Pride and Prejudice
Miniature Masterpieces --BBC Radio 4 Open Book
Real Reads are very clear about their audience: firstly, for `intelligent young readers' they will provide a bridge to the full texts, and secondly for those who are `unlikely ever to read the original versions' they give access to literary classics. The books are attractive, with fine illustrations by Ann Kronheimer that serve both to make them approachable and support the narrative. As such, they seem ideal as low ability key stage 3 class readers and something of a salve to teachers tasked with teaching pre-1914 fiction to those working below NC level 4, as well as texts for independent reading among more fluent readers. The claim is that the texts honour the context and structure of the original and that they `retain much of the author's vocabulary, style and tone'. This is certainly true of the Austens. Indeed, Gill Tavner's language in the Jane Austen Real Reads is neither facile nor simplistic, and one of the benefits of using these texts as class readers, as opposed to, say, a modern children's novel, is that the vocabulary is difficult. This is appealing, because a class reader shouldn't be easy it should be above what pupils can easily manage independently. Willoughby, for example, is `uncommonly handsome, with a masculine gracefulness' and Elizabeth Bennett's `delicacy abandoned her.' By the same token, the complexity militates against pupils feeling patronised by content intended for a much younger audience, or stigmatised by the fact that they are not reading an adult text. There is something of the original flavour of Jane Austen retained too. We do read, for example, that a `single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,' albeit courtesy of Mrs Bennett. Lucy Steele has `sharp little eyes' and Emma's rudeness to Miss Bates was `badly done'. Condensing novels that exceed 400 pages in their original form into just 64 pages brings with it significant streamlining of the plot. Given the complexity of the vocabulary, though, this is perhaps quite an appealing thing for the teacher of low ability readers. The texts go some way to redressing this through a `Taking things further' section at the back of the book. One part is entitled `Filling in the Spaces', and this highlights where significant omissions and changes have been made to the original plot, so the fact that Frank Churchill has repeatedly postponed visits to his father, for example, gives us some sense of his somewhat capricious character that is not altogether apparent from the retelling. There is also some useful contextualising of events in the novel in this section: the fact, for example, that Catherine Morland's `father is a clergyman, which helps to explain why her family has only a moderate income', and in Persuasion that Wealth and titles could not normally be inherited by daughters,' with the result that William Elliot is set to inherit Kellynch. At the lower end of the price range for class readers, the excellent and durable quality of the books presents a good investment at £4.99 RRP for individual texts, perhaps a more practical purchase for departments than the Jane Austen 6-book boxed set at £24.99 RRP. --Jane Campion - English Association
JANE AUSTEN was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics.