Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: The Annotated Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is my absolute favorite book.  I’ve read it at least a dozen times, seen the A&E/BBC film version well over twice that, turn my nose up at the Keira Knightly version – removing Mrs. Hurst really changes the dynamics between Elizabeth and Caroline Bingley – and try every few years to make (or have Mommy make) my own turn of the 19th century gown;  first one, third one.

41AsSINdSlL._AA160_[1]Alfred’s wonderful husband, Nathy-Boo, knowing how much I love all most things Pride-and-Prejudice got me a most excellent Christmas present in The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, revised and expanded edition, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard.  I’ve read versions of the novels with some footnotes or endnote annotations before, but nothing quite like this.  Every single page of the novel is heavily annotated, all left-hand pages are novel text, all right-hand pages are annotations.  The resulting book is as fat as Gone with the Wind!

Some of the annotations are the fairly standard ones, describing a word that’s not common in English any longer or geographical descriptions of places mentioned in the book.  There’s also detailed explanations of small nuances in Austen’s text, subtleties that would go over the heads of anyone not intimately acquainted with social life of the gentry in early 19th century England.  My favorite annotations are the vocabulary definitions for English words that have since changed meaning.

There’s pictures of various carriages, houses and landscapes similar to those described, garments, shoes and activities.  There’s maps of England to describe the characters’ travels and a chronological listing of events in the book with dates as exact as Shapard could get them. – This proves extremely useful in showing how destroyed the story would have been had Facebook existed at the time.  Elizabeth would have known of Lydia’s elopement before having a chance to run into Darcy and he may never of won her love.

Shapard is pretty good at keeping the reference numbers at the ends of sentences, but if there’s several things to comment on in one sentence, the numbers, and thus the annotations, can interrupt Austen’s descriptions or characters’ dialogue.  I certainly learned a lot reading this version and now find myself looking for extra details when watching the film version.

A note of caution, I would only recommend this book to someone who is already very familiar with the book, but not for say a high school student reading it for the first time for class.  The sheer amount of annotations makes it difficult for the reader to follow the novel’s flow.  I often found myself turning back to the left page trying to remember where in the story I was. If you love Pride and Prejudice and want to understand its world better, I highly recommend this version.

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