Edited by Inger Sigrun Brodey

Cambridge Pride and Prejudice Disappoints

Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen.
Edited by Richard Bain.
Cambridge University Press, 1996.
382 pages. Paperback, $8.

Reviewed by Joan Klingel Ray.

With Cambridge University Press's imprimatur prominently featured on the spine and covers of this 1996-paperback edition of Pride and Prejudice, my first impressions---like Elizabeth Bennet's of Wickham's visage--were of confidence in its looks. But examination of the book (including the Introduction and materials that follow the novel such as Resource Notes, Glossary, and Further Reading) persuades me to paraphrase Mansfield Park's Mary Crawford and say, "I don't pretend to set publishers right, but I do see a lot in this edition that is wrong." Many of the exercises in the study sections show editor Richard Pain's failure to sense his audience; moreover, his editing of the glossary is rather slipshod.

The aim of the voluminous Cambridge Literature Series, of which this novel is part, is admirable: providing secondary school students with primary texts of literary classics, bound with classroom activities, at reasonable cost. The book, itself, is physically attractive, printed on nice quality paper, comfortable to hold, and sturdily bound. (A cover color photo of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in their Lizzie and Darcy costumes will catch the attention of all who saw the television series). But the edition's utility, particularly to the non-British reader, declines upon acquaintance.

For example, the introductory section, emphasizing the importance of money as it figures in the story, offers a chart comparing monetary amounts mentioned by Austen (e.g., Darcy's income, Wickham's debts, etc.) with modern money. But all amounts are in pounds sterling. Likewise, the thumbnail biographical sketch of Austen in the Resource Notes begins very well; however, Mr. Bain will most likely lose his intended student audience by paragraph three, where he compares Austen's modest authorial earnings with those of (again, in pounds sterling) "the modern novelist Martin Amis." The handful of local high school English teachers whom I informally surveyed told me that their students, ranging from those in regular to Advanced Placement English classes, would recognize neither Amis' name nor his literary reputation. Another exercise loses it punch on the same grounds when it asks students to evaluate P. D. James' calling Austen's novels "Mills and Boon with genius:" few American teens have ever heard of Mills and Boon.

Many of the exercises designed to engage students in active, participatory learning also reveal little sense of students' maturity. While many females, particularly, trace their love of Austen from their first reading Pride and Prejudice in their early teens--and I proudly count myself among them-- many of us in the teaching profession would agree that the earliest we would teach an Austen novel is to, say, sixteen to eighteen year-old students. I informally surveyed some local English teachers, who shamelessly confess to using any excuse to teach Austen. But for middle and/or junior high students, they resist the Austen lure and teach, instead, a novel such as To Kill a Mockingbird, on the grounds that Austen is just too sophisticated and dense for immature readers. Yet consider the following exercise, which is among the first student activities in the book: "Find an adult (for example, a parent, a teacher. . . a librarian) and ask them [sic]: what they know about... Austen; whether they have read any Jane Austen? . . . " If the lack of pronoun/antecedent agreement has not defeated the teacher's attempt to impart correct grammatical usage earlier in the class period, the immaturity of the exercise will certainly sound patronizing to high school students and thus lose their interest. Ironically, then, many of the activities are immature even though immature readers do not appreciate Austen. (And I doubt this was meant to illustrate Austenian irony.)

The bibliography for Further Reading lists a few titles of scholarly literary criticism. But ambitious students may be handicapped in locating citations from the novel in the criticism because this Cambridge edition uses continuous chapter numbers throughout, rather than the standard "volume:chapter" numbers of Chapman's Oxford edition.

If finding that Bain's chapter 46 corresponds to Chapman's III: 4 will prove tedious for students, then imagine their frustration when they first encounter a hack chaise, regimentals, lottery tickets, or a curricle, and- dutifully seeking clarification of these words in the Glossary--they find that Bain fails to define them (and several others) the first time they appear in the novel. The definitions of the words cited, for example, are keyed to their appearances on pp. 247 (a long way from p. 24, where we first read about a hack chaise, but at least closer to p. 241, where we read of a hackney-coach), 72, 83, and 276, respectively. For an edition designed to make Austen accessible to novice readers of Regency fiction, this glossary is particularly sloppy. Not only are many words not cited in their first usage, but many terms and words that need explanation
fail to have them, Thus, readers unfamiliar with Regency culture will read about net purses and find their definition properly keyed to p. 41; however, they will find no explanation of young ladies who also "paint tables [and] cover screens in the same sentence: were Regency females preparing for future occupations at Home Depot doing hardware work? Moreover, footnotes, despite printing costs, seem to be more user friendly than endnotes to student readers and thus more likely to be consulted than words in a glossary. (The Norton Critical Editions use footnotes.)

The final paragraph of Bain's edition, sub-headed The Internet, directs readers to the worldwide web to learn more about the author and her novels. But I would suggest that the most useful piece of information that potential new readers of Pride and Prejudice can find on the Internet is a list of other editions of the novel that would be more helpful to the American newcomer to Austen than this Cambridge edition.

Joan Klingel Ray, Professor of English and President's Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, has published on Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sanditon. She is Co- Coordinator of the 1999 AGM in Colorado Springs, "Emma: Austen at her Peak. "

JASNA News v.15, no. 1, Spring 1999

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