Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The second of the set of classics I’ve decided to finally go back and read.

As with Heart of Darkness, this book deserves its status. It’s oddly written from a modern perspective, violating rules left and right — telling instead of showing, switching from third to first person narration at the end of the book, having significant action happen off-screen — but is an absolute delight to read. The characters are all distinct and interesting, the dialog often made me laugh out loud, and despite the gulf of two hundred years — and a good deal of class status — made me relate to and care about the happiness of the Bennets.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Verbal tags (e.g., he shouted, she sighed) aren’t as necessary as I thought. Austen uses almost none, yet since we know so much about each character’s personality, we can infer the tone and intent.
  • Description can be dropped for a book set in the same time period as the audience. Austen didn’t need to describe a drawing room, or a coach, or any of the characters’ clothes. Cutting all that description gave her more room for dialog and inner thoughts, which was more time for us to spend getting to know and care about her characters.
  • Don’t feel constrained by time. Austen zooms in and out of events as she pleases, summarizing a ball but giving a single conversation blow-by-blow. Skipping over events let her cover a lot of ground in a single novel.