Pride and Prejudice
© 1813 Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is the old story of girl meets boy, girl declares boy to be Worst Man in the World and humiliates him,, girl’s family is saved from social and financial ruin by boy and she decides he’s alright after all. And there’s dancing, lots of dancing.
It’s more serious than that, of course. Pride and Prejudice has “~Classic~” status, which means it’s a book you’re liable to have been assigned in school, and which literate people expect you to have read. I’ve never explored the world of Austen, though, because – well, didn’t she write romances? But the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication passed recently, and since I’d been intrigued by descriptions of Mr. Darcy as a model for gentlemanly behavior, I decided to explore it. Romance and marriage do dominate the story, which is largely one of the efforts of the main character’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, to get her five daughters hitched. But dashing young gentlemen are fickle, and it’s so hard to imagine how plain Mary or silly Lydia could attract a man – not to mention Elizabeth, who is stubborn and opinionated and not at all interested in settling for the first propertied fellow who wanders into the family estate.
Published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice‘s language has all the frills and ruffles of a stylish hoop skirt. It’s a ball to read, but considerately more challenging than the simple staccato of modern prose. Spending time with Elizabeth Bennet is well worth the effort, however: she’s a strong spirit, quick to speak her mind and stand up for herself against pompous individuals who try to belittle her for her sex or social status She’s wonderfully sarcastic to boot. Despite being praised for her keen intelligence, however, she’s easily contented with hearsay, and passes quick judgment on those she’s introduced to. The aforementioned Mr. Darcy finds her dismissal of him intriguing and despite the fact that she’s less gently born than him, she ensnares his attentions. She thinks him at first the worst snob she’s ever met, but he’s given competition in that category by other characters — like the boorish Mr. Collins, her pompous cousin who was born into poverty but who has become wealthy thanks to attracting the favor of an aristocratic lady — a lady who happens to be the aunt of Mr. Darcy. The world of the landed gentry is small indeed.
Pride and Predjuce is a lovely story, full of grace and humor but sometimes difficult to take seriously, which may be deliberate. Worrying about romance seems to be the chief occupation of most of the characters, who spend their days talking and their nights dancing. The work that produces the money they’re obsessed with is done by invisible Other People — the kind Dickens wrote novels about. I’ll definitely be tempted to read more of Austen, but first I want to poke my nose into Jane Eyre. But before that, I’ll be reading a book that’s very much like Pride and Prejudice, but with a rather deliciously funny twist.