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Jonny McCambridge: Pride and Prejudice and the mysterious Kindle conundrum

News Letter logo News Letter 20/01/2021 Jonathan McCambridge
a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera © The BBC's highly acclaimed costume drama Pride and Prejudice comes to an end with the double wedding...

And so it has proven during lockdown, as I have filled countless hours of boredom with the consumption of novels, histories and biographies.

I declare there is no enjoyment like reading. How much sooner one tires of anything than a book, it has been written. Although, in my case, the tiredness tends to be universal and once I have got past a few pages, I usually doze off.

Recovering from one such recent case of dormancy I found that I stirred with a sudden urge to read a novel that I last digested back when I was young and carefree. As a GGSE English Literature student I was made to study Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Naturally, being at the time careless, ignorant, idle and vain, I did not immediately appreciate the treasure. Often have I regretted the agonies that I must have caused my English teacher, the excellent Mrs Flynn, through my inattention and immaturity.

However, something of the tale has stayed with me. When I was but one and twenty I was bewitched by the lavish BBC adaptation featuring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

But yet, until now, I had not returned to re-read the original novel, even though I felt intimately familiar with the story.

Thus I downloaded the Kindle version (one of the attractions of buying classic novels is that they are cheap, a suitable incentive for a man of a paltry few thousand a year) and, once I had sent my son to his chambers, began to read.

Oh, what joy was rediscovered in those pages, like the reacquaintance with a dear friend who has not been seen in many years. I intended only to read a few chapters before retiring from my library, but found myself so engrossed that soon I had devoured almost half of the weighty tome in one sitting.

By now the hour was late and I fretted that my son was likely to wake early and of the necessity of work the next morn. Coming to the point where Mr Darcy makes his first proposal of marriage to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I decided this was a suitable place to pause.

Therefore I could resume the next day with the chapter which reveals Darcy’s letter following his rejection, the dramatic fulcrum of the novel and the point where it is realised that all that we thought we knew is not so.

How slowly the hours crept past! While I tried to turn my attention to matters of business, in truth my thoughts were dominated with when I could return to my faithful Kindle and the compelling love story contained within.

And so, that evening, I recommenced my reading. I had not got but a few lines into the next chapter when it became clear that something was very wrong. Miss Austen’s fine and fluid prose had, to my eyes, been replaced by – if such a word can be used in a respectable publication – gibberish.

I rubbed my eyes and forced myself to read on, but soon it was clear that the error was not of my imagination. The words before me were not those of the classic novel, but instead of some barbarous imposter.

I flicked a few pages back. All was well. I scanned the future chapters – they were nonsensical. I knew not what to make of it and must have suffered some reddening of the complexion for at that moment my wife intervened.

‘Good God sir!’ she cried. ‘What is the matter? Are you ill?’

‘No, it’s this bloody Kindle,’ I responded. ‘It’s gone cuckoo!’

In frustration I downloaded a second version of the book. To my astonishment the pattern was repeated; the first half of the tale was truly told before the later chapters descended into some incoherent garble. I downloaded a third; yet again the abomination persisted.

Now, for some moments, I began to fear for my own sanity. I had to present the Kindle to my wife to ensure that what I was seeing on the page was actually there (in black and white, if you please), rather than some symptom of an ailment of my mind.

My desperation to read the rest of the book had not yet been satisfied so I now proceeded to download the Complete Works of Jane Austen (for the princely sum of 99p). I found Pride and Prejudice, scanned forward to the relevant chapter and…..discovered at last that all was as it should be.

Having the correct version so allowed me to compare the true details of Mr Darcy’s letter with the mysterious Kindle passages.

A sentence which should read: ‘I had not been long in Hertfordshire, before I saw, in common with others, that Bingley preferred your elder sister to any other young woman in the country,’ had instead become: ‘I had no longer been long in Hertfordshire, before I noticed, in not unusual with other, that Bingley favored your elder sister to another young girl inside the united states.’

Another passage: ‘Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever,’ became: ‘Her appearance and manners had been open, pleased and tasty as ever.’

A third: ‘….Georgiana, whose affectionate heart retained a strong impression of his kindness to her as a child,’ changed to: ‘…Georgiana, whose affectionate coronary heart retained a sturdy influence of his kindness to her as a toddler.’

Now, in conclusion, I must confess that while there are a small number of things in this modern world that I understand, by far the larger amount I do not. I tried to consider what had gone awry.

Perhaps the fault was with my Kindle (which admittedly is of a vintage model), but it seemed illogical because the first half of the book was accurately told.

Next, I considered that there had been some concerted sabotage of the novel by an unknown party, but the possible motivation for such an act escaped me.

Lastly, I pondered that perhaps some rogue algorithm had run amok within the system.

In truth there was no justification which satisfied me. Someone, somewhere will no doubt be able to explain it. I declare, I am much vexed.

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