t understand the significance of, because I couldn’t read the sarcasm or other inflections properly – it took watching the mini-series to sort that out.

But the difference in language is also one of the strongest points. It gives you an insight into how formal the language was then, and how formally they treated others as a general rule. To not be polite to somebody then was the worst thing that could possibly happen. And the ramifications would be severe: Mrs. Bennett’s loud-mouthedness almost cost her the potential marriages of two of her daughters.

There are other insights too. To do something dishonourable (such as live with a somebody out of wedlock, a big deal for fair reasons back then – there was no contraception) had an impact not only on other’s opinions of you, but also on your family and your friends, and for a very long time. This is something still true today, but it’s far less obvious and the reminder of it’s presence is welcome (even if the presence itself is not).

I also now understand a lot more pop culture references. So many TV shows make references to Pride and Prejudice. I always used to giggle when I saw a reference to some classic that I had read, and now I see them far more often. Even Top Gear made them. Almost for this reason alone I’ve committed to reading more fiction in the future. It makes everything more fun.

The Red Door

I wrote this a couple of years ago, now. It was exam revision time and I had nothing else to do. Although short, it’s still one of the better pieces of descriptive writing I have done (or at least, I think so. My old English teacher would no doubt disagree). Critisism welcome.

I see the door. It’s just up ahead. Walking towards it, I can feel the heat slowly building on my forehead. The moment is near. As I reach for the door handle, my common sense finally kicks in and my hand pulls back, unsure of what to expect on the other side.

The door is red, of course. All doors with something scary behind them are red. It’s one of the few constants in this universe of ours. The paint is scratched around the edges, especially at floor level. Bare wood can be seen behind the paint, scratched away by dog claws, most likely. It’s a very dark wood, but that could just be age.

I knew I didn’t have to go through the door. I could just turn around and go back the way I came. But that wouldn’t be any use. I had to find out what was on the other side of this strange red door.

Dressed in my black satin PJs, I feel a bit like a Ninja, in the dead of night, creeping around the old house. It’s the fourth night I’ve been here, and the fourth night I’ve come down here to the red door. It could be the fourth night I turn around and go back to bed. But I’m not going to allow it to be so. I have to find out what is behind the red door.

I inherited the house from my now-dead father, who, along with my mother, lived here for the twenty-three years of their marriage. My mother died three years ago now, and my father just couldn’t handle life on his own. He didn’t go slowly insane or anything like that. He just got sad (a vast understatement) when he was here alone during most of the week. I came up and helped him whenever I could, but it simply wasn’t enough.

I moved in here four days ago. I was previously just renting a two-bedroom apartment in the city, using one as a studio for my painting work. I live alone. Now that I’ve moved here, I could have about five or six rooms just for painting, if I wanted. The walk-in wardrobe is larger than the bathroom in my old apartment. I’ve got the place fairly well set up now. I haven’t touched the brushes since I’ve moved in (which is rare for me, I usually can’t be kept away from them), instead I have been cleaning and repairing nearly every horizontal surface in the house, and quite a few of the vertical ones.

But there is still one room I haven’t ventured into. That would be the room behind the red door. I’m not sure what to expect behind there. It could be just another room. It could be the stairs to the basement, for all I know. But I have a feeling it is something much more insidious. Something far more interesting. The colour of the door tells me so.

I’ve pretty much decided now that I’m not going back to bed tonight until I have investigated what’s behind the red door. Like all the other nights, I’m not going to be able to get to sleep. I never asked either of my parents what was behind the door. There wouldn’t have been much point either. By the spider’s webs, it looks like the door hasn’t been opened for quite some time.

After standing staring at the door for several minutes, I slowly start forward again, my brow becoming sweaty again, reaching out for the door handle. Turning it, I hear a loud screech, obviously because the door hasn’t been opened for decades. After turning it open all the way, enduring the screeching and whining of the handle, I turn my shoulder to the door, expecting to have to give it a large shove to get open. Pushing gently with my right hand on the handle, I realise this isn’t going to be the case. It glides open freely.