There are many things to be said for Jane Austen, but here is my current favorite: When you are in the mood for a steady diet of chick lit, you can read Jane Austen and get your fill of romance, gossip, and fashion, and still proudly announce that you are reading classic literature! Perfect!
Pride and Prejudice follows the tried and true formula for fictional romance. In fact, it may be the blueprint: Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy meet. They dislike one another. Concurrently, her sister meets his best friend, and are enchanted with one another. Various friends and relatives meddle in both relationships, various other people behave badly. Mistakes are made. To say any more would be to engage in spoiling. It’s a period romantic comedy – need one say more? I don’t know whether the outcome seemed predictable to Austen’s original audience, though it’s hard for me to imagine it having turned out any differently. We’re simply following the characters down the garden path.
One is almost required to love Jane Austen these days, which is fairly easy to do. Her chief attributes are lovely sentences and well-envisioned characters. The writing is precise and wonderfully descriptive, with phrases rounding in on themselves. Particularly when it comes to dialogue, nothing is said in five words if it could be said in fifteen. It occurs to me that conversation for members of this class in this era must have been exhausting. How intelligent everyone sounds!
Austen’s understanding of human nature is admirable; you have, in your life, run into every character in this book. The personalities are universal, and timeless. What may have changed is the value we place on various human characteristics, which is why Mr. Darcy will never get my vote for leading man. Who wants to marry a guy who can’t even be civil to a pleasant young woman at a party? He embodies both pride and prejudice, which are not necessarily seen in the negative light you’d imagine. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is the perfect heroine; smart and independent, with a good dose of humility. The elder Bennets, Elizabeth’s parents, embody the traits that most annoy teenagers. The mother is boorish and overly concerned with appearances, the father removed and dismissive of his daughter’s interests. Other characters are charming, deceitful, vain, loyal, amusing, dull… every type is covered.
Another thing I adore about this book is that everyone knows what everyone else has in the bank, or stands to inherit! Each young woman comes with a valuation, generally expressed in pounds per year. The men are described by their net worth. The goal for both sexes is to marry as much money as possible. Loooks count for quite a bit, and then finally there are good home management skills (women) or amiability (men). You might not be lucky enough to get them all, but some combination will no doubt suffice, as Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte calculatingly decides: though her husband is annoying, his situation is good, his prospects even better.
I may have read this book twenty-five or so years ago, but honestly, I don’t remember it. When I think of Mr. Darcy, I mostly think of Bridget Jones swooning over Colin Firth. I kept waiting for the wet shirt, victim of a dive in a pond. Did not happen in the book. Sigh. I really must watch that adaptation.