I have a confession to make.
I’m one of those people who have not read Pride and Prejudice. I tried. Heck, I tried. Years ago when my best friend Liz kept raving about it, citing the complex plot and the beauty of the language and so on, I borrowed her lovingly yellowed copy and gave it a go. I was in my 20s, mind you.
Made it to around page 10. I stumbled on the style and prose, not used to either. Confused by all this talk of balls and marrying well and details of social fluttery things I had no interest in whatsoever, I gave up…and dozed off.
A year later, I thought: I didn’t really give that book a chance. I want to understand what Liz appreciates. I need to see how Colin Firth made it big!
"I'm...too sexy for this suit, too sexy for this--" © BBC - bbc.co.uk/drama
What I didn’t want was to cheat and watch some movie or TV series just to find out what the fuss is about. I wanted to read and experience the story for myself, to marvel in its original written form. And no, Bridget’s Jones Diary does not count.
I picked up the book again. This time I fell asleep by page 12, and ever since, Pride and Prejudice would always represent that literary Shangri-la, setting off fears that I might secretly be an uncultured swine. But surely it can’t be! I’ve tackled Poe, basked in Sherlock Holmes, read every damn classic of adventure and horror and intrigue. If it had pirates, knights, swashbucklers, rampaging robots and murderers most foul, I would be all over the pages.
But the Bronte sisters, D.H. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, on and on – there was a whole world of authors and poets out there whose works I didn’t know. And Pride and Prejudice stuck like a facehugger down my gullet.
Until I unearthed this treasure at the charity shop today. I actually gasped. A gamebook. Of Pride and Prejudice! Genius.
I absolutely adore gamebooks. Something about them endlessly fascinates me, the concept of changing the outcome of the tale by your decisions, giving you the illusion of freedom within the story. Somewhere on my shelves back home are stacks of nearly every Fighting Fantasy gamebook in existence, Grey Star, the hilarious Grailquest, the sadly shortlived Fabled Lands, Blood Sword, Sorcery, Duelmaster series, the inspired Black Baron and White Warlord…and too many Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks.
I even have gamebooks featuring the Famous Five and Nancy Drew, so there, my geekiness is complete ;P
So I brought my find home and turned the pages, aware that the author – an Austen specialist it seems – would have to adapt a large part of the original work. But as long as she kept to the spirit of the classic, I didn’t mind compromising. This, then, will be my first determined journey into the heart of Pride and Prejudice. Surely this will be interesting.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception. Christened Elizabeth Bennet, you are tolerably beautiful (Chris: Good. I’m sick of drop dead gorgeous heroines) and moderately accomplished. You are the daughter of misguided but well-meaning parents and live with them and your four sisters. You are of a happy disposition and have hitherto whiled away your years reading (I’m starting to like this chick), walking and enjoying what limited society Meryton has to offer. A recent event, however, threatens to disturb your tranquility: a man of large fortune has let a nearby manor house. It is the first in a long chain of events that will require you to face difficult decisions and impolite dance partners. Equipped only with your wit and natural good sense, your mission is to marry both prudently and for love, eluding undesirable suitors and avoiding family scandals which would almost certainly ruin any hope of a financial advantageous marriage for you or any of your sisters”.
Reading that opening page reminded me why I disliked the classic. It was one of those novels that seem to imply you need a man to complete your happiness. This just sits uncomfortably with me. Why couldn’t one be single and happy like myself?
…Okay, perhaps I’m not the greatest example in the world. How about single and content? Do we really need to be married to define your worth as a person? But anyway, I was playing the role of Elizabeth Bennet, and at least she was not a ditz. Look at this, the game even awarded me 200 points for Intelligence and Confidence (yay!) but only 50 points for Connections and Fortune (boo).
Bing, Bing, Bing
The story starts with my character going with my sisters to a party attended by one Mr Bingley (a name that summons images of church bells). Apparently my ‘mother’ yearns for one of us to attain Mr Bingley’s heart, but it is during this party that the ladies start buzzing about that Mr Darcy, who is predictably tall, handsome and rich. (They never point out the ones with a sense of humour..)
And then comes the part when my character overhears Mr Bingley commenting to Darcy about how I appear to be without a dance partner. Only for Darcy to coolly say: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”
What? That jerk! And Elizabeth is supposed to fall for this guy?!
Later my character describes this to the rest of the family, and my parents are suitably outraged. Mama, however, is thrilled Mr Bingley kept dancing with Jane, and nurses high hopes real wedding bells would ring this time, which would make her ecstatic as Jane is “her favourite daughter”. Whereas you continue to be a disappointment, opines the narrator’s voice in bold, which startled me.
Nonetheless I was getting into the story. Maybe Darcy said that for a reason. Maybe he was having male PMS that day. I had to read on.
The Silliest Decision in the World
My ‘mother’s’ mercenary tactics to marry off her daughters was beginning to disturb me. My sister Jane receives an invitation to dine at Mr Bingley’s manor, but Mama refuses to lend her a carriage. Instead the woman insists Jane go on horseback so my sister will get caught in the rain and be asked to stay the night, all to allow her more Bingley quality time!
Later we receive the note telling us poor Jane caught a bad cold. I am refused horse and carriage to see her, and instead of kicking Mama, my character opts to walk the three miles to Netherfield, which makes me rather proud. (Add “Love of Walking” to your list of Accomplishments).
I climb a gate and find myself in an unfamiliar field. And to my horror, I arrive at my very first fateful decision. The decision that’s supposed to change the course of the entire book. It was: To take the path to the left, turn to page 29. To take the path to the right, turn to page 20.
That’s it? This is the “difficult decision” I was promised? What do the paths even look like? Why is it so damn important to choose which road I go? Why didn’t I accompany Jane to that bloody manor?
I shook my head and chose left:
“After about half a mile you make a sudden turn into a path deeply shaded by elms on each side. You have advanced some way when you suddenly perceive, at a small distance before you, a party of gypsies. A child on the watch comes towards you to beg, causing you to let out a scream (Huh?). How the vagrants might have behaved had you been more courageous is doubtful, but such an invitation for attack cannot be resisted. You are soon assailed by half a dozen children, headed by a stour woman and a thickset boy. Growing more and more frightened, you promise them money and, taking out your purse, given them a shilling, begging them not to want more, or to use you ill. You are then able to walk forward, through slowly, and you move away from the group–but your fear and your purse are too tempting, and you are followed, or rather surrounded, by the whole gang, demanding more. When you confess that you have none, they set about attacking you until your face is so disfigured that you are never able to attract a husband all your livelong life.”
Narrator’s Voice: That didn’t take you long, did it? You have failed to complete your mission. You didn’t even get NEAR completing it, in fact. You deserve to be disfigured. Be ashamed.
…I am trying not to swear, but WHAT THE POTATO!? I scream just because a child approaches me to beg? What happened to my fabled wits? I am supposed to be intelligent! To have a backbone! What is all this pleading? I’m not even a gypsy and I feel insulted. “You deserve to be disfigured”??
What the potato!