At what age should you read Pride and Prejudice?

Firstly, apologies for the long absence of posts (I’ve been on holidays!). However, I’m back to blog again, and with a new question sent to me from a reader.

This isn’t a first for this question, and is definitely something I have thought about before as have many others.  I was about fourteen when I read the book, I understood it all and fell completely in love with it.  This seems, to me, to be the average appropriate age for a first reading.  But I have found that my understanding has changed with time, as has my appreciation of the language, characters and storyline.  When you’re in your younger teenage years, I feel as though you like it as a chick-lit type book, romantic slush that is a bit more sophisticated.  But now, as I leave my teens, I see it more as a mirror I can hold up to different types of people, and as a criticism of certain types of relationships- albeit with a happy ending.

It is a classic, and the language can be difficult for those under 12, I would imagine, but I think that anyone with a passion for reading over this age should find it fine.  However, on some forums people have told a fifteen-year-old that “It’s too advanced for you.” whereas others said “It is not difficult at all. I read it when I was 12.” So it seems that the jury is still, relatively, out on the topic and it has to be thought about in terms of a persons own strength as a reader.

One answer on Yahoo answers was particularly nice: “When one finds this book compelling, that’s the right age to read it. For some it is 12, for others 37.” and I think this sums up the whole ‘guide’ to reading it.  It’s for different people.  I’ve heard that when people came back to Pride and Prejudice at different ages, they found different things and were drawn in by it in different ways.  So, yes, it does depend on the person (you can’t really say “Is Pride and Prejudice good reading material for a ten year old?” and expect a universal reply) but I think that it should certainly be read before the age of 21, and then many times after that!  Afterall, as long as the language can be coped with, the plot is fantastic for everyone.

Of course, it’s likely to differ for boys.  I can’t imagine my 18 year old brother reading it at any time soon, but I hope that when he reaches his mid-thirties and grows out of the PS3, he might give it a try.  Or at least Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Maybe.

And for more compelling evidence that even us teenagers love the book, I found this article from BBC News showing that Pride and Prejudice ranked number 1 as a book the British nation can’t live without, and was voted second by under-18s.  I also wrote about this “Pride and Prejudice Phenomenon” over at Upstart online magazine- discussing what makes the book compelling for all generations, and the way it still fits into current society today (also features comments from JASA- Jane Austen Society of Australia volunteer Helen Malcher!).

So what do you think?  What age is optimum for reading the book?  Does its emphasis change as you get older?

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9 responses to “At what age should you read Pride and Prejudice?

  1. Sally Gee

    I would have to agree that the emphasis does, indeed, change over time… or perhaps a better descriptor for me would be that its nuances change. I first read Pride and Prejudice at 13, and loved every word of it. (I fell early into English novelists — Hardy, Tolkien, Austen — as a transition from English children’s authors.) But I read it then as a straight story, a wonderful story; and as many do who read it in adolescence, I fell in love with Mr Darcy.

    I am now 57 and I can’t say how many times I’ve read the book, too many to count as I reread it first in high school for class, and then at least once a year by choice, and have done since my college years. That’s a lot of readings. Yet every time, I find some little nugget that sparks me to think about the story in a new way. In high school, despite the analysis of it, I still saw it mostly as a straight story, I think — we talked about the irony and such, but I didn’t necessarily “get it.” Then a few years later, suddenly I did — and Austen’s magical gift of wit became clear to me as well as understanding the irony. Shortly after, a reading revealed how “real” her characters were, what an understanding of human nature Austen possessed. And on and on — understanding how masterly her use of specific language was; how masterly her talent and skill at crafting a ‘simple’ plot; the affection and even at times compassion she felt even for the characters she showcased for their foibles. All these things either hit me or slowly revealed themselves over time with subsequent readings.

    Now when I read it, I not only enjoy those, but particular passages will jump out at me and cause me to consider characters and motivations differently. (That could be because I have for a few years been writing Austen-based fiction myself… but that in fact supports the point that at different times, different stages of the reader’s life, she/he will naturally read it with an altered perception or focus.) For example, in a passage about Elizabeth walking to Netherfield to visit sick Jane, it mentions that the carriage was not to be had, but then adds that “and as she was no horsewoman, walking was her only alternative.” That little line is included, yet never mentioned again. It could have been left out with no detriment to the story; she could have merely stated that Elizabeth walked because the carriage was not available. So why did she add the phrase that Lizzy was no horsewoman?–because she did not include things to no purpose– so what does it tell us about Elizabeth? Possibly nothing; perhaps Austen simply was explaining why Lizzy didn’t ride as Jane had done the previous day, setting up the arrival in the breakfast room with hem six inches deep in mud and the healthy glow the walk gave to her complexion that Darcy so admires. Perhaps the readers of Austen’s day would have questioned why Lizzy didn’t ride as the next best alternative. Or perhaps it also gives us an insight into this otherwise independent, confident young woman; that perhaps she has vulnerabilities. I would never had considered that reading the story at age 13. (I found this tidbit so compelling when noted a couple years ago that I wrote a short story based on it.)

    I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book often, annually or more frequently if you love it. It will always be just that little bit different an experience for you. And I have only grown to love and appreciate all of Austen’s books the more for it. (Note: over time, even the books that weren’t my favorites of Austen have become treasured stories for my having gone back and read them, too!– some of that stemming from my life, some also from rereading and further appreciating P&P which led me to be able to see better the same qualities in her other books.)

    [Sorry for the long post... I get passionate about Austen, LOL]

    • thatjennie

      Your comment completely warmed my heart! I’ve had a few days off from blogging, as I re-read the book for my next Jane Austen Book Group meet in early July, and I completely agree with you.

      One of my favourite little considerations currently in Pride and Prejudice is fathoming just why Mr and Mrs. Bennet married in the first place. There are all these minute suggestions about their lives and mentioning of Mrs. Bennet’s previous beauty and things like that, so much so that I believe Austen must have thought up an entire back story for them both that she just didn’t insert. I often wonder what other characteristics and histories she had for the characters (the marriage with Mr. Hurst, that previous romantic attachment of Jane’s and so on). I am definitely considering writing some fanfiction of my own to this effect.

      I also find that reading it in different frames of mind really changes what it says to me. When I was going through some relationship difficulties it was quite empowering, and when my sister moved out and I read through passages I started to consider how Jane and Lizzy would last without each other!

      The line about Lizzy and horses is so intriguing! I find that Austen is incredibly accurate with what she wrote (remembering how far away each place was from the next, generally making the time frames correct), but despite this I think that her main talent was building the characters, and so I personally think that Austen may have inserted it to give us an insight, as I think that readers of the time wouldn’t have considered the alternative (or could have assumed that the other horses were being used by the family). Then again, I’m still building my knowledge on the era and could be completely off the mark.

      Thank you so much for reading the post and for sharing your experiences. I love meeting (virtually :D) other Janeites.

  2. Sally Gee

    Thanks, thatjennie. I enjoy meeting other Janeites as well.

    I heartily recommend you try writing some fanfic — I have found that love the book even more, and also appreciate Austen’s amazing skill even more, by trying to fill in some of those ‘back stories’ that she must have had. The simplicity, honesty and realism of her plots are impossible to replicate, and sometimes tortuous in the attempt, and yet wholly satisfying and fun, particularly those moments when you actually find you like your result. (Though I have often wondered if, as happens to me, Jane Austen found her characters occasionally overtaking her intended story and writing their own, LOL.)

    And one additional observation about the “horsewoman” scene, since you mentioned being interested in the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet. Here’s a few paragraphs where it occurs:

    “Well, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, “if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness — if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders.”

    “Oh! I am not at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long as she stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see her if I could have the carriage.”

    Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her, though the carriage was not to be had; and as she was no horsewoman, walking was her only alternative. She declared her resolution.

    “How can you be so silly,” cried her mother, “as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you get there.”

    “I shall be very fit to see Jane — which is all I want.”

    “Is this a hint to me, Lizzy,” said her father, “to send for the horses?”

    “No, indeed. I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner.”

    What I love about that is the implication that Mr Bennet would not oblige his wife with the carriage (to go make a nuisance of herself at Netherfield, despite that it would leave him in peace for a few hours, LOL) — but that he might just entertain it for his favorite daughter Lizzy. (I don’t believe he meant her to ride as opposed to the carriage, because of the plural of horses; besides that he would know his daughter was not a horsewoman.)

    These are the kinds of details I find utterly delightful when I reread it now, especially as (again) the exercise of writing “Austen” (though no one truly ever does) makes me SEE these interesting nuggets.

    By the way, I discovered your site via a Jane Austen Google search, and just want to tell you I have enjoyed the few posts I have read. (I replied to one other, I think, a while ago.)

  3. YoungWriter

    Mature 10 or 11 year olds, but probably around 12 years old. I read it when I was 11, though. I love it so much!

  4. I am 14, and wondering if the concepts of this book will be too difficult for me. I know its an amazing classic and all of the free Kindle books are classics (all of my Kindle money is gone so I am looking in the free section). Is pride and prejudice a good choice?

    • thatjennie

      Firstly, I will have to admit my own obvious adoration for the novel- and as such every piece of advice I give will be in its favour! Fourteen, in my mind, if the reader is fond of books and willing to acquire a lifelong love for an author long dead, is a perfect age to read this book.

      I read it myself at that age and fell absolutely head-over-heels for the characters, the wit and the commentary but it was only several reads and many years later that I truly appreciated it, and I don’t think that I will ever be done with learning more from re-reads.

      The concepts and scenarios themselves are simple enough and the complexities of the social commentary are such that any misunderstandings will not hinder an appreciation of the plot.

      I say download the novel immediately! Let me know how you enjoy it- and great to see another Kindle fan around!

      All the best with Lizzy and Darcy. JD

  5. jules

    i think here is the problem.. we give our children (18yr olds) a reason not to do the hard thing a read a book that may not beexciting ALL the time..really..this is what is wrong with kids today..they don’t read enough..my 10yr has read the book..and yes it was boring to her at times..but frankly just part of the deal…put donw the elctronics (and believe me mineis tied to her iPad0…but find a balance

  6. I actually just gave this book to my 9 year old. I don’t expect her to “get” everything. I gave it to her as a fun story to read that she might like.
    I know she will re-read it later in life, study it in school, etc.
    But I think it is important to give kids classic books that they will like, with no expectations of having them dissect it, write essays, or answer questions on it.
    I want my daughter to find enjoyment in reading classical books so that when she reaches the age of studying them in school it doesn’t seem like an arduous task.
    Next up will be Jane Eyre.

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