From the desk of Tracy Hickman:
Could you tell the story of Pride and Prejudice in 60 pages and make the world of Regency England come alive for a young reader? I pondered this question before reading the author Susanna Davidson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. The Usborne Young Reading Series provides young readers with stories adapted from literature classics including works by Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Charlotte Bronte. Pride and Prejudice is a Level Three reader with an intended audience of young readers who are reading independently but are not ready for standard length books. How would a re-working of Austen’s masterpiece of complex social relations fare in this format?
Before I could turn my mind to this question, I was dazzled by the illustrations on the opening pages. Scenes of the Bennet family at Longbourn, Meryton quickly progressed to the Netherfield Ball where Elizabeth breaks her promise never to dance with Mr. Darcy. The soft, muted colors of the ladies’ gowns contrast with the scarlet regimentals of the militia and evening dress of the gentlemen. Earlier, at the Meryton assembly-room, the depiction of the entry of Mr. Bingley’s party is framed with architectural details from the walls and a chandelier hangs above the illustrated figures between the text. These elegant visual touches enliven the entire book. Lady Catherine’s Rosings glows with burnished gold and candlelight. Following Elizabeth’s rejection of Darcy, as she reads his letter, we see a facsimile of the letter above an atmospheric scene of the heroine out of doors. The illustrations evoke the emotion of many memorable scenes from the story. Many readers may note the resemblance of characters to the actors and actresses of the 2005 film adaptation. I particularly enjoyed looking for similarities and differences as I re-read the story.
Happily, the text retains several of my favorite conversations from the original. Mr. Bennet chides his wife about her much-overlooked nerves, “On the contrary, I know them well. They’re my oldest friends. You’ve talked about them for twenty years.” (5) Seated at the piano at Rosings, Elizabeth delivers a restrained but pointed critique of Mr. Darcy’s reticence with strangers, “That is because you do not make the effort. I am not talented at playing the piano, but I have always supposed that to be my fault, for not trying harder.” (29) And finally, the explosive scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine that ends with Lady Catherine declaring, “I am most seriously displeased.” (58)
An example of the expert trimming of the story by Ms. Davidson is her handling of Mr. Collins. He is not mentioned as the heir to Longbourn or suitor to Elizabeth in the early part of the story, thus we lose his hilarious pomposity until he comes on the scene as the husband of recently married Charlotte Lucas. “‘I see you are surprised by my choice of husband,’ said Charlotte, even though Lizzy had tried to hide it. ‘But I was never romantic, you know. I’ve only ever wanted a comfortable home. I’m not pretty like you, and would much rather have Mr. Collins than no one.’ Lizzy said nothing. She felt deeply that she could never marry without love.” (26)
The only possible criticism of this adaptation as far as appealing to young readers is the lack of physical adventure in the story. Other books in the Usbourne series include stories with more conflict and danger such as Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, and The Three Musketeers. In being true to Austen’s story, this adaptation retains her emphasis on personal relationships, social commentary and the emotional development of the hero and heroine.
Reading this adaptation reminded me of the hours I used to spend with favorite illustrated books, pouring over the pictures and imagining myself in the story. Many of these books contained just a handful of illustrations, but nonetheless, I returned to them again and again. How much more engaging for a young reader to have beautiful illustrations on nearly every page of this delightful book.
Any remaining Austen purists who may be resistant to the idea of a condensed version of Pride and Prejudice, may be reminded of Austen’s own adaptations of lengthy novels, such as Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, to create short works and theatricals for her family’s enjoyment. Engaging greater numbers of readers with Jane Austen’s work is a worthwhile goal. This adaptation succeeds with young readers experiencing an Austen story for the first time as well as with readers familiar with her sensitivity and subtle wit.
5 out of 5 Stars
- Pride and Prejudice (Usborne Young Reading Series), Adapted by Susanna Davidson, Illustrations by Simona Bursi
- Usborne Books (2011)
- Hardcover (64) pages
- ISBN: 978-1409522362
- Genre: Literary Classics, Children’s Books
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Usborne Books © 2011; text Tracy Hickman © 2014, austenprose.com.