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Today I am writing about Jane Austen’s Emma over at Sarah Emsley’s blog. Mine is the twenty-third in a series of guest posts celebrating 200 years of Emma. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit Emma in the Snow.

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I don’t have an “I Heart Darcy” t-shirt. To be sure, when reading Pride and Prejudice, one cannot help but be enamored of Mr. Darcy. But really, when it comes to Jane Austen’s heroes, my heart belongs to Mr. George Knightley.

He has all the advantages of Darcy—land, position, looks—but “with a real liberality of mind” (Volume 1, Chapter 18). Read on …

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P&P pen classicToday, January 28, marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and celebrations abound both here and in the U.K. For many years now, P&P has been one of my favorite books. I confess, however, that when I first tried to read it I simply could not get into it. I was 15, and having been primed on Judy Blume and Danielle Steele, I wasn’t ready to appreciate Austen’s refined language and her subtle, yet nice, plot pacing (‘nice’ here in its regency-era connotation).

The characters all seemed stiff and a bit dull. Austen does a great job early on of making Mr. Darcy seem like rather a jerk, nor was the landed gentry thing working for me. My taste in heroes ran more towards Indiana Jones. But my eldest sister made me promise to finish, so on I read … until I got to the letter that Darcy writes Elizabeth after she has refused his marriage proposal:

“Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you.”

I burst into laughter, caught myself, and read it again. I ran to ask my sister who said that yes it was supposed to be funny. Suddenly, Mr. Darcy had some spunk and personality. I won’t go into the letter, which has important plot points. But through that missive, both Elizabeth Bennett and I became acquainted with a different side of Darcy. He’s actually very clever and amusing, something that Colin Firth managed to bring out so perfectly in the must-see BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice.

Recent editions of Pride and Prejudice.

Recent editions of Pride and Prejudice.

Not only did I fall for Darcy, I finally fell for Jane Austen. I flipped back to earlier parts of the book. Aha. Now I saw Mrs. Bennett as silly comic relief (not just tiresome). I howled when Mr. Bennett, weary of hearing about Mr. Bingley at the ball, retorts “say no more of his partners. Oh! That he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!” I just loved the supercilious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who scowls at Elizabeth’s piano playing and boasts: “if I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

Aside from the caricatures, I grew to know the keen, observant, and witty ‘Lizzy’ Bennett. Instead of pining over sonnets, she quips, “I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!” Then, after her disastrous encounter with Darcy and her dear sister Jane’s own broken heart, Lizzy heads off on a walking tour. “Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I raced through Pride and Prejudice, with newfound enthusiasm, and then devoured Austen’s other novels. Like most Janeites, I’ve reread them so often that whole sections seem to be lodged in my head. My favorite keeps changing—sometimes Emma, sometimes Persuasion—really, must one choose? Still, Pride and Prejudice will forever be special to me because it sparked me to ‘get’ Jane Austen.

Austen Fans to Celebrate 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice

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A Joyous Season for Janeites

Spoiler Alert: This Book Has No Ending

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