Political Satire in Pride and Prejudice?

pride and prejudiceMonday our LITClub met to enjoy the classic novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It was my third time to discuss this story with a group of teenagers and their moms.

I learned two things.

The third time around brought me enjoyment of the story.

There is more to Austen’s story than love, marriage, pride and prejudice.

The first thing I learned

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time about ten years ago. I was very new to reading classical literature so it was hard work for me. I remember saying to Jim, my husband, “I just don’t get it. What is so great about this story? I’m having a difficult time just getting through it!” (To all of you Jane Austen fans, keep reading because I didn’t give up).

In 2009, I read Pride and Prejudice for the second time when James was in 9th grade. I was so happy that it was easier to read this time. I remember saying to James, “I love the humor in this story.” I felt happy that I found enjoyment instead of drudgery?

Last month I read Pride and Prejudice for the third time and found it pleasurable. The story flowed for me. The humor was funnier and the story was more cohesive. I felt so good about this. Another benefit is that I was able to encourage first time readers in our LITClub to push through. If that wasn’t enough, I learned another wonderful thing about this book. It’s a satirical novel.

SatireThe second thing I learned

I usually do a little research about the books we read even when I have read them before. This time I read an article that clued me into the idea that Pride and Prejudice is a satirical novel. I wrote down the definition of satire and devised a way to teach it to the kids at our meeting. I love reading short children’s stories that show the element or technique I want to teach. Therefore, I Googled, satire in children’s books and chose The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss. I tucked the book away until Monday night at our meeting. (I am sharing this point with you in case you are a LITClub facilitator — to remind you that knowing everything before the meeting isn’t necessary. Your job is to spread out a smorgasbord for the children. You don’t have to taste everything beforehand.)

The neatest thing happened!

The kids made connections about Austen’s satire that never occurred to me. Here’s what happened.

I asked the teenagers if they would feel insulted if I read a child’s story to them to illustrate satire. They laughed and said it was fine. I read it to them the same way you read to five year olds: with as much expression as I could manage and I showed them the pictures after each set of pages. Midway through Jared said, “A Zook is really a nuke.” I kept reading, but he was right.

At the end I asked them what was going on in this story? Immediately they launched into the Cold War. Such sharp kids! We discussed possible reasons Dr. Seuss might have written this book.

With a clear understanding about satire we moved on to the possibility of Pride and Prejudice being a satirical novel. The best I could offer was that I saw an oddity about the serenity of their environment juxtaposed to the wars that were going on around Austen’s world. This puzzled me, but I didn’t see the satire in it. (I share this for all you facilitators out there to see that it’s okay to enter the conversation without the answers. The kids usually have them).

Armed with the definition of satire and the example proposed in The Butter Battle Book, listen to the satirical possibilities that the teenagers suggested.

– Jake “During Austen’s time, Europe was getting used to dealing with America. Wickham and Lydia could represent America. Lydia ran off with him like the colonists ran off, then once they became a nation, Europe had to accept them, and even became allies. They rejected the ‘old standards ‘ and rules, but once they were a nation, the rest of the world had to tolerate them.”

– Ella “Often when a house is described in P&P it reflects the owner’s nature.  For instance, when Elizabeth describes Pemberly the same description can be used to describe Darcy.”

– Rachel “During the time that Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, Napoleon wanted to know everything and be in control of everything. Therefore, I think Austen used Elizabeth’s mother to represent Napoleon.” [paraphrased]

“In Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte is crowned Napoleon I, the first Frenchman to hold the title of emperor in a thousand years. Pope Pius VII handed Napoleon the crown that the 35-year-old conqueror of Europe placed on his own head.

The Corsican-born Napoleon, one of the greatest military strategists in history, rapidly rose in the ranks of the French Revolutionary Army during the late 1790s. By 1799, France was at war with most of Europe, and Napoleon returned home from his Egyptian campaign to take over the reigns of the French government and save his nation from collapse. After becoming first consul in February 1800, he reorganized his armies and defeated Austria. In 1802, he established the Napoleonic Code, a new system of French law, and in 1804 he established the French empire. By 1807, Napoleon’s empire stretched from the River Elbe in the north, down through Italy in the south, and from the Pyrenees to the Dalmatian coast. “(According to http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/napoleon-crowned-emperor) [Napoleon’s first significant defeats were in 1812, a year before Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. For much of her life he was raging war and seeking to control.]

– Kenzie “There was war all around Jane Austen’s world. When wars break out each side wants its way or they wouldn’t be fighting. In Pride and Prejudice everyone wanted things their way.”  [paraphrased]

What examples of satire do you see in Pride and Prejudice?  

Want Help Starting Your Book Club? Read This Post.

Want Help Starting Your Book Club? Read This Post.

Comments

  1. It’s so much fun (and so humbling) when kids get to the age that they begin to teach YOU things. When they are small, they teach you certain things about yourSELF. They teach you patience and loyalty and real love. But when they get to this age where they are able to discern real things in the world around them, to really dig in, and they can come up with answers you missed, it’s awesome. The transformation is so much fun to watch. I have read P&P twice, and I got the obvious satire involving greed, class, prejudice – all the major themes. But, I never even stopped to think about what her characters and symbols represented. Even if I had, I’m sure I wouldn’t have come up with all those answers!

  2. Well said, Christy. Don’t you just love this aspect of LITClub? To me, it is one of the biggest reasons I enjoy doing it month after month.

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