Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen read by Lindsay Duncan

Published by AudioGo – running time 12 hrs 5 mins

The crucial character of Lizzie…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 for the book           🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 for the reading

pride and prejudice audioWhen I try to pin down why I love Pride and Prejudice as much as I do, it really comes down to the character of Lizzie – her warmth, her strength and her humour. Lizzie, had she gone as governess to Thornton Hall, would not have moped around after the rather unpleasant Mr Rochester – no, indeed! She would have been annoyed at his behaviour, disgusted by his morals (or lack thereof), and would have set him straight on points of etiquette towards governesses and wards. Fortunately, Darcy is not as unpleasant as Rochester and, as well as the major benefit of not having a mad wife locked in the attic, is considerably better-looking.

I’m jesting a little, but there is a point – an independent-minded, strong heroine without her own fortune who is willing to turn down a man with as much material wealth as Darcy is a rarity in nineteenth century fiction. The position of ‘gentlewomen’ was such that, unless they controlled a fortune of their own, their welfare was entirely dependent on their male relatives – fathers, brothers, husbands. It’s hard for us to imagine what that must have been like. We get upset today when we hear of forced marriages, and even arranged marriages are anathema to many of us. But Lizzie and women of her era were expected to accept any offer that came with enough gold attached – you only have to look at Mrs Bennet’s reaction to Lizzie’s refusal of Mr Collins to get a feel for the pressure that girls were put under.

the definitive Lizzie
The definitive Lizzie

OK, this is fiction, and it all works out in the end…but there are other characters in Austen’s work that show the misery of the genteel poverty that many women were forced to live in through lack of a good marriage – Miss Bates in Emma, for instance. This is the future that may well have loomed for Lizzie if she failed to ‘secure’ a husband. How brave, then, to refuse Darcy! And for good reasons – not because she had fallen in love with some disreputable rascal but because she felt his proud manners and lack of concern for the feelings of others made him truly unlikeable.

But does she then boast of her conquest? Or mope over a missed opportunity? No! She keeps her feelings to herself and turns her strength and humour towards cheering up her beloved but blighted-in-love sister Jane, helping her mother and father get through the unfortunate Lydia incident and generally being the rock of the family. And, instead of resenting Darcy for having been proved right about her family, she is open and honest enough to reflect on his words and actions and to discern the goodness of character that hides behind his forbidding exterior. And a word of praise for Darcy here too – many a young man would have bitterly resented Lizzie’s refusal, but Darcy too reflects and comes to see the justice in her harsh words to him.

“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.”

Lindsay Duncan
Lindsay Duncan

All of this is a long preamble to explain why, although I love Lindsay Duncan nearly as much as I love Lizzie, her interpretation of Lizzie didn’t work for me in this audio-disc set. She has a lovely speaking voice and is one of my favourite actresses, but somehow she makes Lizzie sound hard and rather unladylike in this – I could imagine this Lizzie turning into a middle-aged scold. When she spoke the line about Lizzie dating her love for Darcy from ‘my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley’ it didn’t sound like the self-mocking joke that it is in the book. When she gently mocks Darcy at the end, it doesn’t sound gentle and I could imagine them in a few years as one of those harridan-wife/hen-pecked-husband couples that Dickens would have enjoyed so much. Somehow the humour of Austen’s writing and the fundamental and crucial happiness of Lizzie’s nature didn’t shine through. In fact, I felt that, when speaking the dialogue, most of the girls sounded far too old and a bit fishwifely (especially poor Charlotte), whereas in the non-dialogue passages, when using her natural speaking voice, Duncan’s tone is perfect for the book.

So overall I thought this was a very good reading that would probably work well for someone coming fresh to the book with no preconceived ideas, but it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. 5 stars for the book, of course, but only 4 for the reading.

"You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
The perfect ending…

NB This audio-disc set was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

42 thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen read by Lindsay Duncan

  1. FictionFan – Pride and Prejudice is most definitely a classic for all of the reasons you outlined. And it’s interesting to me what a big difference the narration makes, even in a case like that where you know the novel is excellent. Reminds me that I should pick up some Austen again…

    • I’m going through a bit of an Austen phase again as these audiobooks are being released. Although the narrators don’t always chime with my imaginings, i still find them interesting – they make me think about why I disagree with the interpretation, if I do…

  2. The professor must admit that you know how to write fantastic book reviews! And this is definitely not an exception. If I didn’t know better–which, of course, I do–I would be interested!

    Anyway, it’s interesting that you should quote that paragraph since the professor took some issue with it. You see, it seems to say–to the professor–that, by the marriage, Darby’s mind and manners would be improved, and Lizio’s importance in the world would be improved. Vexation!

    I can’t help it. But every time the professor sees that Lizio, he thinks of Peter Parker’s aunt–if you know what I mean.

    • Thank you, dear C-W-W – very generous under the circumstances…and 😆

      No, no, no!! Lizio would gain a better appreciation and understanding of the world through Darby’s steady and upright moral outlook – an influence she sadly lacked in her own upbringing from her feckless parents. It’s that good influence that is of greater importance in improving her mind and character – greater importance than what she brings to the marriage (in her opinion, though not mine) – her good humour and ease in company. (I’ll stop now…promise!)

      Peter Parker’s aunt? Isn’t he Spiderman?? Again 😆

      • It’s very true! (Plus an ‘an’ in the second sentence.)

        I see! Thank you for making that clear to the professorish mind. Maybe you should write a report about it? 😉 Personally, I liked Lizio’s dad…

        Yes. I’m pretty sure that Lizio’s mom played Parker’s aunt. You see, there’s some sense in the professorish rambles.

        • Fixed! 😀

          I thought I just did… 😉 I liked him too, but he was a bit pathetic as a dad wasn’t he? Lizio warned him not to let Lydia go to Brighton, but would he listen? Men!! Tchah!

          I see – though I haven’t seen it, if you see what I mean. Though if she’s in it, maybe I should…I thought she was brilliant as Lizio’s mum (please note: Lizio did not have a ‘mom’…)

          • 😀 Thanks!

            Oh yes, you did. The professorishness meant maybe you should write a double-length one. Just a thought. It was really nice.

            Very true. But I think all those years with his wife destroyed his mind, don’t you think so?

            No, in real life she’s Lizio’s mom. Am I confusing you?

            (She didn’t?)

            • Is the Professor by any chance laughing FEF to scorn? 😉

              I do think you have a valid point there – but it serves him right for picking a wife purely for her looks…

              😆 Baffling is the word I would use. I haven’t a clue who we’re talking about…

              No Brit has a mom – it’s just another example of the American prejudice against the innocent ‘u’!

            • Nope, not at all. The professor doesn’t do that sort of thing. He’s a gentleman.

              Ah, is that what happened? Maybe he was a bit low on discriminating wit, then.

              Okay. The person who played Liz, her mom–in real life, mind you–plays Peter Parker’s aunt in Spiderman. Better?

              😆 Do they have duds too?

            • Of course he is – I’d forgotten for a moment! 😉

              I think he may have been. But not as low as Mrs Bennet…

              Aha! Well, goodness, what a fascinating piece of information! I really must watch Spiderman now…is it good?

              😆 Pups…

            • I don’t watch many movies at all, really, but I do enjoy action films occasionally, though usually more the Die Hard type thing than comic hero stuff. I’ll look out for it turning up on one of the movie channels…

              The Keira Knightley one, do you mean? I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it. I know this is going to sound weird (and I mean no offence to Jennifer Ehle!) but Keira Knightley is way too gorgeous to be Lizzie and Mathew McFadden isn’t my idea of Darby at all… I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a bit fussy and opinionated about P&P 😉

  3. Ah, the wonderful Ms Ehle (we agree on this, even though – sacrilege to some – I never quite found Mr Firth was the definitive Darcy) Mind you – I was always (okay, wheel in the therapist with the encouraging Mittel European accent) more attracted to Rochester and that epitome of the bad lad, Mr Healthcliffe (Please don’t put Kate Bush on the turntable. Turntable? I mean, of course, the youPlayerITube

  4. Five stars for the book – now there’s a surprise! Glad you’re enjoying the re-reads, but this won’t be helping your TBR pile..

    • Haha! I guess the five different versions of the Collected Works on my shelves gave the game away, eh?

      I’m taking a new approach – ever since I started this reviewing nonsense I’ve hardly done any re-reading, and I miss it. It’s much more relaxing than always reading new stuff. So I’m rebelling…

    • Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      No it’s a free theme – Titan. I can’t change fonts either, but I get a few options for Headers, and I can change the colour of the type (though I can’t change the background colour of the theme unfortunately.) Every theme seems to allow different things…

  5. I had to check and see just how slanderous the Professor’s words against you were – this is no rip, it is a wonderful review! I see we both feel the same about dear Lizzie, and I love how you threw Rochester in there (sorry to the the Misses Eyre, but neither sister has anything on Austen). This review simply reaffirms what I knew all along – that Pride and Prejudice is one of the best books out there.

    • Thank you! I agree – Jane Eyre doesn’t compare. Too much angst, too little humour. And Rochester will never be Darcy…

      But the Prof’s slander is based on my rip of Sense and Sensibility – not the Austen version, though… the new Joanna Trollope remake. He’s so wicked… 😉

      • You’re welcome! It absolutely doesn’t. I found both Eyre sisters to be a bit too gothic for me. Oh indeed! Darcy would never keep a wife in the attic…(Lady Catherine might have done that to Sir Lewis though – I firmly believe she had something to do with his death).

        Ah, I see! I shall have to read that one next then! How very devious of him!

          • But did Mr. Collins ever meet Sir Lewis? I always got the impression that he came after. Do you ever get the feeling that Mr. Collins is infatuated with Lady Catherine? It wouldn’t be true love, because I’m pretty sure he is too narcissistic to really love anyone but himself, but he is very…enthusiastic about anything regarding Lady Catherine.

            • I think you’re right – I think he did come after. I’ve always assumed Mr Collins is just enthralled by her position in society and thinks her glory rubs off on him, combined with the fact that he seems to really enjoy her being so rude to him. They really deserve each other though…

            • That sums up about perfectly. He does seem to be absolutely enthralled by her position in society (which she married into!) I think if she told him to jump off a cliff, he might actually consider it. Then he would end up falling off, because he couldn’t decide.

  6. I always find it most interesting to read other people’s opinions on Austen, Pride and Prej, and, of course, Elizabeth Bennet. And that is because I personally despise all three. I often wonder if there is something wrong with me, or whether I missed something drastically important, because so many people speak most fondly of them all. But despite my dislike of Elizabeth, it is definitely true she is a strong character, and respect to her for standing her ground on the whole marriage situation.

    • Hmm – ‘despise’ seeems rather a strong reaction. But then that’s the joy of literature – one woman’s chocolate fudge cake is another woman’s bowl of cold porridge! 😉

      • It is a strong word, and I rarely use it. Maybe it is too strong, but the point is: I really don’t like it 😉 Haha, indeed! What a way of putting it 🙂

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