Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
Classic Literature — Fiction
Book-of-the-Month Club, 1996
Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813, although Jane Austen had written it between October of 1796 and August of 1797. This was at a time when women were expected to stay at home and just be a pretty face, not think for themselves, and not involve themselves in politics or careers (read: “men’s work”). Men were authors; women were not. Austen’s father first submitted Pride and Prejudice to a publisher in 1797, under the title First Impressions, but it was rejected probably for the sole reason that it had been written by a woman. Even when Pride and Prejudice was finally published in 1813, Austen’s name did not appear as the author of the book, and in fact, Austen was never given credit for being the author of any of her works while she was alive. The title page of Pride and Prejudice, when published, read “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.”
Regardless, Jane Austen is one of the most widely read authors of English literature and there is no doubt in my mind as to why this is true. She had a lot to say about women and society in England during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Pride and Prejudice is quite comic and it paints a clear picture of how women who lacked their own fortune oftentimes had to forsake love to marry for economic security and social status.
I’m pretty sure this is the third time I have read this book, but I hadn’t read it in quite a while. I had forgotten how much I love it. The first two sentences are great and laugh-out-loud funny. They will always be two of my favorite opening lines from any book, and they set the stage for all of the ridiculousness that is about to happen throughout the rest of the story:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
The chapter goes on to become a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Elizabeth Bennet’s parents), and Mr. Bennet is hilarious. He is wonderfully cynical and blunt, while Mrs. Bennet is just plain crazy.
From the inside flap:
Pride and Prejudice is the classic tale of the irrepressible Elizabeth Bennet—Jane Austen’s most fully realized heroine and a character not unlike her creator in that she possesses a dry wit, enjoys spotting a fool, and refuses to be taken lightly. The story begins as the people of rural Meryton scurry to marry their daughters off to Charles Bingley, a dashing and eligible bachelor who has taken an estate near the Bennets. At the village’s welcoming ball, Elizabeth meets up with a formidable adversary: Bingley’s closest friend, the cold, prideful, extremely wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy, who piques her to new heights of antagonism. When Darcy arrogantly urges Bingley to give up his burgeoning courtship of Elizabeth’s sister, misunderstanding threatens to bury all he loves in turmoil and regret. A cautionary tale about the evils of hasty judgment, Pride and Prejudice is arguably one of the most satisfying love stories ever written.
It is a satisfying love story, if that’s what you’re after, but it’s also much more than that. The characters are great—even the ones whose personalities I can’t stand—and the book really has a lot to say about people’s pride, vanity and prejudices in general.
I love this book because I love the characters. A few of them really work my nerves, but I still love how well-written they are. Elizabeth is my favorite because she is so independent, headstrong and outspoken. She refuses to marry for any reason other than love, even if that means she doesn’t end up marrying someone who can give her a better economic and social status. She has her faults, but she is not afraid to admit to them when she knows she’s wrong. Her mother and two of her younger sisters annoy her as much as they annoy me, and she can’t stand the snotty sisters of Mr. Bingley, whom I despise every time I read the book. It is apparent from the first chapter that Elizabeth takes after her father, who is also headstrong and outspoken. He loves to put his annoying wife in her place, but he does it in very humorous ways without being too nasty. I get a lot of laughs out of Pride and Prejudice every time I read it, and most of those laughs are courtesy of Mr. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet annoys the heck out of me and I find myself audibly telling her to shut up throughout the book. Seriously, if she would only just shut up. I avoid people like the snotty Bingley sisters like the plague in real life because if anyone deserves a good slap across the face, they do. People who think they’re better than everyone else because of money or social status, like the Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine (Mr. Darcy’s aunt), just disgust me. Mr. Collins could use a nice piece of duct tape over his mouth, as well, since he really makes himself look like a fool every time he speaks. Finally, Mr. Darcy is infuriating and endearing at the same time.
I think what makes Jane Austen’s books so well-loved and timeless was her ability to tell it like it is. Our language has evolved quite a bit from what it was like in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries, and anyone who reads classics knows that the language in them can be very hard to understand at times. This is not at all the case with Austen’s writing. She wrote without a lot of fluff and the way she worded things in the nineteenth-century is really not a whole lot different from the way we use the language today. Her books remain relevant because she wrote about subjects that will always be a natural part of being human, no matter how many years go by, and her characters are always so realistic and full of life.
If you like good classic literature, a good love story, and humorous characters, you’ll enjoy reading Pride and Prejudice. It’s a nice, satisfying, fun read.
(Click here to learn more about Jane Austen.)