Melisa Jones clutches the complete works of Jane Austen. Jones looked at Pride and Prejudice as part of digital humanities studies at VIU. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo university grad re-reads Pride and Prejudice in the digital age

Melisa Jones examined Jane Austen’s best-loved novel for digital humanities coursework

Everyone has their favourite novels – not everyone painstakingly pores over the books sentence by sentence.

Melisa Jones, a Vancouver Island University grad, had the opportunity, as part of her digital humanities studies last year, to conduct an immersive project on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Jones said she’s obsessed with Austen’s novels, and has always had some of her own ideas about the messages and meaning in the author’s works.

“Professors I’ve had conversations with, they were like, ‘love is her most prominent theme through all her books,’ and I’m like, ‘I disagree,’” Jones said. “And that’s where my project came from. I wanted to code every single thing.”

Computer technology, specifically digital humanities applications, allowed Jones to input text and look for patterns in a novel published in 1813. The computer can’t do everything – Jones, armed with a spectrum of highlighters, considered every sentence in Pride and Prejudice from a thematic perspective. It became complicated, as certain passages contain overlapping themes of love and class, sometimes underlined with obvious humour, sometimes with more subtle irony.

“If someone isn’t used to reading the classics or isn’t familiarized with them, when they see the name Jane Austen they initially think romance,” Jones said. “But once you actually start reading, she’s more known for her wit. She is actually hilarious.”

As Jones suspected, themes of class were most pronounced, proving that Pride and Prejudice is in its essence more than the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

“There’s always surprises and it wasn’t so much what I was finding, it was how much I was finding,” Jones said.

Though she graphed the novel in original ways, Jones’s general conclusions align with other studies of Austen’s work. Anna Quindlen, literary commentator, wrote in a 1995 essay that Pride and Prejudice is about true and false moral values “in a society that sometimes seems to find value only in great fortune and high position.”

Jones, now an English and creative writing grad, plans to continue studies in digital humanities and anticipates enrolling in a master’s program at the University of Victoria in the future. Career opportunities are expanding, she said, as libraries and governments are always digitizing texts.

As for the Pride and Prejudice project, Jones received a good grade, though she hasn’t published her coursework because she considers it still in progress. So there’s a lot more re-reading in store.

“By the end of the project I was like, ‘I’m probably never going to read it again’ … I’m re-reading it again,” she said. “I love Austen so much. It’s her different way of writing and I find the more I read her novels, the more I was like, ‘man, I missed that the last time I read it.’”

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