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Campus Classics

Sept-October 2010

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Inspired by the Ten Essential Penguin Classics video, Christopher Syrnyk chose the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as the fifth installment in his Introduction to Literature course.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a professor in possession of a good course idea, must be in want of methods to keep the course exciting.

To defamiliarize students on day one of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I asked them to sit with women and men on opposite sides of the room. I hoped the students would take to heart a more palpable separation of the sexes, which 18th-19th-century British decorum and social structure would have required of them at gatherings. Austen manages so well this sense of the physical distance her characters often suffer near each other (even at close quarters), and I wanted my students to understand how being in the same room made it no easier to be together. To understand this much-loved novel of manners, I compared the Tony Tanner original Penguin Classics Introduction (1972)—a year the U.S.A. underwent fundamental cultural changes concerning the rights of women—with Vivien Jones's Introduction (1996), which sets up the latest edition. From these two Introductions, we deduced that this novel's place as a classic stems from its enduring connection readers feel regarding those public and private emotional experiences Austen depicts which mark the changes that make life worth living, and those moments we mark in life which have forever changed us. Austen's essential truth is that to be human entails a collaborative effort, managed poorly or fortunately by individuals.

Noting how Austen's novel continues to inspire us, I devoted a lecture to tracing a line from Pride and Prejudice, to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, to Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I posited a feminist argument that each iteration of Austen's novel represented the further development of her female characters and the evolution of their marriage situations. By circling back to the original literary terra firma, Grahame-Smith's rendition, nay, homage, invites us to make room in our imagination for an alpha-female version of Elizabeth Bennet. In this latest rendition, she has done herself, and Meryton, a more public service by developing her expert combat skills, which verbally allow her to spar more artfully with Mr. Darcy and physically allow her to lay waste more artlessly to a sizable déclassé horde of British brain-eating zombies.

Christopher Syrnyk
Instructor of English—Liberal Arts Transfer Program
Madison Area Technical College
Course: Introduction to Literature