“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
And that opening line, ladies, and gentlemen, sums up the entirety of the plot of “Pride and Prejudice,” as Austen’s subtle humor allows us to watch the Bennets attempt to dispose of their five daughters as honorably as they may, to worthy men. There is little to be said of this wonderful novel, that hasn’t been mentioned many times already, but I understand that people, especially those that are my age, tend to put aside classic literature in their thoughts. I would like to demonstrate why it is still a heart-warming, funny and insightful read.
Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” came to us from an era where the sovereign thought of a woman was of no value. She was required to be little more than a pretty face up until she was married and beyond that she was to be a responsible wife and a caring mother. Her writing, therefore, gives us her intelligent and astute insight of women and society from her era like few other resources can.
Having said this, I feel that the book is still relatable today, 200 years later. It is a story of romance, marital affairs and the barriers that must exist in a society where relationships are dominated by the necessity for economic stability and connections and social status. Perhaps this was more apparent in Georgian England of the late 1700s, but even to this day, the same incentives induce us to act exactly as we would have had we lived then. It is only a shift in our perspective.
I understand that the title of this review is a little misleading, but I wanted to make a point: The people who love this novel adore it for its characters. The headstrong, self-reliant, forthright and charismatic protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, her eccentric and cynical father who uses his sense of humor to put her narrow-minded and frustratingly ignorant mother in her place, the pompous and conceited Mr. Collins, the (spoiler alert :))) deceitful Mr. Wickham, the amiable Mr. Bingley and the infuriating, distant, proud and ultimately endearing Mr. Darcy.
Jane Austen’s storytelling does justice to the romance and the friendships of the story by focusing both on her characters and the bonds she creates between them, choosing not to spend time on the frivolities involved in such matters, but on the awkward moments and the chases, often viewed from the shrewd and keen aspect of Lizzy Bennet.
As for her style of writing, she wrote without all the flowery and buttery phrases that you see in other classic literature, making it easy to follow her words. I’ll end with an excerpt from the book – a dialogue between the protagonists and Mr. Darcy’s cousin, that might better depict their characters:
When coffee was over, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabeth of having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly to the instrument. He drew a chair near her. Lady Catherine listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her other nephew; till the latter walked away from her, and making with his usual deliberation towards the pianoforte stationed himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer’s countenance. Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the first convenient pause, turned to him with an arch smile, and said,
“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
“I shall not say you are mistaken,” he replied, “because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.”
Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire—and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too—for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear.”
“I am not afraid of you,” said he, smilingly.
“Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of,” cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I should like to know how he behaves among strangers.”
“You shall hear then—but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball—and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.”
“I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.”
“True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.”
“Perhaps,” said Darcy, “I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”
“Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?” said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”
“I can answer your question,” said Fitzwilliam, “without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.”
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—
because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”
Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”