Pride and Prejudice re-read in German: Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

Mr and Mrs Bennet discuss a gentleman moving to their neighbourhood. To Mrs Bennet’s delight the gentleman, Mr Bingley is single and she expecting to see one of her five daughters married to him soon. Mr Bennet pretends not to understand the connection between Mr Bingley moving to their area and marrying one of the daughters. Mrs Bennet asks Mr Bennet to visit Mr Bingley so she and the daughters could be introduced afterwards. Mr Bennet teases Mrs Bennet and refuses her wish.

Commentary

I didn’t realise that the female family members were so dependent on Mr Bennet in making acquaintances. It didn’t sink in that he can seriously restrict their chance of meeting new people eligible young man by not bothering to meet them himself first. Mrs Bennet appears to be only thinking about marrying off her daughters and she is depicted as frivolous and simple-minded. I have always found this passage comical before. On second thought, in Mrs Bennet’s world, her only way of securing a respectable lifestyle for her daughters is to make sure they marry well.  All the more that the estate is entailed to the next male heir of Mr Bennet. We also learn that Mr Bennet’s favourite is Lizzy, while Mrs Bennet favours Lydia and Jane.

 

Chapter 2

Mrs Bennet and the Miss Bennets  discuss meeting Mr Bingley at their neighbour’s, Mr Lucases ball. Mrs Bennet is clearly distraught and takes her vexation out on Kitty. After long verbal cat and mouse game however, Mr Bennet reveals that he has visited Mr Bingley. The news immediately dispels Mrs Bennet’s bad mood and the women begin to speculate when Mr Bingley will return the visit. the discussion is tiresome for Mr Bennet so he withdraws to the library.

Commentary

It is upsetting how much Mrs Bennet’s and the daughters attention is focused on when and how to meet Mr Bingley during the entire chapter. Mrs Bennet’s comment about Mrs Long not introducing Mr Bingley to them because she has two nieces highlights the competition among the women for securing a wealthy husband. Mr Bennet’s displeasure at being involved in this silly discussion strikes as hypocrite. The girls are socially restricted into staying at home. Their only way to gain slightly more freedom is to marry well. Even then, their life will have to be centered on their husband and their children. They all need to get married because they cannot inherit their own home. In this light Mrs Bennet’s obsession is more than understandable. In fact Mr Bennet’s disdain for talking about balls and meeting Mr Bingley is privilege sneering at those who do not have it. It’s a pity, I used like Mr Bennet’s wit.

Chapter 3

Mr Bingley returns the visit but is not introduced to the ladies and his dinner invitation is put off due to him suddenly leaving to London. Mr Bingley returns for the ball at the Lucases with a small party: Mr and Mrs Hurst (née Bingley), Miss Bingley and Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy is even wealthier than Mr Bingley so the first impression of him is generally positive. He ruins it though by refusing to be introduced to most of the people and only dancing with ladies from his own party. Lizzy overhears him describe her as “passable but not enough to tempt me” which cements the general judgement: Mr Darcy is proud and insufferable. Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet meet for the first time and he favours her, only her, with two dances. Mrs Bennet can barely control herself from the joy and pride.

Commentary

This is the first time both couples meet and both encounters foreshadow the difficulties that lie ahead for each of them:

Mr Bingley is charmed with Jane and he is not afraid to show it. Miss Bennet is equally charmed, but she is also surprised by the attention. She is too guarded to show more than surprise. This almost becomes the undoing of her happiness later on.

Mr Darcy manages to insult Lizzy Bennet in a casual and off-handed way without even being introduced to her (it is an achievement in itself). Lizzy in turn spreads the tale for a few laughs and thus the opinion about Mr Darcy’s character is set. The prejudice against Mr Darcy is based entirely on his behaviour during this one ball, he doesn’t get a second chance. He is immediately in the spotlight because of his wealth. I wonder how the expectation would have been different if he is less wealthy than Mr Bingley?

 

 

 

Pride and Prejudice re-read in German

The best way to start reading in a new language is to read a book you love and have read before. I conquered the intricacies of Spanish grammar with Harry Potter y El Cáliz de Fuego and I am about to rediscover Pride and Prejudice in German a.k.a. Stolz und Vorurteil. It has been a while since I last read the book so I am curious how my previous impressions of the story and the charaters change.

The re-read posts contain spoilers for the entire book. The index to the re-read here:

Chapter 1-3

 

Hidden Gems 1. – Letters of Two Brides

This is the post excerpt.

This is the first post in the Hidden Gems series, dedicated to books I stumbled upon. I started reading each by chance, not expecting anything special and not having heard of them previously. Each caught me by surprise with something and I’d like to share my impressions and the influence they had on me. I use a fixed set of questions for highlighting the most intriguing aspects of the novel in question and spoliers are whited out and marked in advance.

The first book in the Hidden Gems series is the Letter of Two Brides by Honoré de Balzac. It was published as a serie in the La Presse in 1841 and a year later as novel under the original title Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées. The novel is part of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, his endavour to depict life in is era that would match the Comédie divine from Dante.

Title & Book

I read the book in original and the title, Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées, promised intrigue and intime secrets. I looked up the title of the English translation for this post and it doesn’t invoke the same atmosphere for me but it keeps what it promises.

The novel is a collection of letters between two young women. Louise and Renée studied together and became friends in a Carmelite convent. They  show a very different attitude towards life, emotions, desires and social situation and the letters show their life after they have left the convent.

Setting & Timeline

The story is set in the second half of the 19th century France in Paris and in the region of Provence. The timeline is linear, it is the correspondance of two friends across twelve years of their young married life. Their respective locations, Provence for Renée and Paris for Louise underlines the contrast of their personalities.

First line: “Sweetheart, I too am free!” – «Ma chère biche, je suis dehors aussi, moi !»

Spoiler: The first letter from Louise to Renée is full of foreshadowing for what is yet to come: the first love, the second love, tubercolosis and Louise’s tendency to be extreme in action and in feelings.

One-line summary: There is no one way to be happy, but there are several ways to be unhappy.

Favourite quote from the book is the last sentence from Louise which unfortunately is also a major spoiler: I simply loved the last phrase of the last letter from Louise: « Viens me voir mourir ? » – “Come to see me die!”. I prefer the question in the original version, because it sums up Louise’s character perfectly: the passion, the drama, the deep trust and her friendship with Renée.

Most satisfying scene is at night on a balcony. The rest is a spolier: Louise accepts the marriage proposal of  Felipe Hénarez, Baron de Macumer. She leads Felipe to believe she is lost to him forever until the last minute. She controls every aspect of the situation and plays with him like a cat with a mouse until she can wring out the maximum amount of drama of it. Some like it hot, much?

Passionately hated that Renée’s later letters display the kind of female sexism that is blocking the progress towards equality even nowadays. The passages about feeling happiness through the happiness of her own family and by making sacrifises for them reads like a how to manual or propaganda for patriarchy.Spolier: Especially since the ending of the novel can be interpreted in a way that suggests that Louise has fallen victime of her own “selfishness” by following her emotions and passions instead of “duty”. 

I hated this aspect all the more because otherwise I liked Renée. She somehow manages to be down-to-earth and delicate at the sametime.

What captivated me me

I loved the intime and sincere relationship between Louise and Renée. The  candor describing their everyday life and the their feelings in their letters was refreshing. I was fascinated by how two completely different characters can share an intimate bond, respecting and loving each other in spite of their contrasting personalities. I tend to be a more like Renée and the novel made me realise that I often chose and still choose friends with a fireworks personality like Louise. Their contrast also reminded me of Elinor and and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. Somehow I was never really sold on Marianne, I find her self-absorbed and hysterical, which could be applied to Louise as well. The different point of view, the first person letter format instead of the 3rd person narrator makes all the difference. All points of view  characters (with negligible exceptions) are women, despite the historical setting. I would argue that that they are the most constant and important person in each other’s life. Despite the dramatic ending, it often felt like reading a captivating girl-power story.

Let yourself be captivated by the intrigue, love and girl power in the 19th century France! The book is Public domain and available on the Gutenberg project, pour connaisseurs en version originale à Feedbooks.