Aishwarya Subramanian: On Pride and Prejudice

Columnist, blogger and reviewer Aishwarya Subramanian on her personal Pride and Prejudice timeline.

At some point in the 90s someone gifts me an abridged edition of Pride and Prejudice. It is very abridged. It is bright pink and the cover art appears to have been rendered in crayon. I read it anyway, and all it really retains of the original is the plot. I’m not sure what the big deal is over the whole Lydia situation. My mother likes Pride and Prejudice the unabridged version, but can the tastes of parents really be trusted?

Somewhere in the late 90s/early 2000s I decide to read the original. Okay, this is pretty good.

It’s 2004, and Pride and Prejudice shows up on my college syllabus. I discover that the Mr Collins scene is the funniest thing in the world.

It’s 2004, I’m in a roomful of young women watching the BBC adaptation of the book. Colin Firth has just emerged from a lake and is walking towards the camera in slow motion, his wet shirt clinging to his body. There is a lot of sighing.

2004 is also the year Gurinder Chaddha’s Bride and Prejudice comes out. I remember nothing about it, except that in some theatres it was released under the title Balle Balle, Amritsar to L.A.

On my way to the 2005 film adaptation, starring Keira Knightley, my jeans tear embarrassingly and I have to rush home and change. It’s possible that this prejudices me against the movie.

In 2007 I write my last ever exam. I come home after a celebratory lunch and pick up Austen, but today I read Persuasion. By now I’ve read all the novels at least once, but Pride and Prejudice has always been my favourite. But that afternoon, things have changed. It’s a moving on and a saying goodbye and a growing up. From now on Persuasion will be the Austen novel I turn to.

By now we have all watched Bridget Jones’s Diary about a million times. Some of my happiest hours in the summer of 2007 involve a friend’s house in Hyderabad and copies of the books, by Helen Fielding. In the second book the character interviews Colin Firth and discusses the BBC Pride and Prejudice. I think this is very amusing. I may have grown into Persuasion, but I don’t think I’ve grown out of Pride and Prejudice just yet.

In 2008 Colin Firth resurfaces (literally); I’m watching St Trinian’s and there he is, falling into an ornamental pond and walking (in slow motion, his wet shirt clinging to his body) towards us. Rupert Everett, who plays his love interest, is smitten.

A friend and I refer to a persistent young man as “Mr Collins”. I have to work to remember not to call him that in person.

2009: Zombies ☹

Relatives have begun to ask me why I am not yet married. Happiness in marriage, I say airily, is entirely a matter of chance. I don’t say I’m waiting for someone with a vast estate and an ornamental lake in and out of which to leap sexily.

In 2011 P.D. James writes a murder mystery set in Pemberley. I start my review of it with the phrase “it is a truth universally acknowledged”. Even I am a little ashamed of myself.

Between 2007 and 2012 I read an astonishing number of bad Austen tribute books. One is from Georgiana Darcy’s perspective, several (not that one, luckily) go into detail about Elizabeth and Darcy’s sex lives. One short story, about Mary Bennet’s encounter with a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein*, is quite good, but it’s all beginning to feel a little oppressive.

In 2012 all my friends are watching something called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a youtube adaptation of the novel. I watch a few episodes. It’s really clever. I stop. Have I outgrown Pride and Prejudice after all?

I reread the book. False alarm, all is well.

The whole genre of Austen tributes is redeemed for me in 2013 because someone with the genius pseudonym of William Codpiece Thwackery has written something titled Fifty Shades of Mr Darcy. I discover that PhD programmes at the university of my choice require me to lay my hands on ten thousand a year and I can kind of see Mrs Bennet’s point of view on the subject of men with large disposable incomes. I reread Persuasion and it’s still better, and it still does things to my heart, but I can quote large swathes of Pride and Prejudice, perhaps more than any other book. It has sunk into my consciousness as it has done for so many of us, and it’s a part of me now.

My mother gets a smartphone and discovers that she can read books on it. The first thing she reads is Pride and Prejudice. Sometimes, it seems, the dubious tastes of parents can be trusted.

*Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel

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