There’s a saying about books and covers. I bought this particular one because (a) I haven’t read it, it’s a classic and you know… and (b) it has a pretty cover made by some Cuban artist called Toledo who I have never heard of. Anyway, despite (a), there’s a decent chance I would have gone the rest of my life without reading this if it hadn’t been for (b) because the other cover completely lies about the content of the book. You know the one. It’s a Gainsborough, or something, of a pretty girl in a blue dress, looking pretty. I don’t want to read about pretty girls being pretty, it’s boring. (I could quite easily watch a pretty girl being pretty for quite a while; at least until she got uncomfortable and asked me to stop/called the police.)
What no one told me is that this is actually a lot of fun, with some utterly daft characters getting themselves all worked up about relationships. OK, so it is about relationships between upper class types. But Jane Austen never saw premiership football, and relationships between upper class types are probably the next most exciting thing in the world.
No one also told me that the whole thing was larded with so much irony that there is actually an arched eyebrow sticking out of the top of my copy. Guys, you have to tell people these things! Admittedly, the girl does get the guy in the end, and not everyone dies (one of the sisters is sent to Newcastle, which is almost the same thing) so it may be a bit too sweet for some tastes, but damme, Mr Collins, you are a one. And Mrs Bennet! Ooh, my.
My only little niggle is that when the characters are referred to by their new surnames after marrying it can be a little bit hard to remember who they actually are (especially when they get married in a hurry).
Also, I noticed with amusement how much the language and spellings had changed. It may be my prejudices showing here, but I suspect a lot of people who consider this one of their favourite books probably spend a fair bit of time decrying the collapse of the English language, whereas actually reading it shows how much usage has changed in the last 200 years. “Her’s” and “your’s” are common, spellings like “sopha” abound, and my particular favourite “chief of the day” meaning “most of”. (OK, second favourite, because there’s a bit somewhere where one of the gentlemen is making love to the whole Bennet family, and I am too much of a child not to smirk at that.)
So, the lesson is: ignore the cover of classics because publishers clearly have no idea how to market them. Also, I must have missed the bit where Mr Darcy is in a fountain.
See also: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – for its spelling of “sopha” and similarly striking black and white cover (assuming you can find the same editions of the two books that I have)
Blackadder III – probably not the exact historical era, but certainly at about the same degree of archery.