I tried. I really did try. I picked up that book, peered at its small text, checked its heft and began to read. After all, the English Literature folk told us it was THE BOOK. Captivating, challenging, fascinated, filled with wonder and marvellous writing.
I open the page and begin to read:
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
A smile crosses my face. I know that bit. Everyone knows that bit - it's the whole point of the book (or maybe those literary mavens haven't read past the first line either). I plod on, characters unfold before me - assorted Bennet's some chap called Darcy and a gaggle of other girls, boys, men and women. I may, of course, be mixing my reading up with glimpses of TV and film adaptations. But whatever, it's just a book about gossip.
It is a dreadful indictment of English Literature that such glory is placed on this elaborately bedecked monument to the trite. Or so it seems to me - how a novel of manipulative gold-digging set in an exclusive, limited world got to be held up as such a paragon escapes me entirely. Yet it sets the tone for our literature - or at least for that literature considered to be "good" by the cognoscenti. A shallow little story - no breadth of vision, no painting of the world, just a pinched, narrow little place filled with gossip and tittle tattle, giggles and frills.
What sort of place are we if consider well-written but shallow stories to be the acme of literature. That 200 years after publication, whole pages in hundreds of newspapers, journals and magazines are given over to polishing a petty little story of 18th century middle-class gossip.
But then one of the moments I will cherish to my grave was the sight of Clive Anderson having to announce that "The Lord of the Rings" had beaten "Pride & Prejudice" to win the BBC's "Big Read"!
The right book won, of course.