Classic, Fiction, Read Aloud

Book #42: Pride and Prejudice

It was an ambitious project, but I decided to read Pride and Prejudice aloud to my kids.  It seems ridiculous to give a summary of the book, so I won’t.  Instead, I’ll tell you a story about why I decided to read it out loud instead of just read it to myself, which was my original plan.

Oliver DeMille, an education expert, tells a story of when he was teaching college.  The class was about the Federalist Papers and since they are difficult to study, the plan was to study one sentence at a time.  DeMille read the first sentence out loud, then asked the class, “What do you think this means?”  Silence.  After a pause, one hand was raised and a young woman accurately described what Hamilton was saying.  DeMille moved on to the next sentence.  Again, no one responded but this young woman.  This went on about a half dozen times before he realized that if he wanted anyone else to talk that day, he better change what he was doing, so he moved on to a different topic.

After class, he approached the young woman and asked her if she had studied the Federalist Papers before.  No, she replied.  What was her education?  Just the typical high school experience, she stated.  As they chatted, she told a bit about her life and how her father loved to read aloud to the family from his favorite classics, Shakespeare plays and scripture.  Interesting, he thought.

This lines up with what Jim Trelease talks about in his seminal work, The Read Aloud Handbook.  That story from DeMille lingered in my mind and I wondered what we could do as a family to incorporate classics.  My husband loves to read aloud to our kids and he usually picks his favorite classics, or the newest Brandon Mull or Brandon Sanderson.  In between newest books we’re all excited about, he’ll revisit The Hobbit, The Little House series or the Narnia books.  Most recently, he was reading the first Wheel of Time book out loud, which everyone complained about for a few weeks, and then became enraptured.

Since my husband fills that role so well, and I’m no shabby reader either, I wondered if I could change what I read aloud to fit into those great classics and give my kids a greater understanding of language.  So, Pride and Prejudice it was.  I was meaning to read it anyway and we had a whole summer stretched before us.  The oldest three were familiar with the story, having seen a few film adaptations, but the younger kids were blank slates.  I took it just a chapter at a time, reading slowly enough that all of us grasped what was going on and giving myself time to explain it as I went.  As soon as Mr. Collins showed up, everyone was hooked.

The biggest surprise for me was how much more I got out of it by reading it aloud.  The centuries-old terminology would have been something I just skipped over had I been reading it myself, but because I had a room full of people who were looking at me with confused gazes, I had to follow those footnotes to the back and decipher everything.  The characters became more three-dimensional and my kids had insights and frustrations that I had never thought about before.

It took about four months to finish the book, but we had lots of interruptions and sometimes would only get to a chapter a week.  But the stretches when we read a ton were amazing.  Here are what my kids had to say about it.

“Elizabeth Bennett was very stubborn.” 8-year-old boy

“It was surprising how much each of us has Lizzie Bennett inside of us.  How we judge others without really knowing, find out more about them later but refuse to see it.  Everyone in that story is selfish.  It wasn’t really a romance.  The point was that she was going to marry him throughout the book, so it was more about the conflicts between people.”  15-year-old girl

“It’s all about money.  Marrying for money, keeping money.  I’m glad she married for love in the end, though.  I’m glad Lizzie didn’t marry Mr. Collins!”  11-year-old girl

“I really liked reading it out loud because I feel like I got so much more out of it.  The discussions we had were great.  In a lot of ways, our families are very different, but we could see ourselves in the story.    I felt like all the characters had distinct personalities and I like how the relationships were built throughout.  We rooted for people, or against people.  We had arguments with the characters.  It was fun.  I like that it was romantic without having to sacrifice the integrity of the characters.  Except Wickham and Lydia, but what are you going to do with them anyway?”  17-year-old girl

“I thought it was written very well and very intriguing.  The romance was awesome and the character were really well-rounded.  Mr. Collins was the worst, though.  He was so trying so hard and that made it worse.  Wickham was a real villain because he didn’t care what happened or who he hurt.” 14-year-old girl

As for me, I found myself more disgusted with Mr. Bennett than I had in previous readings.  He had so thoroughly failed his family as a husband and father, but it’s likely a defensive position by the constant manipulations and shaming of his wife.  Their relationship is such a contrast to the happiness of Jane and Bingley or Lizzie and Darcy.  But it’s remarkably similar to Wickham and Lydia.  It just made me sad.  Honestly, it made me wonder on the future happiness of those two couples as well, with the example of their parents to show them what marriage can look like.  No wonder so much fan fiction exists since people can’t help but wonder about these characters.

Jane Austen was brilliant, no doubt, and I’m glad I undertook the challenge of introducing her to my kids.  In the fall I read Frankenstein aloud and it felt much easier than P&P.  Perhaps it was because it was written later and had easier to understand language, or maybe I laid some good groundwork.

Goodreads rating: 5 stars, obviously


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has written 287 articles on Red Hot Eyebrows.

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