Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen

Title:Pride and Prejudice
Author:Jane Austen
Publisher/s:T.Egerton (1813); Wilco (2015)
Publication date:1813
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have always loved the language of Jane Austen. It is always a comfort and a pleasure to immerse yourself in the language and the imagery of a bygone era. Picking up a classic such as Pride and Prejudice is not without its own challenges as one is inclined to be influenced by general opinion. In so many ways this novel is also all about first impressions and how gossip and hearsay are not always the best direction to take. As with most great things in life (literature and love for example) it is therefore preferable to make up your own opinion, and not simply rely on the criticisms and ideas of others.

Elizabeth Bennet our heroine, lives with her mother, father and her four sisters – Mary, Jane, Lydia and Kitty – at Longbourn. Their mother Mrs Bennet, is determined that each daughter should be married off to wealthy men as soon as possible. Throughout the novel she is consumed with finding suitable partners for each daughter. Mr Bennet on the other hand could be considered somewhat liberal in comparison, and is remarkably conscientious of each daughter’s personal happiness. It is of a sensitive nature that Mrs Bennet is determined her daughters should not be left poor, and it is a known fact that if Mr Bennet were to pass away the property at Longbourn would unfortunately not be inherited by a female member of the family, but rather by a male. This of course is another added pressure of being one of the Bennets. In a society ruled by class, wealth and association it is refreshing to experience such independence of speech and thought as that from Elizabeth Bennet.

As is the norm in such novels from that particular period there a lot of dances and social functions in which the daughters have ample opportunities to meet men. At one particular ball the Bennets will be introduced to a Mr Bingley and a Mr Darcy. Bingley will very quickly become the object of Jane Bennet’s affection, but Mr. Darcy will garner very little affection from anyone when he dismisses Elizabeth and is in fact downright rude. Elizabeth soon begins to hear stories associated with Darcy that do not place him in a favorable light. Soon after the ball Elizabeth will have forgotten Darcy, and will be on the receiving end of a proposal by a promising member of the clergy, a Mr Collins.

This apparently does not suit Elizabeth, and she soon finds herself dismissing Collins and rather entangling herself with the love lives of her sisters who are more prone to making rash decisions. Whilst Elizabeth may seem more likely to act spontaneously, it is Lydia the youngest who runs off with Mr. Wickham, a former friend of Mr. Darcy’s. In the melee that follows this scandal Elizabeth is forced to participate in the gossip surrounding Mr. Darcy. It seems he is not very well liked and Elizabeth is determined to avoid him at all costs.

In the meantime Jane is in love with Mr Bingley who seems to have disappeared, Kitty is jealous of her sister’s engagements and Mary simply hides away in her room with her books (which considering the mess all her sisters are in doesn’t seem like such a terrible option). Elizabeth also spends quite a bit of time with her adoring aunt and uncle who during an unplanned day trip end up at Pemberley estate, the home of Mr Darcy. It is here where she will learn some surprising information about both Mr Wickham (Lydia’s beau) and his long ago connection with Darcy.

Elizabeth spends so much time worrying over her sister’s affiliations and social standing that she forgets her own beauty and capability. One of the most memorable quotes for all the wrong reasons is during the first ball in which Darcy is present. Remarking upon his meeting with Elizabeth, Darcy proclaims:

“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me”

Upon this proclamation it would be very easy to simply judge Mr Darcy as is the case with the rest of Elizabeth’s family and friends. Of course that would make this a very short novel with very little chance of a happy or at least satisfactory ending. Not unlike the characters in Pride and Prejudice I too based my opinion on the famous pairing of Bennet and Darcy on my exposure to them through the great medium of film. I watched Meg Ryan’s character in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail arguing with Tom Hanks over Elizabeth and Darcy, of how she would reread the book and would always wonder about them getting together in the end. I suppose that’s part of the appeal of any great romance. Not being a huge romance reader myself I am inclined to believe that a little mystery is important in any relationship and there is certainly oodles of that between our protagonist and the aloof character whom I have been told by numerous sources should only ever be portrayed on the silver screen by the ever-delightful English actor Colin Firth. I have been told on several occasions that he is in fact Mr Darcy and after finally reading this classic I am inclined to agree. I digress…

Pride and Prejudice is deserving of it’s place as one of the greatest love stories and one of the classics because of its effortless dive into the very subversive idea of marrying for love. Subversive only because everything in Elizabeth Bennet’s world is working against that very notion. Our role as the reader is to support Elizabeth’s choices, even though at times it will be frustrating to witness her navigate a very unforgiving society that usually does not allow for second chances. Our other role is to ask the pivotal question, always: Will Elizabeth Bennet end up with Mr. Darcy?

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